The business case for slowing down: An open letter to Type A’s everywhere

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Hello my name is Margaret and I am a chronic overachiever.

My auto-pilot mode in life is to take on too much, leave little (if any) room for downtime, and suffer pangs of guilt when I make time for non-work or non-goal-related activities.

I have been this way as long as I can remember. As a little girl I would make to-do lists for the weekends, I had a low-lying but constant feeling of pressure and overcommitment as early as high school. It seems the moment I achieve some goal I’m mentally already onto the next.

Even in the face of life crises I have taken little time out to process in favor of moving on to the next thing. A week after my mother’s death last year I was doing TV interviews to promote Eat Naked and right back at a near-full workload. On many occasions, the only thing that could stop me in my tracks was a migraine, my body’s way of demanding my attention and shutting me down.

Perhaps this sounds normal and reasonable. And yes, I’m certainly not the only one who lives this way. But consider that I have devoted my life’s work to helping people take better care of themselves through their food and lifestyle. The irony doesn’t escape me.

And then I got pregnant.

Life changes when you have children. I knew this, but didn’t think much would affect me in the nine months leading up to this incredible moment. I thought this time would be for creating space in my life for the little one – mostly by cranking through goals and laying the foundation for my business to go on without me. How little I knew.

Within a few weeks of learning the exciting news, life suddenly felt hard and utterly exhausting. I’d have to sit down after climbing a flight of stairs (quite the contrast from the marathon training I was doing last year at this time). I needed copious amounts of sleep – not just your average eight hours but a good 12 to 14 hours of deep sleep a everyday. My brain was foggy. I was forgetful. I lost my creative impulses. And perhaps most concerning, I just could not get through tasks like I am accustomed to doing. The work was piling up and there was nothing I could do but let go.

I tried the strategy of pushing through. You know, my default setting. This time my body not only repeatedly shut me down with migraines, but it brought extreme nausea and the inability to eat as its wing men.

I had no choice but to surrender. I learned to function at minimal capacity and made peace with lying like a lump on the couch. I learned how to watch TV. I let go of expectations about what this time should look like and let it unfold on its own. Of course, I did this kicking and screaming and fighting it the whole way, but I did it.

And so how did this help my business, you ask?

This experience forced my hand to adopt a level of deep self care I’ve been unable to do on my own accord. It forced me to practice what I preach. And despite drastically reduced work hours, my productivity somehow magically returned to normal.

It turns out that deep self care is not only important to your health and well being, but vitally important to your business, too.

There is an African prayer that goes:

“Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go. Let us take care of the elders, for they have come a long way. Let us take care of those in between, for they are doing the work.”

(thank you Gail Larsen for including this quote in your book Transformational Speaking)

I have always ‘known’ that self care is important to business. In fact I coach many of my entrepreneur clients to make self care a part of their business plan. Without our health we have nothing. But ‘knowing’ this and truly living it are very different things.

The first change I noticed was that my time spent working, minimal as it had to be, was hyper efficient. I’ve always been efficient, and didn’t think I had further to go. It was shocking to me how much I was able to accomplish in a short amount of time. My mother used to say “work expands to fill the time available.” I cannot overemphasize how true this is.

Less time available = less time wasted. It’s a powerful strategy.

Second, I learned how to ask for, and receive, help. This is another one I thought I had in the bag, but this time, I learned that when you actually truly depend on the help (it’s a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have) it’s a heck of a lot harder to reach out. The delicate art of delegating and of depending on others was a skill I had to fine-tune. And, yes, having a doting husband who happens to also be a healthy foods chef certainly made life easier for me.

The next thing I noticed was that when my creativity re-emerged – that is, when I’d rested enough to let it flow again – it came back with a vengeance. As any writer or artist will tell you, when it’s not flowing, you can’t force it. My old strategy for turning on the creative tap when I got blocked was to go for a run and let the physical energy inspire the creative energy. (Hence my trend of training for a marathon at the same time as writing a book.)

When walking upstairs is a feat in and of itself, a run just ain’t happening. I stopped writing for several weeks. And guess what: the world kept going. Even better? The new creative resources I now have on hand were worth the wait.

