I’m on the phone with a mom of two kids, one with a disability. She has a full-time job and the requisite complex life that comes with her daughter’s diagnosis. Life is full of demands, and she rushes from thing to thing, wearing her many hats. She dreams of starting a side hustle that speaks to some of the needs she sees special needs families having. She wants to use her expertise and skills to offer some of the help she wishes she had. She also wants some retirement income in a few years. But, adding another thing feels like crazy business.
I tell her that her side hustle doesn’t need to be another thing. It needs to be part of her one thing. If I had several hours with her, I’d explain how to get to the one thing. I didn’t. I’ll tell you instead. But first, some background…
I’m a woman with a pretty complex life. I’m a business owner, I’m in school, I have an adult son with autism who I homeschooled for 8 years. I have two teens who were also homeschooled for 14 years, and who help me embrace the dynamics of having highly sensitive, artistic, leader types as kids. My kids receive a ton of my energy and attention, and their massive, eclectic array of challenges and superpowers both satisfy my love for figuring stuff out and defy my need to be in control. Daily.
Control cannot be a life strategy… Trying to be in control was definitely sending me quickly to a very dark place. I decided instead to manage my perspective on things and to stay anchored to my one thing.
Why I chose one?
When I talk about one thing, people look at me funny. It can’t really be one thing, can it? There are many things! And many of us have learned how to switch hats and be in different boxes, and almost, literally, be different people to show up in the various segments of our lives.
Maybe that works when there are 3 or 4 roles that we occupy. I think it becomes unmanageable after 5. Every mama of a kid with a disability I know can easily list …. 15 or so roles that she occupies, many at the same time. Balancing all these roles, actually, keeping track of the roles and the ways to be in each role well can get confusing, and stuff starts to leak over into other areas of life.
I don’t claim that my strategy is the only or even the best strategy, but it’s the one that’s helping keep my head on my shoulders and it’s what I share with pretty much anyone who will listen.
In this post…
…I’ll share what I would have shared with this mama:
- justification for having one thing
- two critical steps I had to do to clear space to even see what that thing is.
- a way to identify the one thing
- a process for recrafting your plan around this anchor and clarifying it by testing your plan.
What I say may not apply to you if you already have a method of keeping it all together that works well, keeps you both efficient and emotionally healthy at the same time. So, listen with a grain of salt, and grab only what makes sense to you.
Constant Task Switching Sucks
There are too many things.
The reality is that when we see ourselves operating in several roles throughout the day, our brains spend a significant amount of energy keeping track of what’s afoot in the current task, preparing for the time when we switch tasks. Some researchers say that we spend as much as 20% of the time that we are in a task, handling the need to switch to the upcoming task. So, here’s an over simplistic example. Imagine that during the work day, you are working on 2 separate tasks that you split equally over the day. You would think that you spend half day (say 5 hours) on each task. Actually, about 40% of your productive energy is spent switching from task to task. That’s 4 hours lost in a 10 hour day, switching between 2 tasks. The story has it that it gets significantly worse the more tasks we’re switching between.
I think the same when we are moving rapidly between the various hats we wear on a daily basis. This idea reminds me of a scene from the Crown when Elizabeth has to be both wife and queen with her husband. It makes for great TV, but living it out can be miserable. Personally, when I’m living in rapid role switching city, life quickly feels chaotic and intense. Overwhelm and panic flavored anxiety comes knocking.
What happens when I become overwhelmed. I become more controlling. I’m hyper-vigilant about my schedule, about the movement of my kids to all the things, and I become a maniac about all the precautions needed to prevent overwhelm (becoming even more controlling). Stuff falls through the cracks and I blame everything external while feeling like a total failure.
Get it together!
Maybe it’s the systems designer in me. Even in college, I was fascinated by making multiple different systems talk to each other as if they were one united machine. Integration is my jam.
I fell in love with the word integration when I found out that it was related to integer and integrity (Yes, I’m a nerd. You found me out). An integer is a single whole number, and when something loses integrity, it stops holding together… it starts to separate into multiple parts. Integration is the process of being together as that single whole thing. For me, it represents strength and synergy.
