What’s your default?

I’ve never liked not being able to do something. I don’t like the feeling if I can’t. My heart-rate rises, my stomach churns and the resulting adrenaline rush messes up my ability to think on the spot. I just want to be able to do it, whatever it is. I want to get it right the first time and I get extremely frustrated with myself when I can’t. The standards I set for myself are extraordinarily high. 

It didn’t dawn on me until recently that I always have a choice when those moments occur. I can choose to accept that I can’t do it. To walk away. In many ways it would be the simple answer for me. Leave whatever it is unfinished and go do something easier, something else. Sometimes that’s a good choice – if I’m getting caught up in something small that doesn’t warrant my time and energy.

But I very rarely make that choice. My default is to find a way to do it. I struggle with it, I try stuff out and experiment (what happens if I do… some of it works and some of it doesn’t), I ask for help from someone I think might know how to do it and thank goodness for YouTube for those practical ‘how to fix…’ videos. I don’t give up. 

I always followed my default – why wouldn’t I keep going and push on until I can do whatever it is I think I need to do? Then recently I realised my default choice had become so default it wasn’t a conscious choice anymore. I wasn’t consciously choosing to push through and find a way, I was on autopilot. And the autopilot’s message was ‘what does this say about me if I can’t do it?  Who am I if I can’t do it?’

Using autopilot has led me to some fantastic results – my insanely high standards have helped me to create and achieve amazing things but the cost has been high. Pushing on through, working long hours, spending all that time and energy to be able to do it, losing my patience with unsuspecting friends and family in the midst of my frustration with myself, losing all sense of the significance or importance of whatever I’m trying to do (I mean, who really cares if I can make the perfect tomato sauce or not!), burning the proverbial candle at both ends – it’s had an impact on my health. I’ve made myself ill. Repeatedly. I’ve pushed myself so hard my body couldn’t fight off the common cold and I’ve ended up with chest infection after chest infection. Not great at all for someone who loves to sing. My family and friends have told me again and again not to push myself so hard. I’ve ignored them. Being able to do it all has always been the most important thing. Until now.

Before Christmas I tried to push on through some big physical and emotional stuff. There were things I was trying to do that I couldn’t do. I tried to solve problems that were not even mine to solve. I tried to push on by giving my projects even more time – staying up late, pressing in. Pushing, pushing, pushing. And then I stopped. I noticed the choice I was making. I knew if I kept on I would make myself ill. It was in my hands. It felt like I didn’t have a choice. And I did. 

So I made a choice. I stopped. I cancelled all my planned calls. I dropped everything that wasn’t truly urgent and important. I work for myself so I had the luxury of being able to set my out of office message there and then. I got really present to each moment of each day and I didn’t try to do the things I felt I couldn’t do. I knew this time I wanted to choose powerfully. For me.

It was scary. I felt sick as I shared what I was feeling with the fantastic community of high-performers I’m part of. Certain of their judgment. Maybe a few kicks in the backside to get me moving again. I felt so incredibly vulnerable. I felt like a failure.

It wasn’t like I imagined at all. I was surrounded with their love, support, understanding and the challenges I needed for later. I discovered my own power and energy from making a choice that really served me. My vulnerable, hard choice gave me time to rejuvenate, to refresh and recharge my worn out batteries so that I had new energy to tackle the things when I came back to play. 

Vulnerable and powerful. It’s funny how those two go hand-in-hand…

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