When Being Too Ambitious can Hurt

Anyone can have goals, but the people who make progress know exactly what and how they will get it done and stick to it.

We’ve all heard it before – how perfectionism can be brutal to not only others, but most of all, to yourself. We all pretty much agree that perfectionism can get out of control and send you into a self-induced tailspin. (In fact, one of the most common pieces of advice we get from vendors is to not get too hung up on a perfectly-executed day, to always have a plan b, and to relax.) However, in the age of oversharing, we are always one swipe away on our feeds from someone doing something (or pretending to) particularly awesome, with the extra sting happening when it was a goal you’ve had for yourself but never acted on (you know what we’re talking about – weight loss, anyone?)

What we don’t see enough are stories from women who turned down opportunities for the right reasons. In this day and age, we equate ambition with greatness, and taking it easy with laziness. WTF? (been there, done that.) What we’ve failed to do is to admit openly and honestly that sometimes, having the self-awareness to realize that where we are right now is overwhelming and to pump the brakes for our own sanity IS SELF CARE AND GREATNESS. When we realize that there will always be another upgrade to our situation (no matter how successful we are) and internalize that it’s ok to not always be burning the midnight oil, we actually increase our chances of success because we are taking the time to recover and move to the next level in the right state of mind. Hello!

The past few weeks have been this way for me. I’m working a full-time corporate internship by day and running the broomstick team during nights and weekends. Not to mention, I’m studying for the PMP exam – which is something I’ve qualified for for years, but never took the time to study, even though it would enhance my resume significantly amongst my peers. I’m also trying to lose weight. My father is turning 60 and my husband’s birthday is approaching as well. My first year wedding anniversary is July 29th. Oh, and did I mention, I’m trying to up my Spanish before my husband & I take a (well-deserved) trip to Mexico in August?

When "overwhelmed" happens – you know it. You’re an ambitious young woman who wants to take over the world and isn’t afraid of a challenge (or two, or three.) It doesn’t mean that any of those goals aren’t realistic, but maybe, together they are! Are you tackling a bunch of challenges at once but are approaching each one like it’s the only one? As a result of being overwhelmed these past couple weeks, I’ve compiled a list of the top suggestions I have to take a break, reevaluate, and come out stronger than ever.

#1 – STOP

Ask yourself what would happen if you changed up your routine.

Yes, stop what you’re doing. You may have realized that the broomstick Instragram stopped posting this week. But the beautiful thing is, maybe you didn’t! I mean, you’re reading this, so you still love and follow our brand. Your life went on as usual. No one cried tears in bed because Natalie didn’t write and post a bridal tip. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break for a defined number of days. Tell yourself you won’t count calories for the next week. Don’t post to Instagram if you need to recharge. Don’t send personal emails (or if you must, just put an automatic out of office message.) Take the time to heal your brain. Literally, heal!

#2 – DEFINE WHAT’S CRITICAL

Most things in life can be delegated. Seriously. I think the biggest lie we tell ourselves as women (in general) is that no one can do that task like ourselves. LIE. Will your company’s Instagram really tank if a member of your team takes it on this month? Will your wedding planning go completely off the rails if you explain to your fiancé or your planner that you need them to take the reins for the next couple of weeks? Probably not. Remember, if you are your best self, you can come back to the table stronger than ever – way better than inching along stressed and irritable.

#3 CUT WHAT’S NOT

Now that you’ve figured out what’s absolutely necessary for you to do and what others can help with, figure out what you’ve been doing that NO ONE needs to do. Are you spending money on an expensive weight loss program that isn’t providing results? Cut it. Are you wasting time going back and forth to the gym (at the expense of studying for that exam) when you can buy some dumbbells on Amazon and do a 15-min workout without leaving your house? Do you have 2-3 emails back and forth every single day with your wedding vendors when you can have a weekly one-and-done conference call with your planner? Get creative and start cutting/replacing. For your own sanity.

