in Guest Posts

The Era of Overcommitment

The following is a guest post from Teresa Basich. Teresa is a 20-something currently living in sunny Southern California and working as Content Marketing Manager for the top-notch social media monitoring technology firm Radian6. Teresa is by far one of the most grounded and intelligent people I know – she is already doing some amazing things and it is a pleasure for me to be able to call her a friend. Check out more of her writing over at Writing on Purpose.

When Matt asked me to contribute a guest post during his weeks away from this crazy, pantsless place, the first thing I did was look at my calendar. I’ve never been much of a calendar user; it’s never been my M.O. to live such a framed-out life. But, being in the industry I’m in, and being surrounded by such incredibly driven people, I’ve reached a point where I can’t live without a calendar.

In typical Teresa fashion, part of me is proud to have reached this calendar-necessitating point in my life – it seems like a right of professional passage. But, a substantial part of me is also sorely disappointed to be living in time blocks. I mean, this was a guest blog post we’re talking about. I shouldn’t have had to check my calendar.

Or should I have?

There’s a push now more than ever to do it all, to be all that you can be even if that person is someone you’d hate being in the long run. The race to the top is fierce and, like a highway, your default is supposed to be the speed of everyone else, which will inevitably be faster than anything you’re comfortable with. Even if you’re a go-getter.

Unsurprisingly, this faster-than-light pace we’ve been maintaining for the past few years is finally starting to take its toll. I know more than a handful of people who are starting to crumble under the pressure of high demands, both professional and personal, and the pressure of competition or ambition or whatever the hell pushes them to keep going. Keep driving. Make things happen. Sleep when you’re dead.

When is it enough? I’ve asked this before and I’ll continue to ask it until people actually consider it for more than the two seconds they have to actually think freely about a question. I’ll continue to ask it because when we over-commit, when we push ourselves past our own personal breaking point, we cheat ourselves, our family, our friends, and our work out of serious quality.

Pace and quantity now outshine thoroughness and quality, and that’s lame. That’s all there is to it. From a personal perspective, I’m finally working to pare down my commitments, make the time to think fully through my projects, block out distractions when necessary, and not get sucked into the overcommitted lifestyle that seems to be ruining people on an epic scale.

It’s hard to do, to not get swept away by the speed with which the people around me live their lives. And sometimes I doubt it’s worth it. But the moments in which I can take a full breath because I know I have the time and energy to get something done to the best of my ability are beyond confirmation that I’ve made the right choice to slow down. Maybe I won’t have tons of money, multiple book deals, or invites to all the parties, but at least I’ll know at the end of the day I gave myself the space to do the best I could.

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21 Comments

  1. Teresa, I am so very proud of you for taking this stance, although it is probably a bit “risky” to put yourself at odds with all the go-getters of your generation. Although several decades older than you, I, too, did the 70-80 hours per week work routine. Baby boomer women thought we all had to be superwomen — perfect wives, perfect mothers, perfect housekeepers – perfect everything – and still work that excruciating schedule to climb the ladder to being perfect in our jobs. From my now lofty position of being many years older, I look back and see all the joys and simple pleasures that I missed because of that nightmare merry-go-round. And, yes, many of us now feel that we did, indeed, sacrifice quality in all those things in pursuit of something we never attained. I applaud you for thinking so deeply about the true worth of your time and your sense of what is really important to you.

  2. I agree — good post and well thought out. Especially in our 20s, and 30s, that need to grow and prove and establish ourselves sometimes outranks common sense — there are only so many hours in the day!

    I am 40 and learning this lesson only now, wish I had earlier – take the time to do it well, output is about quality not just quantity. Plus there is rumoured to be a whole world and whole life outside the office…

  3. Nice time to read this post. I am doing pretty well and am very comfortable in my current business level. I am in my twenties as well. But now my friends keep on pushing me to grow my business which certainly means more commitments. Its is challenging to define how much once should grow and at what level one should stop.

  4. Oh man, if only I could get my boyfriend to read this, truly understand it and internalize it! This is a great post, Teresa, as always. I love the personal anecdote about the calendar; it speaks volumes.

    We all need to re-prioritize and maybe use the calendar in a reverse sense: there's only 24 hours in the day, eight of those must go to sleep without compromise, and another definite number must go to family and friends and ourselves.

  5. I used to work 40-50 hours a week at a high profile day job that didn't pay enough, and then I'd come home to work another 20-30 hours a week throwing art parties and generally doing what I wanted to keep myself sane. No longer… What I discovered. The race to the top is not how many tics you put into your calendar or how many hours you work.

    The reality is that the time you spend doing work that matters is what makes the money. Now I work less than ten hours a week, and spend most of my time free, and I'm suddenly making way more money than when I had a day job. I have better ideas. I'm healthier. I might go train to be a yoga teacher. Don't rush around, instead do work that matters.

  6. Thanks for the lovely comments, all. :) I think the real key here is that it feels like many of us are sacrificing some very basic pieces of the happiness puzzle in the name of success, and I'm not sure that's necessary. Yes, it's important we drive and work hard, and I'm all for that, but in an effort to do that and to achieve our life goals we toss our hats into too many rings.

    At the end of the day, we need to work hard enough to take care of ourselves, our family, and have some extra room for fun. I see the two pieces of the puzzle happening in droves, but that last bit about leaving room for fun (or even simple appreciation) is missing more and more.

  7. First of all, Teresa, thank you for stopping by my neck of the woods – I know you are insanely busy and it means a lot to have you as a contributor here.

