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How You Work Is How You Live

What big, hairy, audacious goal should I set for myself? What did I learn about myself last year? Am I already behind?

Over the years, I have stopped thinking of January as the only opportunity to start or refresh things, but it’s natural that the start of a new year is a time that I stop to dream, think, and plan for what’s ahead.

One thing I know about myself is that while I can dream a year ahead, I get better results when I plan out a few months at a time, and when I spend time checking in on process as much as outcome. I talk more about this with Lou Blaser on her Second Breaks podcast.

HOW I get things done is as important to me as WHAT I get done, and that has had a huge impact on my quality of life. The last year in particular brought this lesson into stark focus. This is what I'm investing in in 2021.

Two key principles stand out:

Self-Compassion Over Self-Punishment

I get things done well under pressure, especially if I am putting that pressure on myself. I grew up surrounded by strong messages about hard work and discipline, and the professional environments, jobs, and goals I have chosen for myself in the past deepened that message, encouraging me to put my nose down, drive myself hard, and achieve under budget and ahead of schedule.

There is a sort of sick pride I can take in participating in the cult of busy and overwhelm.

Historically, that type of work ethic brought great accomplishment and recognition along with a robust dose of self-flagellation, exhaustion, and resentment.

And I could continue that way….except that I don’t want to.

What I know to be true is that the person I am under those circumstances is tired, grouchy, and suffering.

What’s missing is any of the generosity of spirit, kindness, or reassurance I would offer to someone else working on their own goals.

To them, I’d say:

• You can care for yourself and get the work done.

• Give yourself some time to think and reflect and the work will get done faster and better.

• Let’s break this down into manageable bites: what’s the first step?

• Look how great you’re doing!

It takes deliberate attention for me to offer myself this kind of self-compassion (I'm already sooo good at being hard on myself), and sometimes it feels ludicrous to talk to myself in this way…

I can see the hard-driver in me rolling her eyes, but I know for a fact that the antidote to the burnout I was experiencing at the end of 2020 is this kind of tending and care. Nearly every high performer I know has to work at this with effort and consistency.

How You Work is How You Live

One of the many things 2020 required of me was to be really purposeful in daily life.

If I wasn't paying attention and making active decisions about my time and mental energy, I would spend hours spiraling down the news channels, worrying about things I couldn't control, falling for the lie that buying more beans was architecting safety in a world in chaos.

Over and over, I had to ask myself, who and how do I want to be in this time? What do I want to look back on and see in my own life when I account for myself someday in the future?

The foundational, grounding tool I always have at my disposal for exploring this question are my set of values.

Most people I know and work with haven't actively thought about their values in years, often since they were in college or graduate school, which may have been a while back.

Thanks to great coaching and support from wise teachers in my life, I’ve revisited my own values at various transition points in my career and life, and it didn’t take long for me to notice that in the dreaded spiral of mid-2020, one of the reasons I felt drained and afraid was that I was falling away from core values, in work and in life.

One value in particular stood out: Experiencing joy in simple moments.

I had let our collective crisis strip away the opportunity to enjoy loud music in my kitchen, fresh flowers and snacks on the counter, laughing with my neighbor over the fence, and piling up with the family and the puppy on the couch after a long day.

I’d let virtual school, work, pandemic, and civic unrest somehow signal that life had become too SERIOUS to enjoy the simple pleasures that are core to the way I want to experience the world.

My promise to myself, in 2021 and beyond, is that as lofty the ambition, as diligent the effort, as focused the attention may be, I am committed to experiencing joy in simple moments, the ones I know I can count on, and the ones I have yet to discover.

How about you? Insights from 2020? Ideas for how to set yourself up for a 2021 that works for you? I’d love to hear it


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