So, if there are multiple parts, fragmented, pulling in different directions (this is usually what’s going on when we say we feel out of balance), getting integrated means coming back to center. It’s the multiple threads coming into a central pattern or organizing themselves into a single entity.
The trick is seeing that one thing (it might be wearing an invisibility cloak right now), getting rid of stuff that’s antagonistic to the one thing and persistently weaving the threads of life so that they organize into the one thing, giving it substance and structure.
1. Gotta believe it first
It all starts with Attitude
Have you ever looked at those vision puzzles where they told you ‘there are 7 words hidden in this picture….’. For most of us, if we didn’t know the words were there, we wouldn’t see them. Like many things in life, we see what we believe we’ll see.
When I look at the pull of many priorities, it’s easy to doubt this ‘one thing’ idea. My constant temptation is to control and organize life. But, if I do that as my first step, I’ll never get to my core, integrating anchor.
Belief is the lens that we wear as we process our experiences. I’m blatantly offering you another belief. You have a central, integrating structure/idea that can bring all your ‘things’ into one thing. This will make your business/life balancing act a no brainer. There’s no need to balance when you are only doing one thing.
Create some inner Space
I’ve had so many days when I wished everything would just stop and give me a moment to breathe. But the mad frenzy just continued. It’s like I needed to change the tires on the bus while driving it. How do I do that??
I couldn’t. I had to STOP. And I recommend that you do too. Now, I’m not advocating that you run away from your business and your life (though you might need a vacation…). Kids continue to need stuff, bills have to be paid.
STOP is an intention to pull back your energy from controlling and managing everything. It’s about becoming a minimalist for a little while, in your life. Do what’s necessary so people don’t die and you don’t lose money. But give yourself permission to relax your being the chief orchestrator of everything. Why? So that you can direct some energy inward, to see what’s going on in your inner world. Your anchor is there to be seen, but you’re probably tapped out energy-wise, doing all that you are doing, and coping with the challenges of living with the multiple demands pulling you everywhere.
Stopping looks like different things for different people. At one point, it meant pausing the 6 different therapies my son was doing. It meant deciding that I didn’t need to fix him. At another point, it meant serving the clients that I had, but refusing new ones. It might mean taking a day to be completely off the grid and trust that people won’t die while you have radio silence. Deciding what STOP looks like takes intuition and courage. If your heart is drawn to (not) doing something as your version of STOP, pay attention. If you think it’s impossible or doing it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s probably your path to creating the internal space you need.
Your brain may be telling you that stopping in any form is crazy. When that happens, don’t trust your brain. That’s your amygdala trying to keep you safe from lions, tigers and bears by resisting change. But there are no tigers. Nothing bad happens when you stop. You have accomplished massively amazing things in your life, and you won’t allow bad things to happen. You can reduce control, reduce the energy you spend on managing and create more space to Look.
Awareness is everything. Your Anchor is there.
There is one thing that can and does anchor everything you do. If you look for it, you will find it. But looking is a skill, and it starts with building what I call your inner observer. That’s the version of yourself that sees how you think and understands why you do what you do. There are tons of tools that can increase your abilities in this area (send me a message and I’ll send you a few). Dan Seigal calls it building mindsight – your ability to know what’s happening in your mind.
While you look, you must trust that you will recognize this anchoring value when you encounter it. After all, it’s a fundamental part of YOU. So even if you don’t yet have words for it, you know it on a very deep level. It’s your core way of being, the way you are when you are lit up, being your best self. It’s how you show up and what you do when you believe everything is possible and that there are no limitations. When you are ready to explore this, take a few minutes, resist the idea that you don’t know, and describe it.
This anchoring value has left a trail of markers all over your life, sparkling brilliantly among the things you LOVE to do and ways you really enjoy being. It’s also yelling furiously in the sometimes harsh experiences you have encountered. So own it. Recognize it. Call it out.
To apply this idea to your business, make a list of the experiences you have had in your business that you LOVE, that felt good and that brought out the best in you. What do these experiences have in common? Why is this common entity meaningful to you? Make another list of the experiences that felt stressful and pulled you in multiple directions. What’s one aspect of that experience that you would change that would make the experience better for you?
