Overwhelmed and Underappreciated

Overwhelmed. It’s the most frequent response when I ask the women in my programs, “How are you feeling today?” Consistently, time and again, that’s the response. “There’s just too much to do.”

Men are busy too, but I have never heard a man say he felt overwhelmed.

Why is that? As women, we take on a lot in part because we feel responsible for the multitude of people in our lives, whether at work or at home. It’s our nurturing nature.

Good is not good enough. We have to be perfect so we take more time to prepare, review, and decide. In the book, “The Confidence Code” the authors reveal that even a world leader like Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, over-prepares so she doesn’t make a mistake.

Women are pleasers, which makes it hard to say “no”. We don’t want to disappoint.

Perfectionism. Nurturing. Pleasing. No wonder we feel overwhelmed.

A number of years ago (before I learned to say “no”) I was in my boss’s staff meeting. I was the only woman in the room. My boss was assigning a special project and asked one of my male peers to take it on. I remember being astonished as my peer very clearly, briefly and succinctly declined, expressing that he didn’t have the time. The world didn’t stop turning and my boss didn’t get mad. He simply moved on to find someone else to do it. At the time, I couldn’t imagine turning down what seemed like an opportunity. I would have said “yes” before I even thought about it. I would have felt obligated, needed, wanting to please…all of the traps that would have induced me to accept the project without weighing the consequences.

When we take on too many activities and try to please everyone, we end up too busy.

Sometimes we wear our busyness like a badge of courage. We’re so busy, SURELY it will be noticed and appreciated. The irony is, in business, when we’re “too” busy, we suffer. Our busyness isn’t recognized. It either casts us in a negative light, or it attracts more work. When we don’t sift out and sort through what we should turndown, delegate or avoid, here’s what can happen:

  • We appear disorganized and out of control. We’re late to meetings. We work ridiculous hours. We walk fast and are out of breath everywhere we go. We don’t look productive; instead it makes us look like we don’t have it together.
  • We lose perspective. We’re so close to everything we can’t see what is important. We may not spend our time on the right activities with the right emphasis. Nor can we see ourselves spinning out of control.
  • We stop taking care of ourselves, leaving us stressed, cranky, disconnected and less able to make good judgments.
  • We get busier. We run faster and work harder, thinking that if we just get a few things done, get past a few hurdles, it will get better. It doesn’t.

The busyness doesn’t end until we address the root problem. For many women, this is learning to say “no” comfortably and confidently.

It is possible to learn new skills to reduce that feeling of being overwhelmed. You can learn to sort through what is important and say no to the rest.

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Susan Hodge created Women Leading Together in order to provide one-on-one executive coaching, seminars, workshops, and coaching circles to help career women move forward to create fulfilling professional lives. Visit our website for upcoming programs, articles, and resources to advance your career.

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