What would people think if they knew we were struggling?
How many times have I thought this about my life and my career? Too many to count probably. And how many times did I talk about it honestly and openly? Rarely, if ever.
Why is it so hard admitting the life we have created is too much and that we can’t always handle the stress of it all?
Because of fear. Fear of looking weak. Fear of being embarrassed. Fear of being uncovered as a fraud. Fear of not being perfect. Fear of not being seen or being important. Fear of becoming irrelevant. Fear of being a failure. We run all those fear-based scenarios through our minds like “What would it do to my business if people knew I was struggling? How would my credibility suffer? Would it change my relationships? How would my clients feel about me? Or my tribe of fans and followers?” Or even, “How would my friends and family feel about me?”
The struggle is real.
We see that saying on memes and quotes and in articles, so it must be true, right? We can laugh to ourselves at that thought or even think “Hell, yes it’s real!” But we continue to present a perfect life to the world through Instagram and Facebook and in social settings. We keep the struggle behind closed doors. We feel one thing, but we present another.
I am an optimist. And I am not saying we should constantly air our dirty laundry to the world through our social media, or get bogged down in our negativity. No one wants to see a complainer coming, but people are inspired by someone brave enough to tell the truth. There is a difference. Truth-telling is liberating. Telling the truth feels like a breath of fresh air. And finding a support-system of like-minded women with the same struggles who you can be honest with is critical to survival.
The world shows us the possibilities. The world makes us believe we can have it all. The world has a way of making us want it all, all at the same time. The world is like an all you can eat buffet. But how do you feel when you eat huge portions of poor quality processed or junk food and go back for second helpings or thirds? Not great, right? No, it’s way worse than that. You feel sick, miserable, nauseous, lethargic, guilty, and ashamed. And it’s no coincidence that consuming huge portions of mediocre-quality life experiences makes us feel the same way.
Some of us are literally addicted to processed food or alcohol in large quantities, but most of us, especially entrepreneurs, are addicted to overindulging in every opportunity that crosses our path with no regard for how it will make us feel or what it will do to our stress levels. We have no restraint or perspective on whether the things we say yes to in life are truly good for us or if the timing is right. A piece of cake can be delicious when we haven’t just indulged in a 6-course meal. Timing is really everything. And most of us can decide after a big meal not to have dessert, but we can’t seem to show control when we have a loaded down “proverbial plate” of commitments and agreements and clients, and then another opportunity comes to us. So we say yes and then how do we eventually end up feeling? Sick, miserable, nauseous, lethargic, guilty, ashamed or all of these, right?
I have learned that for me personally, filling my life’s plate to the brim equals me literally filling my plate to over-flowing at meals. Too much on my proverbial plates equals too much on my dinner plate because food or alcohol often becomes the way I numb out my feelings of sick, shame, misery, guilt and especially fear. Saying yes or no for me is a high-stakes game, sort of like Roulette or even Russian Roulette, because my family, my health, and my business depend on me getting it right.
So why do we care so much what people think of us?
Why do we feel the need to present a perfect life? Why do we desire to be important or relevant to a whole lot of people we hardly know, instead of being important and relevant to those we value the most? Why don’t we realize that our most powerful influence, relationships, and growth comes from being authentic, being real and saying no?
We are taught from a very early age to be perfect. Be the smartest, the most athletic, the thinnest, the prettiest, the hardest worker, the best at everything, if we want to be loved and acknowledged and rewarded. And we are taught to make other people happy, especially by saying yes and by not letting them down. As we grow up and become employees or business owners, parents, spouses, and home-owners, the pressure to be perfect grows. The hamster wheel spins faster. Or as a therapist I worked with when I hit an “early mid-life funk” a few years back called me, the circus performer spinning 27 plates trying harder and harder to keep them all in the air while looking perfect. But it’s impossible. And before you know it the plates come crashing down. They break into a million tiny little pieces and you are left to clean up the mess hoping no one heard the crash or saw the wreckage. You quickly sweep the mess under the rug, get a bunch of new plates and start spinning again with all your might.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is the truth. We all struggle. Even the people you look up to struggle–the ones you think have it all together. The ones you admire and think to yourself, “I don’t know how she does it! I must be doing something all wrong!” But you are you aren’t seeing her truth. You are seeing a perfectly orchestrated and edited version of that person. I am guilty of presenting that too. And by continuing to present the perfect version of ourselves to the world while saying yes to everything that crosses our path, we create an unsustainable life full of pressure, stress and pain—both physical and mental. And we wonder why life is so hard.
The answer is right there on your plate. When I eat well and eat the right portion of food for me, I feel great! I have energy, I have stamina, I am happy, sleep and play come easily and I love life. I am kinder and gentler and I have patience. I feel unstoppable. And for each of us, the right foods and the right amounts is different, isn’t it? So knowing your perfect mix of healthy food is crucial to you feeling your best.
That is also true for our lives. I have learned that a proverbial plate overflowing with low-quality commitments piled high on top of the few healthy choices that really work for me, makes my entire existence like junk food. I know that balancing just a few dollops of the healthy choices and commitments I love most, equals energy and stamina and joy and profits!
The hard part is becoming self-aware so that you know what commitments are right for you.
You must learn how to discern when to say no to those opportunities that look like a big ole piece of your favorite cake because you know you are already consuming all that you can in life right now. It takes maturity to choose, to be in control, to be the designer of your best life.
What you need to know is that your eyes are almost always bigger than your stomach or in this case your calendar. You can do far less in your 24 hours a day than it seems like you can. And things take at least twice as much time as you believe that they will. So be honest with yourself.
The key to not letting people know you are struggling is to make key and strategic choices in your life so you no longer are struggling. Start un-piling your plate. Start peeling off the things that don’t really matter because they won’t bring you more peace, or more profits, or really make a difference in your goals. But what they will do is take you away from your passions, your family, and your health. And no matter how decadent they appear, they just aren’t worth the cost.
Admitting you are struggling is hard.
Taking responsibility for the struggle because it was caused by the choices you made is even harder. Stepping off that spinning hamster wheel of death is terrifying, even though we know it is killing us. But once you step off, things get so much easier. It’s time to tell ourselves the truth. The truth is a happier and less stressful life with rich connections to the people and the projects you love the most. The truth fills all the needs and desires that you thought those decadent, chocolate-frosted opportunities would fill. Believe me, I have lived both ways and the struggle will kill you. I hope you choose a life with less struggle and more joy.