Are you contributing to overwhelm at work?

Are you contributing to overwhelm at work?

One of the questions I often ask my coaching clients who are experiencing overwhelm at work is: “Is this a level-of-difficulty issue or a volume issue?”

Level-of-difficulty means they may have been given tasks they don’t know how to do. Volume means that they know how to do the tasks – the tasks may even be easy – but there are just too dang many of those tasks.

It’s almost always a volume issue. And the client played a big role in creating the problem by:
1) being good at their job (i.e., “work flows to the competent’)
2) not saying “no”

Cleary, we don’t want a competent person to act like they are incompetent. So we have to address not saying “no.”

Most people have reasons they don’t want to say “no.” They don’t want to miss out on an opportunity (i.e., they might not get included next time). They don’t want others to think they are unhelpful or not a team-player. They don’t want to disappoint their boss. And being the hero feels good – and safe.

All of this contributes to people coming to them with EVERYTHING because they say “yes” and get it all done. If you are one of these folks, every time you say “yes” you are actually training people to bring all the requests to you. And that’s how you contributed to the problem. The trouble is, it isn’t sustainable for you or for your organization. (When you leave, the organization will have a hard time finding someone willing to work 80 hours a week!)

The truth is, people will still like you if you say “no” or have strong boundaries; boundaries make the other person feel safe because they create certainty and instruct the other person on how to act. Remember, the other person doesn’t know if you are overloaded, overwhelmed or burnt-out. It is up to you to respond to a request with a polite “No, I’m sorry I can’t help you with that because I have too much on my plate right now. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do a good job for you.” If you want, you can even add “I hope you’ll ask me again next time.”

I once had a boss who would give me too many things for me and my team to get done. If I asked what was most important, he’d give me a blank stare and say it was all important. So I took him a long list of to-do’s (and their deadlines) and sat down with him so he could help me prioritize. I’m sure he didn’t like that, but he needed to see the list to understand we had an unmanageable volume of work.

Think about how you are currently contributing to the overwhelm and the volume of work. Where do you need to stop saying “yes” and experiment with saying “no?” It may feel scary, but it can also be empowering. And it will make more space for all of the things you truly want to say “yes” to!

What do you want to say “yes” to?

p.s. It can be hard to go straight from “yes” to “no.” You may want to utilize a stall first: This will give you time to go create a very nice “no!”

p.p.s. As always, your comments are welcome on this post at

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Who Are You Becoming?

Who Are You Becoming?

This is the third blog in a series of three. The first blog was about “who are you?” The second blog asked “who do you think you should be?”

In January I mentioned that I had cleaned out my closet. As I sorted through clothing, I asked the usual questions:
– Does this fit?
– Does it make me feel good?
– Have I worn it in the past few years?
Based on just those questions, I would’ve had one bag of stuff to get rid of.

But this year I added a question that I had recently read: “Does this fit who you are becoming?” Whoa. Now I had three bags.

And it wasn’t because I could succinctly answer the question “who am I becoming?” I know what my values and strengths are, but I am evolving as a person. A lot to this feels like smoke – not something I can grab on to. Instead I thought about “What do I want more of?” “What do I want less of?” And, “How does who I am becoming want to feel?”

What I found for my work self (and wardrobe) is that I am becoming more unapologetically myself. That person wants to dress comfortably. She wants to be professional in work situations, but there’s no need to be overdressed or the best dressed; I don’t need a costume to prop me up or to convince others of my worth. I know what I bring to the table, and I just want to be a person and let other people be themselves, too. (Goodbye suits that I haven’t worn in a decade!)

So you don’t have to be able to answer “who you are becoming” in 25 words or less in order to determine if a sweater, situation, person, or belief fits who you’re becoming. Just take this question into different areas of your life: work, community, friendships. Ask “does this fit who I am becoming?” Notice the feelings. What are you drawn to? What are you ready to let go of?

It’s ok to not have everything figured out. Do be aware though, that a lack of a plan, is a plan in itself. Even when we think we don’t have a plan, we are working a subconscious plan. And the plan’s results are the life you’re currently living. Whether you want to or not, you are evolving.

So think about who you are and who you want to become. Get a picture in your head of him or her or them. What do you need to do – or let go of – to move towards that person?

Maybe it’s to let go of some old clothes; maybe it’s releasing a job or relationship that isn’t good for you. Maybe it’s time to create a bucket list or start your own company or move to Alaska. Maybe it’s a more subtle, internal shift as you learn to take care of, accept, or love yourself.

Who are you becoming?

Enjoy the journey.

p.s. As always, your comments are welcome on this post at

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Ditching the Should’s

Ditching the Should’s

This is part 2 in a three part series. Part 1, about “who are you?,” is here.

In my late 30s, I worked with a therapist who helped me untangle who-I-was from who-I-should-be. It took a while, since I’d spent a long time trying to be who I thought I should.

