When Life Gets Overwhelming

Many years ago, while undergoing a personal and professional crisis, I took a morning off to think about the things that were stressing me. At the time, on the professional front, my main business was struggling with heavy debt, operational issues, and my incredible lack of experience. On the personal front, a relationship of mine had stressed my most important relationships and had my community at the time (i.e. the church) wanting to investigate and intervene. The demands from work and community felt like wave after wave of things to do, things to explain, and things to correct.

Until, I paused to understand my situation a little better.

Instead of going through my normal daily routine, I took a fresh piece of paper and just started writing down thoughts on my work situation and community situation. They were simple thoughts on WHY each was important, what was the straightest way to a solution, and what were some next steps I could focus on (even if I didn’t have all the steps to get a full solution).

I decided to focus on 3-4 things, and only 3-4 things, I could do to progress and improve my situation, and here’s what I came up with:

For work:
– Focus on only 3-4 things to deal with at a time.
– Understand what it takes to succeed in those 3-4 things.
– Be willing to live with not addressing everything right away.
– Stop thinking of an escape. Spend all energy thinking of solutions.

For the community:
– End low-value relationships.
– Shrink my circle and focus on self, family, closest colleagues, and closest friends. This is my real community.
– Ignore anyone who pretends to have authority over you but lacks any accountability on their contributions to you.

I came back really free from that session. Although I wasn’t able to execute my resolutions right away, I was at least clear with myself on what my next steps would be. One by one, I worked on each, many times clumsily and over multiple attempts, but I got them done. In the process, I not only improved my situation little by little but was able to deal with deeper issues as well.

For example, my challenges with my business were really personal struggles with focus, work ethic, and lack of experience. Overcoming those, becoming a better worker, a better manager, was the call of the moment.

For my challenges with my community, I had the almost bipolar realization that the community was extremely important and extremely toxic at the same time. Close community, made up of people who deeply share your life, your purpose, your values, and, very importantly, your consequences, was extremely important. General community, made of people who you may be acquainted or connected with, may share some of the same things as your close community, but do not share in your consequences, can actually be very toxic. They’re just more unnecessary voices whose opinion doesn’t come with the weight of accountability.

I realized I needed to care more about my close community and care much less about the general community, no matter the title, ranking, or position of that member is. I thought to myself, “Why do I have to create understanding between me, my family, and my close friends?” Because I want to go on sharing my life with them. So that’s what I did. And that was freeing.

I also asked, “Why do I have to create understanding with pastor this, leader that, and person x?” I realized I didn’t have to and didn’t want to. I. didn’t want people who had little or no contribution to my life taking from my energy or acting like they had any authority over me – when they didn’t. Now that was really freeing. To know your real community, to limit your accountability to those who really matter to you was the lesson that was gifted to me that season.

All of this to say, when life overwhelms you (and life is quite overwhelming now), I advice you do these four things:

  1. Take a moment to pause
  2. Focus on just 3-4 objectives you can zoom in on
  3. Take one next step by one next step towards your objectives
  4. Be open to all of life’s lessons

I’m confident you’ll find what I found and continue to find, that life’s lessons are rarely linear, rarely obvious at first glance, and rarely easy to catch. They are usually simple but not simplistic, hidden but in plain sight, and in bite sizes but complete. There’s a difference between learning a lesson and simply coming to your own conclusion. A lot of people go through life’s struggles and conclude that life is meaningless, or evil, or unfair, or some fatalistic result beyond our influence. But to the teachable, life’s struggles become a guide to show a better way, not simply out of a situation, but a better way to live.

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