Letting my energy actually replenish rather than just squeezing every last drop out of me allowed a deeper source of creativity to flow.

And when it flows, oh my does it flow.

Business, relationships, life – all of it runs more smoothly when YOU are operating at 100%. The only way to do this is to take good – really good – care of yourself.

Now that I’m through the trials of my first trimester I am continuing to strengthen this new self-care muscle I’ve grown. I say “no” more often, treating my energy as the precious resource that it is. I go to bed early even if I’m not tired. I give myself permission to flake out when I need to. I build in days off and protect them fiercely.

And for the first time that I can remember in a very long time, I am not depleted and desperate for rest. I am inspired, alert, refreshed, and keen for the adventure to unfold.

What about you?

Leave a comment letting me know how you replenish, how you exercise your self-care muscle, or where you struggle in this area.

photo credit

11 Comments

  1. Karen

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    Thank-you for sharing from your heart as you always do! You are an amazing woman and what a blessing you are for the beautiful little one you are nurturing into this world!
    Love ya!

  2. Shelley Madeley

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    Thank you, Margret. Your experiences and words are inspirational to me!
    Shelley

  3. Cathi Herzog

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    I loved reading this because it reminded me very much of the letter I sent out to my posse of people last November. It’s also very ironic that you would print this on Fat Tuesday. I’m not Catholic but I have a dear Catholic friend who gives up chocolate for Lent every year. I typically give it up with her. This year for Lent I’m devoting the time to taking care of me – Eating Naked, going for walks, going to the spa, resting and journaling. It was a great article and I loved reading every word. Take care. Warmes regards, Cathi.

  4. Marquelle

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    Hi Margaret,
    What an awesome time of your life. I’m so glad you’ve made such powerful discoveries. It’s amazing the energy it takes to create another life. I had a friend tell me that when you’re pregnant it’s like running a marathon every day. Amazing how the body takes its own time out whether we want to or not. It’s even more amazing that you have shared your experience that is so humbling with all of us. Thank you for your example and continue to enjoy your pregnancy.
    In Motherhood,
    Marquelle

  5. Paul-Andre Panon

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    I’m reminded of the saying “A heart attack is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.” This is definitely a better way to learn that lesson, although it’s not available to everyone. 🙂

  6. Tauna

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    Oh my dear Margaret, what a beautiful way to have to slow down, enjoy every moment of it. Also enjoy those 12-14 hours of sleep that you will never have again until our kids are teenagers. I love ready your blogs, they either bring me to tears or make me laugh. Miss our “chair” talks so this is my way of keeping connected with you. Rob and I are still practicing good habits from the other side of the pond, there are loads of great fresh markets here in England. Take care of yourself and that beautiful baby growing inside of you…..remember to always listen to your body it knows best 🙂

    Tauna xx

  7. Great advice, as always, Margaret.

  8. Leslie

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    From one recovering over-achiever to another, I totally hear you and I appreciate the reminder. So, so important to listen to our body and remember that when it tells us to slow down, it knows best! And, it benefits all aspects of our life! I always love your blogs, and this one is no different – a great read, insightful, honest, vulnerable, and practical too.
    Xoxo, Les

  9. Sharon Henegar

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    Dear Margaret:
    Thanks so much for sharing. It is no accident that I read this the day my husband and I found out he has some heart problems and HAS to slow down. He is a type A also!
    Your Mom was very wise. I learned that motto about a job takes whatever time to…..many years ago and it is so very true.
    I am happy and healthier today, Margaret because of you and your teachings to me. I appreciate and love you! xxxoxoox Sharon

  10. Jenn

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    I was just trying to power through all the e-mails I “need” to catch up on after being away for work, even though I’m exhausted and have a big event tomorrow. I’m closing my computer right now and taking the evening off! lol Thank you!

  11. Lisa

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    Great advice and timely in my life. I found a more life-work balance by auditioning for a musical this year. I got the part and I realized how much fun other parts of your life can be if you just allow time for it. I found I would leave work at a more reasonable hour because I had another reason to be home…rehearsal! If you can find a hobby that you enjoy, it really helps make life more balanced and it makes you realize there is much more to life than just our work!! Thanks, Margaret.

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