The idea for this blog has been rolling around in my head all day. I guess I can thank Brené Brown for the inspiration. I’m a big fan of hers. I just finished listening to Braving the Wilderness and I’m in the process of listening to Rising Strong.
This morning, while listening to Brené talk about the importance of taking time to analyze our feelings when we’re hurt, upset and angry, and being curious about our emotions and the stories we tell ourselves, I started thinking…What’s the story I tell myself? Within a second the phrase, “Get Shit Done” came to mind.
This is a phrase I say often…especially to my two teenage boys who drive me crazy with their lack of activity and drive to get shit done.
I wrestle with this constantly and I think COVID-19 really brought it to the surface.
How COVID Helped Bring This Front & Center
When the pandemic first started, I thought it really sucked. No going out to eat, no unnecessary trips to Target, and no spring break trip to Utah to go jeeping. On the other hand, I imagined what I would be able to accomplish when I was living with my family at the cabin and we didn’t have to worry about chauffeuring kids anywhere or sitting in rush hour to meet with clients or prospects. Maybe, just maybe, I’d finally be able to cross everything off my 200 page to-do list that I’d had for the past 10 years. This was going to be so cool! I’d finally be able to relax and do some of the things I’d always dreamed about doing when I had time (and when my to-do list was done). At this point, I still didn’t understand or even see my compulsive need to Get Shit Done.
After just a week of lockdown, the breakneck speed I was running at started to catch up with me. Exhaustion coupled with the depressing news the reporters were spouting 24/7 and the loss of a couple of clients left me spiraling. Then we lost a few more clients and my husband and I were forced to have uncomfortable conversations about what would happen if we lost any more.
I’ve always been an optimistic person and my glass is almost always more than half full, but with each passing day I saw my rose colored glasses fade into a shade of gray. It was probably one of the most vulnerable times of my life. It wasn’t just our family we had to worry about…we now had eight families who were depending on us and we couldn’t let them down.
My days were pretty quiet as it appeared the world was paralyzed by a state of shock. These were unprecedented times and it felt like everyone was watching a Sci Fi movie but none of us knew the ending.
I stopped getting up at 5 a.m. like I did before the pandemic started and instead I would sleep in. This was all out of my control so why push myself? I spent hours each day walking my dogs out in the woods and across our frozen lake while praying and listening to every inspirational Audible book I could find. I was in a funk and had never experienced a lack of drive like this before. I turned off the news and simply kept praying, walking and listening.
After a few days of walking multiple times a day, I asked my dogs if they wanted to go for a walk. As I grabbed their leashes they looked at me like…seriously mom, aren’t you tired of walking yet? I decided it was time to push my funk aside and get to work. After all, I had people depending on me. It was time to Get Shit Done!
I literally went from 5mph to 500mph overnight. I jumped in and started creating contingency plans and new services to help customers and prospects. I reached out to our clients to see what we could do to help them. I was back to getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. but instead of working out at that time, I dove right into work.
I remember seeing Facebook posts from people who were taking this time to reorganize their closets, rearrange their furniture, explore new recipes and do all the stuff they never had time to do before. I was so jealous. I wished I had time to do fun things like other people did, but I didn’t. I was working more hours than I had before COVID-19 and I was barely keeping up.
Don’t get me wrong. I did get time to relax at the end of the day, but how relaxing is it when you feel guilty? After all, what if tomorrow we lost all of our clients?
As spring melded into summer, I realized I couldn’t keep up this pace much longer. One day, a thought popped into my head: I’m literally living the dream right now. I’ve always wanted to spend the summer at the lake without having to head home every Monday night! And here I was, living at the cabin full time.
But I wasn’t doing the things I’d imagined I’d do everyday like kayaking, swimming and taking the pontoon out for late afternoon rides. I was working. With that realization, I decided to go kayaking the next morning no matter what…and my Get Shit Done mantra developed a slight crack. I started thinking, What’s the point of busting your ass your whole life if you never stop to enjoy your life?
During this time, I was also reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking book to read, especially during turbulent times.
One chapter in particular hit me square in the face and forced me to evaluate my Get Shit Done mantra. In this chapter, Glennon talks about the anxiety and anger she experienced one Saturday when her wife sat in front of the TV while she was busy running around the house getting stuff done. Oh boy, could I relate to this. She goes on to explain how she paced behind the couch while her anger and frustration mounted. She thought, Wow, I wish I had time to relax. Doesn’t she see that I’m working my tail off? Why doesn’t she offer to help? But no, she’s just kicking back and binging on Netflix while I do all the work.
I could feel my face turning red just thinking about the number of times I’ve stalked my husband like a lioness stalking her prey…just waiting to pounce…while he sits, unknowingly, watching TV. I pace behind him with growing rage wondering why he isn’t DOING anything. He has a million things on his to-do list and I know, because I put half of them on there myself. Doesn’t he want to feel accomplished? Watching TV and relaxing should be reserved for people who’ve checked off multiple boxes on their to-do list.
