Someone I greatly respect once said to me, “Ellie, you have what I call the ‘curse of competence.’” This resonated with me. “Yes, that’s it,” I replied.
Ben Franklin said it another way: “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.”
People who are good at what they do are asked to do more and more (and more and more and more). Unless they establish rules or boundaries to protect themselves or get comfortable saying no, the curse manifests itself. The schedule becomes packed, and the person earns what I call “the Badge of Busyness.” The badge they point to when someone asks them how they are, and they reply almost exasperated, “I am so busy.”
The eventual result of all this busyness is burnout, now recognized as a medical diagnosis.
In the world of family business and family philanthropy, leaders are often asked to do more. To serve on boards, to manage projects, to lead committees, to speak at conferences, to attend events, and so on. The expectation is to give, be, and do more.
When we say yes to everything, it eventually starts to catch up with us. Our health starts deteriorating, our kids and spouses rarely see us, and a point comes when we barely recognize ourselves. This is what happened to me.
My Experience With Burnout
As a competent and multi-passionate leader, I rarely said no. After all, I was being offered awesome opportunities. And if I am completely honest, I didn’t want to say no. It was so much fun to say ‘yes, I can do that!’
So, I said yes until I couldn’t anymore.
I got married late in life and then had my son. After having Steven, I didn’t decrease my community responsibilities; rather, I INCREASED them. ‘I can do it all’ was the thought in my head running over and over. And so my board work increased, my responsibilities at work increased, my responsibilities at my family business increased, and my responsibilities at home REALLY increased.
Fast forward two years, and I was always sick. I was not working out or eating well. I was always snapping at my husband and son. I was missing board meetings and not feeling good about any of the work I was doing. I was stressed to the max and not liking the person I had become. Something HAD to change.
I took the summer off from work for a health sabbatical and focused all of my attention on wellness: body, mind, and spirit. I worked on identifying my priorities and rebuilding a life around them.
Since the ‘curse of competence’ sticks with you, I had to figure out tools I could use to protect the newfound margin I achieved during my sabbatical. I started by stepping away from four boards.
Aligning Your Calendar With Your Priorities
One of the tools that I rely on the most relates to scheduling. I live by my planner. Before something goes on my calendar, I ask myself these YES/NO questions:
- Do I enjoy this? Am I good at it? Or Does this just need to be done?
- Will good come from this? Is there a purpose to this activity/meeting?
- Does this activity fit into my schedule?
- Does this activity fit with my goals and priorities?
For example, as a well-networked member of the community, people often ask to meet with me when they are looking for work. Working through the above questions looks like this:
- YES, I love meeting with people, and I am passionate about retaining top talent in my community.
- YES, the purpose of this meeting is to help someone network to find a new job and feed their family.
- YES, I can probably fit this in my schedule.
- NO, if I look at my goals and priorities for the year, this probably doesn’t fit into them.
Question 4 is a big one and because it is a NO, I stop there and I can either:
- Meet with the person anyway, knowing this is an exception to my rule. And quite frankly, I do allow a few exceptions.
- Politely decline, giving them one or two other people to contact.
Either way, I am making this decision consciously and am considering the impact before taking on the busy.
Life Beyond the Badge of Busyness
My big aha moment or underlying realization from all this: I don’t want my self-worth to come from being busy. Wearing the Badge of Busyness does not mean I am more important or more awesome than others who are less busy. In fact, after years of being too busy, I know where that leads. It wasn’t long ago that I was so busy thinking about ALL THE THINGS I had to do, that I was rarely fully present with friends, colleagues, and family. As a person who loves real, authentic conversations, not being present with people didn’t work for me.
Now that I have rules and boundaries to protect my time and my wellbeing, I am finally feeling joy being with my son and connecting with my husband. I’m present with friends and family. I am living by my priorities.
Need Help Losing Your Badge?
I received a lot of support from my coach as I made these changes to my life, and now this is one of the topics I focus on with many of my own coaching clients. If you’d like to learn more, I’m happy to talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a free consultation call today.
For more on setting your priorities, check out Episode 059 of my podcast, 4 Steps to Setting Your Priorities. You can also download my Setting Priorities in 4 Steps Workbook.