How to Avoid Hitting the Wall

I was recently asked how one can keep up the necessary pace of leadership while also avoiding hitting “the wall.”  The question brought to mind a quote from Parker Palmer, in his book Let Your Life Speak. His words resonated with me the first time I read them, and have stuck with me over many years. Palmer noted, “Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess — the ultimate in giving too little!”

Think about it . . . haven’t there been times when you were taking on what seemed to many like “too much,” and yet you remained energized and undaunted by the task at hand? Times when you were in a state of “flow” and completely engaged in and invigorated by a project? When you are leaning into your gifts and graces, you can often work at a pace and intensity that may appear unsustainable to others because you have a deep well to draw from . . . and counterintuitively, maximizing your gifts and graces actually replenishes your “well” even as you are drawing from it.

Conversely, I am guessing you have also been involved with projects that sucked the life out of you. Even thinking about the tasks ahead left you feeling drained and dreading what would be required of you. During those times, were you trying to give what you did not possess . . . perhaps something counter to your natural giftings? Certainly, there are parts of every role that don’t necessarily play to our strengths, but there are things you can do to make sure you are maximizing your leadership impact.

1. Recognize what tasks energize you, and which drain your energy. And then partner with someone whose gifts complement yours . . . perhaps someone who takes great pride in managing the details of a situation if you are a big picture person. You take a weight off your plate, and give someone else’s gifts a chance to shine.

2. Know what re-fuels you. If you are an introvert, maybe it is reading or spending time in nature. For extroverts, it could be carving out regular time to socialize outside of work. Exercise . . . prayer . . . time for reflection . . . competing in sports . . . giving back to others . . . spending time with family and friends . . . What activities allow you to physically and emotionally maintain your equilibrium and/or hit the reset button?

3. Sometimes, it really is just too much. We’re not talking one day here – all of us have days like that. However, when you feel like you are getting buried deeper and deeper with no light at the end of the tunnel, you need to step back, take a deep breath, and then prioritize, delegate, and rest. In spite of how it might feel, the world will not stop spinning if you take a pause before you crash headlong into the wall.

Leadership is hard. The pace can at times be daunting. And you have a choice. Energize, re-fuel, hit pause. Telling yourself you don’t have time for any of those things is also a choice . . . one that often puts you on the fast track to that wall.

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