As I read this chapter in Glennon’s story I realized that this is something that has plagued me for nearly twenty years. And the best part of all? The only one suffering (and getting worked up) is me. Oh and guess what, Mrs. Get Shit Done? Kevin is a grown man fully capable of making his own decisions, one of which is choosing to relax and be in the moment after a long week of work.
This is what a reality check looks like. At that moment I realized that this negativity was something I needed to release. We’re all different and need to recharge in our own ways. I determined from that point forward to be aware of this behavior and remember two things when my inner lioness came out:
- I only need to worry about myself and if I need help I need to ask for it instead of assuming Kevin knows I need help and is going to offer it (Duh. We’ve been married for almost 20 years and he’s still not telepathic despite my best efforts to send him subliminal messages).
- I need to remember that everyone has a choice in how they spend their time, and just because I place value on my accomplishments and checkmarks on my to-do lists, that doesn’t mean everyone else is the same way. This was a big AHA moment for me and although I’d like to say that I’ve got this behavior nailed down, alas, I’m still a work in progress.
In mid-July my dreamy summer came to a harsh ending as we began our cabin remodel. It was a project we’d been planning for years. I was excited but bummed too when I realized that a summer I was actually enjoying had come to an end. I was finally getting the hang of this work/life balance thing everyone has been talking about for years.
And then guess what happened next? Almost overnight I went right back into my Get Shit Done mode.
During the remodeling process, Kevin lived up at the cabin in our RV full time and the boys and I commuted up there every weekend. During the week, I spent a lot of time at night by myself since our teenage boys were typically out with their friends, so it was just our three dogs and me. I would get up at the crack of dawn (4:30 a.m.) and go work out with my friends at the gym. Then I’d hustle home, shower, get ready for the day, and get to work. Since I’d always worked from 7:30 or 8:00 to 4:00 or 4:30, I went right back to that routine.
When I wasn’t working, I was watching Hubspot training videos (while simultaneously working on my paint-by-numbers because who can just sit still and watch training videos?) and racking up certifications. I was a machine! On top of that, I was walking my dogs every day and listening to business development books on Audible. Not one minute of my day was wasted…except for those spent looking at social media which were few and far between. I felt incredible. There was nothing I couldn’t do.
And after about four weeks of that, I felt exhausted and numb. If I had an inner voice that I was actually willing to listen to, she would have said, “Girl, why do you keep doing this to yourself? Haven’t you learned anything that the universe has been trying to teach you? Just when we think you finally catch on…bam! You’re right back to where you started!”
During this time of self-realization, I started thinking about this crazy drive of mine. Where did it come from? Why am I like this? And how do I deal with this?
I realized that this Get Shit Done philosophy had been instilled in me at a very young age by my parents. My dad grew up on a farm and was accustomed to working his tail off from sunup to sundown because their family and livelihood depended on it. My mom also grew up in a family where hard work and hustle were praised.
My parents married young and started college but didn’t finish because I came along. At 21, they were married, with a brand new baby and no obvious career path in front of them. They moved away from the farm and started a life of their own…which meant lots of hustle and grit to find jobs that could provide for their family.
If you were to look up the definition of hard work in the dictionary…there would be a picture of both of my parents under the description. As I grew up, I watched them put everything they had into all of their responsibilities and I learned many lessons about the value of working hard to get what you want out of life.
On weekends, we were often up at 6:00 a.m. and while my brother and I were watching cartoons, my parents would be busy getting the house cleaned or working on projects. (Both of them are addicted to projects.) As I got older, if my butt wasn’t out of bed by 7 a.m. my mom would flip on my lights and check my temperature to see if I was sick…because we are always up on the weekends by 7.
Now, I don’t want it to appear that my parents were harsh. They weren’t. They just expected us to get up and get stuff done and not waste the day. Thinking back, I realized that I equated my value with my to-do list. This is one of the main reasons why I have such a hard time relaxing or watching others relax when there’s so much to do. Now that I understood where this drive came from…how could I change it or see it for what it was and start working on a more relaxed version of me? Well grasshopper…I’m still working on it, but at least I understand it and I see it.
The next fissure in my Get Shit Done facade happened when I was driving to my girls scrapbooking weekend and I was hit with another epiphany. (Yes, when I say “scrapbooking” I’m talking about paper, scissors, stickers and photo books.) Get ready for this one, friends. I realized that, as an entrepreneur, I’m my own boss and I can set my own schedule and I don’t have to feel guilty about it.
You’re probably thinking, You just realized this now after 10 years of being in business?! Obviously, I knew I could set my own schedule but the not-feeling-guilty part was a new concept for me. Why did I always feel guilty?
