”You look tired.” Said my client Sue straightfaced as they come.
And you know you’re looking several shades of ruin when it’s the first thing someone says to you.
I froze momentarily.
Although my expression didn’t show it, the comment did feel like the cold steel of a blade had slid between my ribs.
Surely I don’t look that bad. I don’t feel that tired?
I turned the spotlight to my heartbeat. Often if I’m under the pump I can feel it quicken and it’s tapping ripples through my body.
It was a little fast.
I sifted through my day’s activities for clues.
I had woken up especially early that morning to get some things done. In fact, I’d been doing that all week.
I’d also taken a few appointments outside of regular hours, so the days had been stretched beyond the lines.
I realised that while I wasn’t especially tired, I was certainly on my way. I knew the usual signs, habits and justifications that lead to burnout and had once again begun checking them off. I’d gone down that road many times before and I’m sure that you have too.
And once I’d become aware, I decided that now was the opportunity to turn the wheel and pointing this vehicle in a different direction before things go too far.
That’s what experience does for you, it gives you a first-hand account of what disasters not to repeat again. It gives you the ability to recognise the warnings signs you need to take the off-ramp.
I thought about my client Pete who’d come to me a year ago severely overweight, dreadfully unhealthy, scared to death and needing a change. He ran his own company and had neglected his health for far too long and was at the edge of some serious health concerns if he didn’t do a complete about-face.
So we hashed out a plan and went to work.
Small at first. Adding a walk here and there. Reduced snacking, upped incidental movement. Little things that added up over time.
He was diligent with his routine and began to drop some weight and improve many of the health markers that had previously been wavering.
Then the inevitable happened. A holiday.
Pete needed the trip away to decompress and recalibrate. But, upon returning things were unsettled. The foundations of routine that we had carefully developed were shaken.
One thing led to the other. Pete got busy again, and tired. Life happened and he fell ill.
When we thought that Pete had recovered to where we could get back on track work blew up. A few big contracts suddenly rolled in that needed his attention and he’d begun to veer off the road again.
Longer days, later nights, quick meal choices and in a constant maddening pace to get too much done in too little time.
Some weight came back, and his health slid.
It was a small tip in a new trajectory but it was enough that after a week, two, a month he’d ended up somewhere he very nearly couldn’t return from.
And I won’t go into detail about it. But Pete ended up in pretty bad shape, at one point needing to be hospitalised and under very tight care.
Drip by Drip
He had to make some pretty tough choices and in the end, Pete put himself first and climbed out of that hole eventually. It took some time but things are completely different for Pete and he is back doing better than ever.
But busyness is insidious like that.
The alarms are ringing but we don’t see the smoke.
It’s often difficult to know what’s too much until it’s too late.
That’s how it happens.
Drip by drip.
We pour on the workload, it swells and bursts over the borders of our intended boundaries and pools into our home life.
We divide the components of our week and before long each has crawled into the other until you can’t tell them apart. You begin to miss the downtime you need, social gatherings with family and friends either because you’re too busy or too tired.
Health? We’ll start tomorrow, or punch the old ‘start Monday’ card. Who you were becomes a distant memory that you’ll always deal with later.
The good news is, we have a thousand opportunities each day to nudge ourselves back on course. It doesn’t need to be anything momentous and it can often only take one small behaviour that leads to the next.
“I just need more hours in the day,” Sue called out as she headed down turf with a kettlebell, having treated me to her own tales of busyness oblivion.
I said to Sue what I recall saying to Pete at one point:
”You don’t need more hours in the day and you don’t need to wake up earlier. You need to make a decision.”
“Remember that every corpse on Everest was once a highly motivated person.”