When You Have to Stop
You’re a busy person, right? There’s always something to do, someone who needs something from you, some pressure, some deadline, some work to be done. Sometimes it feels like you’re spinning plates — and that if you stop, everything will come crashing down and you will probably die. That’s not even an overstatement. I know when I was at my busiest, my most workaholic, my most frantic to perform — I literally thought I would die if I stopped — or even slowed down.
But sometimes, life forces a hard stop.
It won’t negotiate. It might be delayed, sometimes. But it won’t drop it until you just give in and stop. Sometimes, this is in the form of an illness. Sometimes, it’s a family crisis. Whatever the case — life will insist on grabbing all of your attention, at least for a while.
About two weeks ago, I had my tonsils out. Getting your tonsils out is funny when you’re an adult. It’s clearly a surgery meant for smaller, more resilient people. You know, like, kids. Kids get their tonsils out and it’s a sore throat, eased by feasting upon popsicles and ice cream while you cuddle on the couch and watch Bugs Bunny. When you’re an adult, every single person who finds out you’re undergoing the procedure tells you it will be the worst thing you ever experience and that you will want to cease to exist. “The worst sore throat you’ve ever had” and a list of complications that would daunt even the most intrepid Foo Fighters fan (deep 90’s reference! See: Learn to Fly, with a nod to my children, ages 3 and 5, who are obsessed with this song, and who recently named a new stuffed animal “Dave Grohl”) don’t begin to describe the experience of being knocked out and muted for several weeks. It was the most passionate pre-commiseration conversation I’ve had with people since I was pregnant and everyone thought my baby bump was an invitation to share their most traumatic birth stories.
Thing was, they were all correct. I have a thing where if I have to have some kind of medical treatment and there is a specific recovery time estimate, I assume I need about half the time. This assumption has never been true, but apparently, I am such an audacious optimist, I continue to believe it, even when proven wrong constantly. This time, I was maybe three days in, having slept for all but maybe 3 or 4 hours out of them, when I realized it would definitely take the whole time. And more.
(Um. In case you’re getting worried, I will stop talking about my tonsils very soon).
Now. Before this surgery happened, I spent a very frenetic week getting stuff done. I have been going through a shift in my business, growing, moving focus, bringing on people to work with me, and developing a huge amount of new content. I have imposed deadlines upon myself that would make a dehydrated stoic weep crocodile tears. I have decided that barring hell or high water, this empire will be built and we shall prevail! Hear, hear! Lean Nonprofit, ARISE!
What I didn’t account for, was that hell and high water combined are no match for a tonsillectomy.
The Friday before I had the procedure, I realized my website wasn’t working. I investigated, and it turned out all these connections between my domain provider and my website host were mis-pointed, and I had to fix them. I did that on Monday. In the meantime, because I am not a technology superstar and I don’t want to have to be one, I broke my email. I didn’t know that, of course, until one of my compatriots texted me moments after my surgery to tell me she was getting email bounces.
And I was flat on my back, dizzy, sick, incapable of speaking — not that I could formulate a coherent thought anyway — and…my email was broken. After I just did a ton of outreach and lead generation and putting out offers and sending quotes…and all of that was just bouncing away. If anybody was responding, they got a “permanent error…” and I was just in bed, drooling more than usual.
It was at this point, that I finally had to stop. I had to surrender to the fact that time would pass before my email would be fixed. I had to let this be what it was and allow myself to flow with it. Will it destroy my fragile little empire? Will it bring me crashing to my knees, broke, and bereft? Maybe. This remains to be seen. Now that I can talk and sit up long enough to do something, I have rectified the problem. But still, it was a good solid week lost, and it was scary.
When something is scary and horrible and you desperately want to control it, and you physically cannot, it is insane. It feels like you are helpless and in mortal danger and you might as well just fade away because there is no coming back from this. That is, until you let go of your need to control and remember all the times you have been supported. All the times you have had everything you need. All the times you’ve thought you were done for and yet somehow, you survived. All the times something happened that ended one thing, leaving room and space for something new to begin.
When you have to stop, all you can do is remember these times, and remember that you are still supported, and still have what you need, and you still have value, and you still matter. All the times you have come back from the dead and have seen another day, climbed another mountain, seized another victory — you focus on that.
When you have to stop, be still, let the stillness wash over you, and be grateful, as much as you can, for the time to heal. Be well, get stronger, find your center and your heart. Stay grounded, and go deep inside your heart to connect with who you really are.
When I could finally talk again, I vented to my wonderful boyfriend, who is the kindest person I know, about all of my fears and lingering doubts, and foundational uncertainty that I can pull this (or anything else) off. He was uncharacteristically impatient. He was like, “Seriously. Come on! This isn’t where you find your worth. This isn’t what makes you valuable. And even if it was, you figure it out. You always figure it out. And you will be OK — you are OK.” And then I felt like he was reading my blogs and I was being a hypocrite.
And that’s true (not the boyfriend reading the blogs thing, but that I would figure this out and be OK). It’s more true than the fear and doubt that make me want to pull back on everything and say, NEVERMIND!! It’s too scary and too risky and maybe nobody wants what I’m selling anyway! If you’re a nonprofit person, you would think maybe you don’t make a difference after all and your solutions aren’t good enough and nobody will fund you anyway…We all give up in small, sneaky ways sometimes. And it isn’t helpful. If we can be bold and strong, if we can surrender to the stops along the way that help us recalibrate, reconnect and reconfigure, we can tap into a source of love and energy and inspiration that will take us to the next level in our lives and work.
And if the stop does happen to be permanent, which it sometimes is, we can turn the love, energy and inspiration to other things. And that is OK too.
So, friends, when you have to stop, take a breather. Let it be for your good. Let it be more than a source of frustration and helpless, thrashing anger. Be with yourself, and then, figure it out. You can. You will.
Sarai Johnson is the founder and principal consultant at Lean Nonprofit, LLC, best-selling author of Strategic Planning That Actually Works, and the host of No Nonsense Nonprofit, a podcast for nonprofit practitioners and dabblers. Lean Nonprofit helps nonprofits get bigger mission impact by building stronger businesses, and helps passionate people build world-changing careers. Learn more at www.leannonprofit.com.