Well, I think there are 4 main reasons:
- I was raised to believe that if you wanted something you had to work HARD for it.
- Launching a new business takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I’ve been operating like I’m still in my first year of business even though this March marks the 10th anniversary of Wild Fig Marketing!
- Society has taught us that hard work equals success and I’m not a believer in taking shortcuts or utilizing “growth hacks” to get where I want to go. In fact, I have an intense aversion to the word “hack.” It bothers me that people think emulating the behavior of the 1% who strike it rich will enable them to do the same. That’s not to say that you can’t work smarter vs. harder, but the thought that you can bypass 90% of entrepreneurs and succeed in 1/10th of the time is a bit of a stretch. A word to the wise: Everyone can see through your actions, especially your clients. Sorry…I’ll step off my soapbox now and get back to the point of this blog.
- I care DEEPLY (probably overly so) about my team and our clients and will do just about anything to ensure they are happy with our work…which is probably something else I need to unpack in the future.
After I had this epiphany on my way to the scrapbooking weekend, I tried something new. I didn’t set an alarm clock for two full weeks. This, my friends, was uncharted territory for me and something I’d never allowed myself to do during the week. I decided it would be interesting to see what my natural alarm clock looked like. Turns out it went off between 6 and 7 a.m. These two alarm-free weeks were amazing. I gave myself permission (or wrote myself a permission note, as Brené would say) to wake up when my natural alarm went off and NOT feel guilty about what time it was.
Now, I must interject and say that, if it wasn’t for COVID-19, I likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to embark on this research project since many of my clients and prospects had kids at home or avoided scheduling early-morning meetings. What I discovered about myself during these two weeks was astonishing. Not only did I still follow my Miracle Morning routine (what a game-changing book!) but I found that I had a more positive attitude, got more done and had a different view of obstacles that came my way. They were an opportunity to utilize my creative thinking skills.
What in the halibut was going on?
How was it possible that I was able to get more done in less time and have more fun doing it? This isn’t how things are supposed to work, right? I mean, I’m supposed to work a bazillion hours a week and burn the candle at both ends. That’s the recipe for success, right?
I realized then that everything I thought I knew when it came to success was inaccurate. It wasn’t about how many boxes I checked off my to-do list or how many hours I worked each week. It was all about quality over quantity.
This wasn’t just a small fissure in my facade. This was a major fracture! Was it possible that I was actually learning from my mistakes and experiences?! Don’t get too excited. After all, I’m a firstborn child who is EXTREMELY stubborn. Just ask my parents who once tried to get me to eat fish when I was six and told me I had to sit at the table until I ate one bite. Well, I sat there so long I fell asleep. My parents never forced me to eat fish ever again. Score one point for Ms. Stubborn!
As summer faded into fall, I faced something I hadn’t before…downtime. In mid-August, sales came to a screeching halt. I didn’t have 3-4 new clients to onboard each week and I was paralyzed. I couldn’t focus and I didn’t know what to do with myself or my time. Once again I found myself thinking…this is the time you’ve always talked about and have longed for for the past 10 years. The if-I-only-had-more-time-I’d-tackle-this-or-that kind of time.
But here I was, unable to do anything but stare at my computer and short to-do list. After walking around like a zombie for three days, I realized that I needed to take advantage of the gift of this time. But it still took intense focus to get anything done because this was the first time that I didn’t have a bazillion (apparently I like that number) deadlines looming. I found it really hard to motivate myself and this is something I don’t typically struggle with. More time for self-reflection, I guess.
When you go 150 mph everyday and suddenly the universe puts its foot on the brake—not just a love tap but all the way to the floor, baby—what do you do?
I’ll tell you what you do…you self-reflect. You examine your feelings and what you’re going to do about them. I think Brené would call this an opportunity to “rumble with yourself.” It’s an opportunity to get real about who you really are, where you are at and where you want to go.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, an occasion that most of us would rather not celebrate, I find myself feeling thankful for all I’ve learned. I’m grateful that I didn’t lose any loved ones like so many people did. Although I feel heartbroken for others’ losses and wish I could take their pain away, I’m also thankful for the time to stop and reflect on what’s truly important.
The time I spent in quarantine with my husband, my teenage boys and my 3 dogs is something I’ll always cherish. From die-hard ping pong matches, to teaching the boys how to play Euchre, to the countless, mind-numbing puzzles Kevin and I put together to all the miles I walked our dogs and to the several socially-distanced happy hours on the ice with our cabin neighbors, Bob & Anne, it was truly a remarkable year.
Thank you, COVID-19, for teaching me what’s important in life and for showing me that “Got The Most Shit Done” is not a phrase I want etched on my tombstone when it’s my time to leave this earth. Instead, may it read, “She lived every day as if it were her last.”