I did this activity comparing a training I delivered that I loved and one that I didn’t like. I discovered that the differences were tied to how I delivered the training. One was a totally immersive experience and the clients creatively explored the topic over the course of a day. The other was about an hour and I mostly spoke from my PowerPoint, racing against time. A deeper dive helped me see what I really valued, and gave me the courage to articulate and implement it in my business as a non-negotiable.
Try STOP and Look for about 3 weeks. You’ll see more of what lights you up, and the patterns of power and joy that you can reproduce all over your life. You will also see some fear and resistance. I began to see that was afraid clients wouldn’t want to spend the day with me, so I did as many short sessions as I could get my hands on. I was afraid my son would regress if I stopped the rash of therapies. I was afraid that my relationships would change if I changed how I worked in my business. What fears do you have that may be feeding into the frenzied, fragmented aspects of your life? Whatever you notice, realize that it’s just an invitation embedded in information.
4. Sort it out
Activity makes belief practical
Now you have an idea about what your anchor is, it’s time to look at everything that you’re currently doing and see how they measure up. Do they honor or violate your anchor?
Make a list of everything that has you feeling overwhelmed. Dump it out onto the floor and let’s look at it. Then ask this question: How can you honor your core, integrating value by doing this task? If you can’t answer that question, put that task to the side. Sometimes it just takes a different perspective on the same task.
But some tasks just have to go. This can get complicated if the task that might need elimination is one you have done for a long time. Sometimes working though those are better done with a buddy or a coach. Get some help with these tasks.
The bottom line is that life gets muddy and chaotic when we dishonor this anchor. Arguing to keep stuff that dishonors who you are at your core is just… unhelpful.
Here’s a parenting example.
When J. was little I had a full-time home program for him, working on a bunch of goals. It was understandably hectic and often stressful. The goal was to help him get rid of behaviors that were not useful and to develop more appropriate, more helpful behaviors. Over time it hit me. I want a relationship with him that is based on deep love and acceptance. Can I do that while nitpicking on everything I didn’t accept? Our therapist and I decided on a ‘No fixing J’ week to help us let go and anchor to our priority of a loving, juicy relationship with J, regardless of what his body was doing. So, we stopped a bunch of things. And only added tasks back that connected with our value. And only did them in ways that connected with our value.
5. Create a plan to do it
Build a practice of being integrated.
The best way to really figure this out is to do it. Test it out with an area of your business or a specific aspect of your life.
In my case, I realized that at my core, I connect deeply with people, fall in step with them and go with them as they take the next step. Deep connections matter to me, and creating the space to have these connections is integral to who I am and how I show up in the world. To create more alignment for myself, I decided not to offer short training sessions and redesigned my business offerings accordingly. It also meant redesigning my internal business processes and looking at how I did life in general. Whatever this anchoring principle is for you, it becomes the core that all the threads of your life weave around. Unruly strands that cannot weave around this central idea have to get some attention, and maybe hard decisions must be made.
Create a micro plan for an area of your business/life and commit to staying with it for at least a month (I think 3 months is ideal). Like anything else that’s new, your temptation will be to do things the way you always do them. This is a great time to let someone know and get some accountability for the change you need.
If this feels uncomfortable…
… that’s ok. Releasing control does feel like crazy business, especially if you, like me, have taken control and sorted things out all your life. I’m very resistant to feeling adrift. I had to remind myself that this is not the same as being aimless. This is a very intentional action, designed to help me become more clear and unified in my life.
The Cliffs Notes Version
- Decide that having one thing (anchor) is possible
- Create the space to get a deeper perspective on what your anchor would look like by deciding to actively STOP
- Take time to look for the hints of your anchor in the experiences you love and crave, and in the experiences you hate.
- Sort through what you’re currently doing to see what honors your anchor, and what violates is.
- Create a micro plan to honor your anchor in an area of your life and learn from it.
At the end of the day, I hope you stop doing some things, do more of some other things and feel the difference in your energy as you grab the threads of your life and weave them into an integrated whole that honors all of who you are in every way.