Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
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Throwing off the shackles

Perhaps you can relate to this. Recently, I started feeling stuck – a victim of my circumstances. It felt like my days were jam-packed responding to the needs of others or following through on commitments I had made. I felt overwhelmed, overworked, and unfulfilled.  I was not getting to the stuff I really wanted to.

This is dangerous territory for anyone. When we feel we are losing control, stress is not far behind. Beyond the personal toll this situation can take is the damage we leaders can do to our team by letting this situation persist. So, for our own sanity and the sanity of our team members, we need to be vigilant when we see this situation getting serious for ourselves.

The best defence I have for this is Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, specifically habit #2. In this habit, Covey focuses on personal leadership and talks about how all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and then a physical or second creation. Covey asserts than many of us don’t take enough responsibility for making sure that the first creation – the plan for the things we want to accomplish – is in line with our personal values, hopes, and dreams. We instead let the actions of others define our path, be it our plans for the next day, the next week, or the rest of our lives. We move right on to the physical doing and, as a result, we feel like victims and we don’t feel in control.

This learning has been with me for a long time. It led me to write a personal mission statement as well as define what my key values and life goals are. Important first steps, and not easy ones. I revisit this often and always ask myself: “If I were to die tomorrow, would I be okay with the life I have led?” This question really helps me get clarity on my goals and on what values are important to me.

If I have this clarity, how is it that I still get that sinking feeling from time to time that external things are controlling me? This comes down to not reviewing my goals and values often enough and/or not having the guts to push back on things that are taking me too far away from my goals and values. All I really have to do is look at what I am working on and ask myself: “Is this helping me get to where I want to go? Is this in line with what is important to me?” These questions give me a lot of clarity on my priorities.

In my experience, each and every time I stop and review my goals and values, reset my priorities, and then communicate my need to stop doing certain things, ask for help with some things, and delay the rest indefinitely, I can focus more clearly on what matters most to me. Of course there are things we have to do that are not in line with our goals and values, like following through on commitments we have made, address organizational demands, etc. But each and every time I go through this process I see a big increase in focus and a big reduction in stress. It feels as if I have thrown off the shackles, and I am left wondering why I don’t do it more often.

If you are feeling like your life is out of control and you are not reaching your goals, read, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. And make it a habit to refer back to it when you feel that things might be getting out of control.