What The Most Ambitious People All Have in Common
Well, sure, “work-life balance” sounds great. But let’s be real. If you’re at all ambitious — and you are, aren’t you? — there will be times you wake up and realize that your life has gone freaking insane. You’ve taken on too much and now you’re starting to hyperventilate with stress because you feel like you’re swirling in a tornado of “to do’s.”
STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF!
This past summer I was offered a major consulting project I felt super passionate about. I just had to get involved, but, that said, I hadn’t planned to take on more work at this exact moment. I already had a ton of other commitments. Fast forward to now, and where do I find myself? The consulting project is a full-time job, all my other commitments are as crazy as ever, and oh, did I mention that I’m leaving in a few days for New Zealand with a traveling party of twenty friends, a trip we’ve been planning for months? Yes, for the next three weeks I’m going to be a sort of camp counselor for grown-ups. In other words, every aspect of my life is on total and complete overdrive.
What to do?
The downside of getting older is seeing more wrinkles each time you look in the mirror, but the upside is that those wrinkles were hard-earned — and they come with many great lessons. Looking back at my own past, I still don’t really know how I managed to turn around a $5 billion sports drink business right after I gave birth to my third child. That was one hell of a tornado! But that extreme experience helped me to understand something key: my personal energy equation, an awesome tool in times of overwhelm and stress.
During those early days of the Gatorade turn-around, I was working such crazy hours and feeling so guilty about neglecting my husband and kids that I decided to make space in my life by cutting my daily fitness routine. The result? I got even more exhausted. Every day I felt more drained. I hadn’t understood that my workouts are the energy-giving part of my energy equation. Running, especially, gives me time to think, to reflect on the challenges of my life, to brainstorm solutions and to restore my spirit. So while fitness had seemed selfish and the obvious thing to cut, that was wrong. When you’re trying to give your all, you need to hold onto whatever gives you energy, feeds you, and inspires you. Forget what anyone else thinks. It just has to work for you.
As I interviewed the many highly successful individuals that I call “Extremers” in the last year for my upcoming book, Extreme You, I’ve learned that ambitious people only reach their goals because they have figured out their own energy equation, whether consciously or not, and that gives them a new kind of choice. Greg McKeown, a leadership and strategy consultant, observed in the Harvard Business Review that replacing the thought “I have to do XYZ” with “I choose to do XYZ” helps us feel more empowered — whether that’s to make a different choice or to make no change but forge ahead with a renewed sense of energy instead of helplessness. So as you plough your way through your own crazy season of overwhelm, here are three Extreme Moves I’ve discovered to help you choose your own personal strategy and move from work-life balance to work-life fitness.
1. Cut down to essentials. Whatever doesn’t directly help you meet your short-term goals will have to wait. Not sure if something is essential? It probably isn’t. Not sure if you can ask people around you to be patient until you’re through the crunch? You absolutely can. Be upfront with people about your lack of time and tell them in advance that you’re not going to be available in the usual ways for a certain period of time.
2. Check your personal energy equation. What equals physical and emotional energy for you? Hold onto that! The more energy you have, the more you can do for yourself and for others.
3. Set clear time horizons. At Gatorade, I got comfortable being there less for my husband and kids because I knew it was for a limited time. When I had to travel for two or three weeks, I blocked off “mini-breaks” with family as soon as I got back. (Wow, was I happy to be with them!) And I knew that this whole period of insane commitment would eventually calm down once the big milestones had been reached.
Ambitious people feel totally taxed from time to time. It’s a sign that you’re going for it — becoming what I call Extreme You. You can’t always predict it or plan for it but when it happens, you can choose to get into the driver’s seat and energize yourself to get it all done. And that doesn’t feel insane.
That feels great.