    This post really resonates with me because, like you, I was never a calender user – and even now, when I tell people “I have to check my schedule” I feel like a huge douchebag. But, what I'm quickly learning now that I am managing everything myself, you can't be everywhere for everyone all the time. The hardest part of being your own boss or working anywhere for that matter is managing the expectations of your clients, coworkers, and most importantly, your own.

    It's easy to say “yes”, sometimes it feels impossible to say “no” but managing your schedule and expectations is the only way to live sustainably and not kill yourself with stress. Be honest and up-front, and follow up – let people know that you can't have it done today, but you will have it done by the end of the week. Set expectations, just make sure they are achievable and realistic.

    Cheers and thanks again T – I hope the west coast is treating you well (was beautiful out there in San Fran last week – the vacation ended far too soon).

  8. Sounds simple enough but knowing what you want to accomplish can be extremely challenging – hell, even focusing on your identity can be tough. But, like you said, when you can figure those things out and set your sights on whatever it is you want to accomplish, the rest DOES come together pretty nicely – without a sense of direction we're all running around in circles…

  9. I admire what you've done Everett (and you know this). The biggest thing I see with you is your unrelenting focus and determination. You've really made something of yourself because you're focused and because you passionately believe in what you do – which is really, at the end of the day, what matters most. You practice what you preach.

    With that being said, working 10 hours per week is something I can only dream of right now – you must teach me your ways. Very impressive and because you've put in a lot of leg work – you have a lot of 'passive' income streams coming through.

    “Work on what matters” – that's saying a lot without saying a lot – something we can all take away and apply to our own professional careers – really love your focus on this throughout your ebook as well.

    Cheers buddy – enjoy the west coast for me!

  10. Well I am a fan of calendars, because otherwise I'd forget what I'm doing :)

    That said, I appreciate Teresa's focus on quality. There is a lot of pressure to tweet, Facebook, and blog several times a day, and you just can't keep up the quality at that level. I only post to my blog twice a week on average because I usually spend two hours on a post, and that doesn't count any time to travel overseas or live life so I can write about it!

  11. Have you read REWORK by 37Signals founders? In it they talk a lot about WORK LESS NOT MORE and their main argument is that 1. problems aren't solved with time 2. the longer/harder you work the less productive you become and in turn the less useful your time becomes (BURNOUT as you call it above!) 3. If you work in a team and live by the SLEEP WHEN YOUR DEAD mentality you grow a culture of that and soon enough everyone is a Zombie!
    I fully agree with you, doing things your own way, your best way…is heaps better than having no life, no time, and tons of money.
    over and out.

  12. My pleasure, Matt! I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about managing expectations — especially your own. Sometimes we want so much, but often what we want doesn't actually come from what we're doing to get there, so we work harder, commit to more in hopes our success/happiness/self-worth/whatever will come from everything we're doing. In the end, though, it never does, and it turns into a vicious cycle because, like Jamar said, the more you work, the less effective you are, and the worse you feel about yourself and life for it.

    It really does go back to knowing who you are and what you want to accomplish but, like you said, that can be hard to pinpoint. Putting in the effort and time, though, to figure all that out is absolutely worth it.

  13. When I worked for a very well-known Photographic and Imaging company earlier in my career, it was corporate policy for all employees to take classes on productivity and opting to choose, 'good enough' over 'the best you can perform.' I worked for that company for 11 years and climbed into middle management before being layed-off with 22,000 other non-essential people. When I started working for this company they employed over 135,000 people. Today they employ less than 22,000 worldwide. Its like Seth Godin tells us in Linchpin, “You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must.” Don't listen or conforms to the pressures of the compan y that you work for – even your own. By staying true to YOUR values and measures, you will never be disappointed in yourself.

  14. I am a complete fan of this post, Teresa. Thank you for acknowledging – out loud – that perhaps overcommitment and overworking ourselves isn't the way to go, and that it certainly won't make for our best work over a sustained period of time. I'm glad our generation finally seems to be allowing itself to say this – even though others may frown at the decision to jump off the fast-track temporarily, or permanently.
    Of course, this is easier said than done – especially when there are a million and one things you'd like to devote your time to. How do you narrow down?

  15. Binge working is a recession addiction. I'll take productivity over presenteeism every time. Would write more, but hey, I wanna go sit in the back yard and chill for a bit, done my thing for today. Good work Teresa

  16. Hey Karina,

    Thank you for the kind words. :) For me, paring down my commitments really comes down to figuring out what the things I commit to will mean for me in the long run. At first it's pretty hard — saying no doesn't seem to be in many peoples' DNA and it's also looked down upon a bit — but you'll find that the more committed you are to a few things, the less likely you'll want to commit to other stuff that takes away from those things.

    It's a matter of digging into yourself, finding what's important to you, and accepting that without judgment. Then, taking that knowledge and working towards those important bits. You'll inevitably get sidetracked, but just try and remind yourself regularly of what matters to and impacts you.

  17. this is definitely a constant tension for me. On a daily basis i have to re-evaluate what is worth doing and what isn't. I have since decided that anything i do, i will do it 100%. no half a##ing allowed. sometimes it means a little less play, sometimes it means a little less work.

    I think the important thing is to be fully aware of what one is getting into. if you know that your promotion is going to have you dancing in the rain 24/7, it's okay to take the job as long as you know what you're getting into. In my opinion, over exertion becomes a problem only when the person involved entered into those commitments blindly/uninformed