Many well-meaning people encourage us to push and achieve more. Hit a sales target for the boss and you may find the bar gets raised for next month. Bring a project in under budget and you may find one consequence of your success is their belief you’ll repeat this with future projects; perhaps to the point of being given less resources yet expected to achieve the same results.
Higher expectations in the workplace are nothing new. It seems everyone wants us to be more efficient with our resources, employers want us to cross-train at work; not only being excellent at the work we do, but also learning how to do the work of others, which in turn makes us a higher valued asset. While we know we are entitled to our full lunch or dinner and our 15 minute breaks, often we might find pressure to work through them in practice, even though we’re told to take them.
And it doesn’t stop in the workplace. You might find that at home you’re expected to not just prepare supper, but ensure it’s something that will be a hit with everyone at the table. There’s demands on your time to help with homework, read a story, cuddle on the couch, have everyone’s clothes clean and ready, have lunches ready to go for tomorrow, spend time with the pets and then suprise, squeeze in some additional request for your help with something completely unexpected.
Stretched. It’s perhaps the best and simplest explanation of what you’re experiencing. Pulled by well-meaning people both in the workplace and at home. Of all the people in your life, you’re the only one who really gets the impact of having all these requests and demands made of you. Even when you share with those at home what’s going on at work, they can only understand on an intellectual level rather than having a real appreciation for what it’s like to live your experience. Pehaps while their listening empathetically, they even suggest you make yourself a tea or coffee to calm your nerves, rather than getting up to make it for you. Well-meaning sure, but yet one more tiny thing to do.
The thing is that no matter how much you’re able to stretch yourself and be there for everyone who needs you, you’ve got your limits. Pull beyond what you’re capable of doing and you’ll snap. Then people will look at you with puzzlement and disappointment and question your effort, your commitment, your capabilities!
You have to forgive people who do this though. I mean, we’re all different from everyone else; there isn’t a blueprint that says we can all be stretched to the same limits. Some of us can take on heavy loads and appear to thrive on them. Others work best when the loads are lighter, just not being designed to work at our best when we’re overloaded. But those well-meaning people are sizing us up based on the other people they know and their own best guesses as to what they believe we should be able to take on.
At work, the boss can hardly keep laying more and more responsibility on some members of the team while keeping the workload light for others. This could be read as favourtism. If it went on for any length of time, it could breed discontent, resistence and conflict among the members of the team who feel taken advantage of and overworked – especially if they all receive the same wages.
The other reason I think people should be forgiven for failing to understand what we’re capable of is that as individuals, our own capcacity to carry our loads fluctuates and changes based on all the things we juggle at any one time. What we were able to handle last month might be more or less than what we can handle this month. Why? Well maybe we’ve got 4 birthdays to plan for this month, there’s been a death of a close friend in our personal life, while at work someone’s confided in us that they are looking to leave and all we can see is more work coming our way.
While we can forgive others for unintentionally adding to our stress, we have to give ourselves permission to plateau if need be; send our Superhero cape out for cleaning, and just be normal. It’s not only okay to do this, it’s healthy for our minds and bodies. Pushing ourselves for too long beyond what we’re able to do risks both our physical and mental health. If we should stretch to the point of breaking, well, we’re not only unable to help others, we’ll end up feeling guilty, incapable and disappointed in ourselves. This can mean lower self-worth, anxiety and sadness.
This is not to say we shouldn’t push ourselves or fail to be pushed by others to find what we’re capable of. This is a good thing and sometimes we wouldn’t have the success we’ve had if we didn’t stretch to see what we might achieve. But the difficulty is knowing where that line is between stretching and breaking.
From time to time, what we’re giving is all we’ve got. This doesn’t make us a bad person, nor weak, nor unachieving. It makes us human. And when you feel ready, don your Superhero cape and go get ’em!