Stop Hustling: Pacing Yourself is Part of the Plan

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Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

“You’re trying to do it all,” my coach said — gently accusing me of taking on more than I could handle without burning out.

I had just gotten back from a business trip to test a workshop concept and told my coach I’d have it turned into an online course by the end of the month.

And when I told her the rest of the things on my list to accomplish, including book proposals, keeping up on my social media schedule, taking individual coaching clients, and starting an email list, she said, “You’re trying to do it all.”

“No,” I assured her. “I’m not trying to do it all. It all works together. Everything I do supports my brand as an author, and it’s all related. It’s all one thing!”

Okay, she caught me. I was trying to do it all.

I had spent a solid two months developing the workshop into its current state by working on it — and only it — for weeks, while my ideas for other projects got put into a list for later.

My focus got me this far, and I didn’t want to lose momentum.

Since I wanted to start 2020 off organized and with a solid calendar of social media and blog content, it stood to reason that I could not turn my workshop into a six week course at the same time I was writing a book proposal, learning how to make an email list, and regularly posting on my social accounts.

I needed to give the course a little room to breathe while I created the channels I will use to give it life when it’s ready.

Curiously, I wondered what had been making me think I needed to launch myself into the next huge step instead of making a plan that made sense.

Why was I still hustling?

The answer came to me as I was in the middle of a conversation with someone about something my mother did to me as a kid.

After my sixteenth birthday, I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar. A friend’s mom had an old acoustic one sitting around in a garage and she gave it to me.

I named my guitar Lorelai, and she stayed in my room looking very cool. Sometimes I’d take her out of her black case with its shiny silver buckles and I would strum and try to play a chord or two.

But I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a plan.

One day, I received a phone call from my sister.

“Mom’s having a yard sale and she’s selling your guitar.”

I exploded over the phone in livid, shrieking tones at my mother that she had no right to sell my guitar!

She replied coolly and calmly, “Well, you haven’t learned to play it. If you tell me when you’re going to learn to play it you can keep it.”

I felt trapped. I didn’t have a plan.

I could not give her an answer I knew would be true and wouldn’t get my guitar scrapped upon the deadline if I hadn’t kept up my end of the bargain.

She offered an alternative: I could keep it, but she wanted to nail it to her living room wall as decor.

I let her sell my guitar.

The false promise of hustle and perfection

That need to figure out a new hobby right away, to be the best at something immediately, to only bring something into my life if I have a plan for it is directly related to the way my mother treated my hobbies.

I had to earn the right to have an idea by hustling to put it into motion.

But now that I know where this belief comes from, I can take away the power it holds over me.

My approach to undoing mental obstacles is similar to trauma therapy. Find the root of the negative thought (in this case, mom sold my guitar because I didn’t learn it right away = I must constantly be working toward a goal as fast as I can), and then process it.

What would the ideal situation have been with my guitar?

  • I would have been allowed to keep it as long as I needed until I either decided to make a plan to learn or I decided to let it go. That decision should never have been forced.
  • If I had decided to stop learning guitar, that decision should have been accepted and not attached to shame for not trying hard enough, or assumed that I never wanted it in the first place. People can change their minds.
  • I would have had opportunities to learn from people who could teach me in a way that made sense. I was limiting myself to self-teaching, when I could have asked for lessons or help. I didn’t have to learn something new in a vacuum.
  • My mom would have supported that I was interested in a new creative hobby and encouraged me to learn at my own pace. I should not have had to justify my desire or my timeline.

Chasing immediate perfection is never the answer, because we all deserve the time it takes to evaluate if a new idea fits into our life and our plan for growth.

I can’t imagine telling anyone, especially a child, “You have to learn this immediately or I’m getting rid of it.”

The pressure of that edict was enormous, unfair, and harmful.

It has kept me in a pattern of thinking I needed to always be jumping to the next thing in my life in order to achieve goals at breakneck speed and learn new skills as quickly as possible. I need to execute things perfectly, and quickly, in order to not lose the thing I’m working on.

I have to succeed before it’s taken away and I lose the chance forever.

Replacing the negative pattern

It’s not enough to simply find and understand the root cause of a negative belief.
You have to pull an Indiana Jones and swap that thought for a positive one that you can believe is just as real.
Here are some thoughts I can try out to see if they feel just as real and believable as the thought that I need to go fast or I’ll lose my chance.
  • I have plenty of time to get this new skill right.
  • It’s okay to take my time on this project.
  • This project is part of my plan and I don’t need to rush it.
  • I am in charge of how long it takes to learn something new, and I can take as long as I need.

Those beliefs feel so much more loving and supportive.

It might take a little time and practice, and I will need to repeat these new beliefs a lot while I swap them out for the old one.

But that’s okay.

I can take as long as I need to learn something new.

PS. I’m teaching people how to stand up for their boundaries after traumatic pasts in my six week course that starts Monday. Email me to reserve a spot at 50% off list price.

There’s no timeline on healing or love

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When I turned 25, I made a five year plan. Become debt free and a mother by 30, in April 2018.

I am now 31 and neither of those things happened.

In fact, as 30 approached, I was facing a lot of other huge life circumstances. In August 2016 I got married and immediately started trying to conceive a much wanted baby. In January 2017 I stopped speaking to my mother, until February 2018 when I unwittingly made contact with her through my stepdad’s phone. She tersely let me know he had cancer, and through speaking with my siblings I came to understand that she had deliberately kept the news from me to punish me for cutting her out of my life. (I wrote about this experience here).