#4 DETACH (& DREAM)

The beautiful part of the break you’ll take is that it separates you from the mess. If you’re constantly in the midst of all your tasks, you aren’t giving yourself the mental space to imagine more creative ways of getting those tasks done. Ask yourself what would happen if you changed up your routine. Dare to write out something different for when you go back to working on your goals. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Another way to detach (and this includes after you start up on your goals again) is to turn off your notifications – YES. (Try it, you’ll be a new woman.) Instead of seeing an email come in and immediately starting to think of your response (which takes away mental energy and focus from whatever task you were working on at that moment) set times every day where you will check your email. It may be 9am, noon, and 4pm. Seriously, if your wedding planner emails you at 12:30, is the sky going to fall if you respond at 4:01? Who told you everything is urgent to your own demise?

#5 GET YOUR SYSTEM ON

What approach do you think you can apply to be more effective and focused?

One great article I read last year by James Clear talked up the value of systems – essentially, habits and processes you put in place to help you get stuff done. It argues that anyone can have goals, but the people who make progress know exactly what and how they will get it done and stick to it. Think about how this can manifest in your life. When are you going to practice that language and with whom? When are you going to work out, and what do you really need to do it? When are you going to study for that test, and did you plan it for a time that’s convenient for your learning? For example, are you telling yourself that you are going to study for that test on Thursday nights when your husband usually hangs out with you? Ok, then your system needs fine tuning. Maybe you move it to Wednesday nights and start going to a local coffee shop so there’s no noise & family distraction. Even if it’s just for an hour – that hour each week will add up way faster than you maybe kinda sorta studying for two hours every Thursday, but with one ear to what Olivia Pope just said.

As for me, I’ve realigned my system to study my Spanish with my shuttle driver every morning as he takes me to work (he’s a native speaker – who needs a workbook and flash cards? Again, this is an example of determining what you need.) I carry a small notebook with me in my purse to my internship and while traveling so in case my mind wanders to broomstick, I can jot my idea down and get back to focusing on work. Instead of working out for 30min-1hour every night to lose weight, I took a better look at my eating, blocked some time to grocery shop every Sunday, and I spend 15 min before bed (while catching up on the news) each night to pack my food for the next day. I study for the PMP exam every Monday and Wednesday, and work on broomstick every Tuesday andThursday night, with my staff meeting on Thursdays. The key here is intentional focus. I may have broomstick on my mind everyday (ask any entrepreneur) but I refuse to let my goals consume me all day every day. When its “their turn” my mind is set on that goal, and the best part is that I find I’m making way more progress than working on every goal every single day. What’s better – working on something for 10 min a day and constantly feeling overwhelmed that you have 10 things to do that evening, or working on something for 1 day a week but for three uninterrupted hours?

With wedding planning, maybe creating your own system would be telling yourself that every Wednesday is checking in with your wedding planner and what they need you to do, every Friday you discuss financials with your fiancé, and every Monday you hit the guest list. Do you really need to do those three things every single day, or can you dedicate a day to each? What approach do you think you can apply to be more effective and focused?

Last story for you – this past year I had the opportunity to run for Graduate Student Body President at Penn, and after wrestling with it for weeks, I decided not to. The only reason I wanted to do it was that I knew I would be a great President and be able to serve well. However, what was “well?” – was it creating great change for the university while losing vast amounts of sleep? Was it knowing my mom and dad would be super proud but destroying any quality time I had with my husband?  (and in grad school, the quality time you have is already very small.) It reminds me what I learned in corporate strategy class: “great strategy isn’t just knowing what your company should do, but knowing and remembering what you should NOT be doing, even if it looks tempting or if everyone else is doing it.” By not running in that race, I learned the very important lesson that just because you’d be good for something, doesn’t mean it would be good for you. With this article and these stories, I hope you know you’re not alone, and that you don’t have to keep pushing the envelope if you’re feeling stressed beyond measure. Stop, take a hard look at things, cut what you need and ask for help, and get some systems in place, and you’ll have a much more beautiful life.

Natalie Neilson Edwards is the Founder & CEO of broomstick, the company she created when she realized that simply getting mad about the lack of realness & representation in the wedding world wasn’t going to solve the problem. In her spare time, she watches crime shows, cooks Sunday suppers, works towards her Wharton MBA, and plays with her husband Austin and four-legged brother-in-law, Brutus.