Project diet

Did you know that the stock brokers were less depressed during the Great Depression of 1929 than in the eighties? During the Great Depression the situation was clear — everything went down and there was nothing anyone was able to do about it. There was no job. No money. Period.

Wall Street in the 1980s was signified by increasing leveraged buyouts, particularly of manufacturing and consumer goods companies that had large amounts of cash and pretty undervalued. In other words: the market was booming. Yet, a surprising number of stock brokers burnt out and got severely depressed in that period. Why? There was no external reason to run like crazy rabbits. But they got obsessed. Obsessed that others might be beating them to the punch more while they were sleeping. So, they kept on putting more and more hours. 14, 15, 16 hours a day. Working from 5am. 4am. 3am. Until they couldn’t anymore. All for a chance to score to score a few more millions of dollars. Money they didn’t really need. How crazy is that?

Yet, in the world of infinite possibilities many of us are behaving exactly the way the stock brokers did in the eighties. It is so easy to constantly feel like you are missing out. That if you went to this one more meet-up, presented at yet another conference, had a dinner with some prospects, you would be so much better off. The question, though, is: — do you really need to be better off by this much? It is worth it? Why do you need it in the first place?

I am not talking about a situation when you are fighting for survival. Then having yet another chance to get paid is paramount. But in so many cases we are just looking for another score to make ourselves feel needed. Feel irreplaceable. Feel successful. At the same time we easily forget what we are giving up in order to participate in this run for another score. The time to think. To rest. To regroup. To reconsider. To grow.

I’ve been in the race for six years. Managed to bury myself in an endless array of projects. Projects that at large had little to do with what I wanted. Not all of them. No. But more than I would like to admit. Until I could not do it anymore. I was on a verge of a professional burnout. I even entertained the thought whether I still wanted to keep to my profession.

Then I heard a guy at a conference, who was telling my story as his own. He talked about taking too much upon him. Not being able to balance his professional and private life. Working far too much for far too long. And then burning out.

He introduced a notion of slack time to me. Time to do things you want to do as opposite to the things you make yourself to do. Time to search for what makes you tick. What you are passionate about. What really matters.

At that point I realized this is what I need to do. Right now. This very moment. I decided to go on a project diet.

It was probably one of the hardest things to do in my professional life. I had to learn to say: No. To pass on opportunities while afraid that they may never return. That I might have offended some people. That I might allow competition to grow. That I might become irrelevant.

So, what did I do? I decided to have a trial of two months. Two months of personal quality time. Just for myself. I told everybody else that I am not doing projects for these next months due to personal issues. It sounded intimidating enough for people not to ask questions. At the same time it gave me a natural way to return to my endless-array-of-projects life if the slack time turned out to be not for me.

At first I felt a lot of tension. With time I realized that under all that tension I started feeling really good. Feeling like I haven’t felt for a long time. Spacious. Creative and happy again.

After some recovery time I started noticing new paths for myself. Paths I would have never seen if I kept on draining my energy at the speed I did before. Paths that seem so natural and fitting. A whole new world of opportunities to make an impact bigger than just making another client happy.

I don’t know where it is going to take me. But I am more than happy to have made this first step.