Within a ten day span in March 2018, I left an abusive marriage, packed everything I owned and moved into a new apartment, endured transatlantic cyber bullying at the hands of my husband, and watched my stepfather die of lung cancer. Oh, and accepted a book deal.

Life did not give one iota of a shit about my five year plan. I still have student loans and I never did get pregnant (thank goodness).

The timeline of healing

After I left my abuser, I committed to only casual relationships on a non-monogamous basis for at least a year. And then I fell in love. And I fought it. I didn’t want to be in love, I wanted time to be single and to heal.

My sister gave me some sage advice: There’s no timeline on healing or love. You’re allowed to fall in love whenever you fall in love.

I decided I could work on healing from my abusive upbringing and marriage at the same time I was enjoying a relationship. I continued going to therapy and reading books that helped me process my trauma, and I had fewer panic attacks and C-PTSD episodes as time went on. I was healing.

And then our relationship imploded, as did another year-long relationship of mine, and I found myself newly single again.

But I noticed something important. While it had taken me years to realize my marriage was harmful, it took me only months with my boyfriend and mere weeks with my girlfriend. Of course, looking back, I can see that there were signs of the unhealthy patterns long before I realized them, but it was proof of my healing. I was doing the work. I wasn’t putting up with unhealthy behavior once I realized it was happening.

The timeline of love

Letting myself feel my feelings and fall in love was important. Fresh out of an abusive marriage, I really needed to feel loved again. I am a big fan of taking time to be single and focus on self-love, but I’m also not upset that I spent my first year away from my ex feeling loved and supported by two partners.

When those relationships ended, I was much more able to take time to be single. Seeing that I had fallen into similar behaviors (serving as one partner’s sole emotional support to my own detriment, allowing the other to continually violate my boundaries and forgiving them because each time seemed individually like an honest mistake) as I had in my marriage, because on some level I was still scared of being seen as too hard to love, was something I needed to realize. And now that I’ve had those experiences, I have realized them.

This has given me new targets for therapy.

Your responsibilities in a relationship

Some fundamental truths I’ve stumbled upon in therapy include the following:

  • I am not responsible for making my thoughts and emotions comfortable for other people. How many of us do this? We feel hurt or upset but keep our pain internalized until we’ve either ignored it or whittled it into something tiny and non-offensive that we can bring up to our partners apologetically and hope to stand up for ourselves about it. The trouble is, when we’ve been taught over and over again that our hurt feelings aren’t valid, we just start invalidating them ourselves. “I won’t talk about this with him, I’m probably just overreacting.” No, we’re not doing that anymore. If you feel hurt, tell your partner. The discomfort of this conversation is important: if the discomfort gives way to healing and repair, then that’s a sign of a healthy relationship. If it gives way to invalidating blame, then that’s a sign you aren’t with someone who values you and wants to treat you well.
  • Managing my partners’ behavior is not a normal part of a healthy relationship. I’ve always been the PR spinner in my relationships. With my abusive ex, I would post cute stories about our conversations on Facebook and my friends fawned over how sweet we were. “Get a man who makes coffee in the morning and does the dishes!” I’d say, to a chorus of “He should teach a class on being a husband!” and “Can I borrow him so he can teach mine??” But the man only had three regular chores and didn’t do any of them completely. If I wanted to continue getting coffee in the morning and have him washing dishes at 50% competency, I had to put on the happy face and brag about him in a public way so he rewarded me instead of punishing me. I also had a habit of staying mentally two steps ahead of partners’ behavior to make sure they didn’t do something problematic. I also did this with my parents: I’d have to watch to make sure dad didn’t harass a waitress with a sexist comment or keep an eye on mom’s mood to warn my sister to behave. I have always had to stay aware of everyone around me to reduce the risk of danger/abuse. Turns out this is not a normal part of a relationship.
  • I give my love away freely so people never feel like they have to earn it. Realizing this was hard. I have always felt like I had to behave properly in order to receive love – I had to earn it. If I was a bad kid, I didn’t get love. If I was a bad wife, I didn’t get love. Subsequently, I wanted to make sure no one ever felt like that’s what I was doing to them. I didn’t want to paywall my affections and make someone earn them… so I had no boundaries because I always wanted people to have access to my love. This is unsustainable. Love is unconditional, but access is not, and sometimes I have to say no to something or someone in order to take care of myself and avoid burning out. Boundaries are a form of love too.
  • I am not responsible for making other people love me and treat me with value; that is their job. Seriously. If you are in a relationship with me, I shouldn’t have to convince you I’m worth loving, appreciating, or being with. Having to perform at this level with so many partners has been exhausting, and I don’t do it anymore. If you don’t want to be with me, stop being with me. I should not have to earn your time and attention.

Single part two

As I mentioned, after these two breakups I’ve been spending time being single and casually dating, but I’m not in any serious relationships. I still consider myself single. But I’m also feeling like I may be ready to start dating a little more seriously soon. My plan is to stay single until the new year, but we all know that life laughs at my plans. And if I end up feeling ready before then, that’s okay too. Because I decide when I’m ready, and it doesn’t mean I can’t dial things back if I find I still need single time later.

The same is true for you. You can’t heal on a timeline and you can’t control when something happens off your plan. But you can choose to lean into your vulnerability and your love and let something wonderful happen. (And you can also choose to pull back and say no, I’m actually not ready yet. It is up to you!)

Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.