During the process, I offered to share a vision board I’d made with my therapist, since I thought it described who I was. At our next meeting I toted in the board and proudly presenteded my work of art. She took a quick look at it and largely dismissed it. She could tell immediately that this painstakingly curated visual was what I wanted other people to think of me. (Side note: this is not how you create a vision board. The correct process is more fun and a lot quicker!)

I could tell that I had failed the assignment. So at the next meeting, I shyly shared a brightly colored polka dot piece of fabric, and said that this is who I was on the inside. Her eyes lit up. Now we were getting somewhere!

The linen fabric was about a yard square; fuchsia and lime green; wildly patterned with plenty of polka dots. It was colorful, cheerful and bold. Some might say it was obnoxious or even ugly.

And there it was. I was so afraid to be found unlikable by some, that I was willing to put away the best parts of myself. I was trying to be who I thought other people wanted me to be (based, no doubt, on my wrong assumptions). The truth was, when I let more of my colorful, inner polka-dotted self shine, my relationships with others deepened – especially the important ones.

Will I be everyone’s cup of tea? No way! And that’s all right. Because the great thing is, being the real me takes a lot less energy. And that piece of fabric that I loved? I love it still. And I still have it. But I ditched the vision board.

If you are stuck in the should’s you might notice you do a lot of stuff you don’t want to or that you are controlling your behavior tightly. You may spend a lot of energy pleasing others or trying to make others see you in a certain way. We do this to keep ourselves safe and to ensure others won’t leave us; of course, that safety is an illusion and we can’t control what other people do. Scary? Yes. Liberating? Yes!!

Think about who you think you should be (and who you are trying to please). What does that carefully controlled version of you look like? Now think about who you are. The whole glorious, messy masterpiece. I hope you choose to keep that version front-and-center and let more of it show.

And ditch the should’s!

p.s. As always, your comments are welcome on this post at

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Cleaning Out Your Closet

Cleaning Out Your Closet

For the new year, I cleaned out my closet. I’m a big believer that external clutter can become internal clutter, and my closet had become a metaphor for my life: too full of stuff and fairly unmanageable.

It felt good to complete this task, especially because it had a visible, pleasing result. But as I handled different clothing, I noticed two things. First, I wear the same ten things over and over during the pandemic, and second, going through my clothes is very contemplative. It led me to think about big questions like:
– Who are you?
– Who do you think you “should” be?
– Who are you becoming?

I’m going to talk about these questions over the next couple months in the blog. Let’s start with “Who are you?”

Is that an easy question for you to answer? Maybe not. But what if I asked you “what is important to you all of the time?” You probably could at least begin to answer that.

One of the exercises I do with my individual clients, in workshops and with teams I work with is a values exercise. Values are what’s most important to you – not sometimes, but always. Your core values form when you are young (just 5 or 6 years old) and show up as themes throughout your life. While how you express a value might change over time, the values themselves don’t usually change.

A lot of coaches will let you choose your values from a long list or by sorting a big deck of values cards. I did that exercise in my late 20s. I ended up with a result that looked like this: responsibility, commitment, hard work… Well, you get the picture. The problem is, those weren’t my values. They were my mother’s values.

Don’t get me wrong, those are great values. And I do think those things are important, but they are not always or most important to me. They are not my core values.

In coaching school, I learned the technique I use with my clients to uncover their values; it’s the storytelling of peak experiences. And I learned my own values using this exercise: belonging, creativity, growth, play and kindness.

My true core values are very different from the aspirational ones I chose to subconsciously please my mom. As you consider what’s important to you – who you are – make sure it’s real and authentic to you. Don’t choose a made up version that you think will please others; that’s just confusing for everyone and can lead you off course.

Think about your core values and who you are, and next month we’ll talk more about who you think you “should” be.

And consider cleaning out your closet. Insights await!

p.s. As always, your comments are welcome on this post at

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What’s your motto for 2022?

What’s your motto for 2022?

I often like to choose a word or phrase at the end of December, since I’m not much for new year’s resolutions. (Most resolutions fail in approximately three weeks.)

I was talking to a friend recently, and she said her phrase for 2022 would be “I’m not f*cking with that.”

I told her I wanted to want to say that mine was “I’m open,” but the best I could do was “I might be open.” And then I realized the full phrase was “I might be open to f*cking with that.”

All joking – and cursing – aside, you may be clear on what you want or don’t want next. You may have the energy to back up that clarity and move forward. You may have goals you want to set and work toward. Good for you!

Or if you lack clarity but might be open, have a look at the image on the right. There are some great questions there to ponder. Maybe they point to what you need to stay aware of or the general direction you should head.

Or if now is a time to conserve energy, just consider question #6: “In what ways will I take better care of myself in 2022?” Remember this may be physically, spiritually, mentally or emotionally. Your health and self-care are always an excellent use of your energy. Then, when you are recharged, you can ask yourself what you might be open to f*cking with.

Wishing you all the best in 2022!

p.s. As always, your comments are welcome on this post at

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