We all have an external narrative and an internal narrative. Although not equally weighted, they each contribute to who we are. Our credentials, job titles, and work duties – even the organizations that we work for – are components of our identities, but so are the thoughts, feelings, and values that we bring to each experience. My external story includes nearly 20 years working for a company that managed catastrophes: unforeseen events that threaten to damage or destroy organizations.
Our own corporate growth (from $20 million to over $200 million annually) was exciting, and at times excruciating. The details are less relevant these days. I participated in far too many projects than are topical here, but my favorites always return to one curious lesson: organizations are defined and enabled by their people.
My internal narrative tells the rest of the story. The business, you see, was doing great, but I wasn’t. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the work. In fact, it was where I often felt my life was most meaningful and energized. The job just didn’t allow me to enjoy the rest of my life. On the few occasions I allowed myself to attempt to relax, the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on something or the parade of tasks I had yet to complete would arrive and make true relaxing impossible.
I did my best to escape stress the only way I knew how. I drove away in cars and a motor coach, I hid in a vacation home, and I tried to outrun it in my own airplane. I might have delayed things a bit but nothing really worked. I was a classic codependent, preoccupied with acceptance and approval. My suffocating need to please others kept me from saying no with the same confidence that I said yes; and I often overextended myself in fear of not living up to others expectations. The thought of failure was appalling enough, but the thought of making a mistake in a competitive, performance-for-income environment was simply intolerable.
On top of all this anxiety, I happen to be one of those people who have difficulty accepting my own accomplishments. I was working hard but I believed that luck or fortune (read as: “things outside my own control”) sometimes just broke my way. Add to this an ever changing set of expectations and the conflicting demands placed on my time and attention… well, basically I was consuming my high-achieving self.
In between meetings and projects I ate junk food, routinely worked late, and answered texts and emails immediately – even during meetings and in the middle of the night. I all but stopped exercising, and I began to withdraw spiritually and socially. My self-concept was growing increasingly clouded each day and 4 hours of sleep a night offered little relief. When I looked in the mirror, all I could see in myself was what was wrong. I still find it ironic that something that I started out creating ended up controlling me.
In a moment of clarity, I walked away from it all.