Reflections on Overwhelm



I realized this morning that I had not written a blog post with more than 50 words in a long time. And that’s because I’ve been really, well, you guessed it: BUSY.

You may recall if you’ve been reading this blog for a few years that I’ve expressed here — more than once — that I do not like the word “busy,” and that I was going to try to avoid using it. But the truth is I keep coming back to that word to describe my life, along with words like “buried” and “slammed” and “overwhelmed with work.”

You’d think if you heard me talk like this (or received one of my “sorry I can’t help you right now I’m drowning in deadlines” email responses) that I was, in fact, miserable.

But the truth is, I’m not miserable.

I just have a shit-ton of work, and I am very happy about having a shit-ton of work, which makes me think I should probably question my dramatic word choices (e.g.: “buried” & “drowning”), but that’s another blog post entirely.

After my keynote address at Alt Summit last week, there was a Q&A for the audience, and a woman stood up and asked me about what happens when you begin to have opportunity as an artist or entrepreneur: the combination of excitement you experience (yay, my work is finally in demand!) and also distress (but I cannot say yes to everything! how do I decide? what about my kids and family? I’m overwhelmed!). It’s the side of success that we don’t talk about. We work so hard to build our careers; we want opportunity. We want to have so much opportunity that we can make choices about who we work with and the kind of work we make. But then when it happens, it can feel really hard and overwhelming.

So what I told this woman is that when I begin to feel overwhelmed with my workload and all the “please work with us!” emails in my inbox, I remind myself that I chose this. I chose this life. I worked hard for all those years specifically so that this busy life would happen. And while understanding that I chose the busy career I have now doesn’t alleviate the stress of the deadlines or occasional freak-outs (e.g: how on earth am I going to finish my next book before April 15?!?), it does keep me from feeling like a victim or complaining needlessly.

And the fact is, if you can choose to have a career that is full of opportunity, you can also choose to take breaks, say no to things when you don’t have time, take vacations, and even sleep in some mornings.

On that note, I am off to try to knock all 18 things off my to-do list today by 5 p.m. so that I can go get a manicure at 5:30.

Have a great Wednesday, friends.

CATEGORIES: Personal Essays