Your Backpack Of Bricks

By the time my business coaching clients come to me, they’re usually having trouble sleeping. Sometimes their marriages are falling apart. Their stomach or their back hurts. Or maybe they’re just feeling overwhelmed.

I used to joke that the greatest thing about running my own company was that I couldn’t be fired. However, as it turns out, it also meant that I couldn’t quit. Owning a company is a lot like having kids. It’s a long-term commitment; an obligation. It becomes a part of your identity. We have a lot of control over HOW we do it. But we often don’t have a lot of control over WHETHER we do it. Leaving is not really an option.

So we control what we can control. We lean in, get creative, and add ideas. We add clients or customers. We add employees. We add sales pitches and marketing assets. We add website updates and photographs of our work. We add weekly and daily meetings. It’s exciting! We add onboarding and training. We write proposals. We add bookkeeping and tax accounting. We’re getting things done! We keep an eye on our market and try to forecast the coming weeks and months. Should we say yes to this project? Should we hire this person? Will the work keep up?

Each of these things is a brick we put into our metaphorical backpack. Some are small and some are larger. Some feel like an effort. Some feel like fun. But they all weigh us down — slowly — brick by brick by brick. At first, we don’t notice it. It’s thrilling to have this responsibility and control. However, over time we begin to feel the weight. We build muscles and become stronger. We become more skilled at carrying the weight. Or maybe we just try to ignore the discomfort. And we can always just valiantly brush off the effort as “no problem.” But the weight is still there. And as we add more and more, eventually something will break. We will hurt emotionally. We will hurt physically. We will burn out.

A lot of my coaching work is finding and acknowledging the heavy weight we’re carrying. It’s about digging through and assessing what we’ve put in the backpack. What do we love? What do we hate? What can we take out? Can we delegate some of these things? Can we collaborate? Are there ways that we can carry things more efficiently? The work is also about accepting that each brick, each task, each responsibility has a weight that we should recognize as we agree to carry it.

What would it feel like if you didn’t need to carry this backpack of bricks? This is a bit like asking a parent to fantasize about not being a parent anymore. “Ack! I can’t even imagine it!” But what if we just look at the good parts? Consider it an unachievable zen goal… or a thought experiment. What would feel good about not carrying that weight anymore? Are there ways that you could move towards that feeling in the near future? Are there tasks you could hand over or meetings you could stop attending? Are there responsibilities you could delegate or tasks you could hand off to someone more capable? Keep in mind that by spreading these responsibilities around, you’re providing opportunities for those around you. What could you do over the next year to alleviate even more of this weight?

Remember that the amount of weight you CAN carry in the short term is always going to be more than the weight that you SHOULD carry in the long term. Sometimes it’s enough to just stop saying, “no problem.” Recalibrate your threshold. You probably don’t need to be carrying as much as you are.

Jeff Robbins is a business coach, mentor, and virtual business partner who works one-on-one with company owners and leaders to help them build vision and direction for their companies while building productivity, stability, and happiness for their employees and themselves. You can work with him too. Reach out to set up a free consultation session.

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Jeff Robbins

Cofounder at @Lullabot. Executive Coach at @jjeff. Rockstar at @Orbitband.