How to escape from the hamster wheel and start living

Hamster in wheelRecently, I read a Facebook post that said something like this:

“I’m working incredibly long hours to keep my clients happy. But they don’t seem to care, nor appreciate what I do for them. I don’t know why I keep doing this.”

This “why am I doing this” feeling is a self employed dirty little secret. People don’t talk about it. Heck, they don’t even admit it to themselves. Instead, they let things build up until they’re ready to shut down, quit their business and give up.

That’s so sad. :(

Derek Cromwell’s post shed some first-person light on this subject (if you haven’t read it, click the link and read it now – it’s an excellent post.) His post includes some fantastic tips that will help you pull out of the “why am I doing this” trap.

But, since this is an incredibly frustrating (and common) place to be, I want to add some tips of my own…

First, for folks who don’t know my story, burnout almost put me in the hospital. I would work 14+ hour days, hop on a plane for a speaking gig, come home, do it again…and wonder why I was so tired all the time.

It was like being on a self-employment hamster wheel – I would be running hard and fast, but I never really went anywhere.

Today I physically can’t work like I used to – my body won’t let me. I consider that a good thing. It’s forced me to set some pretty hard and fast boundaries about what I do – and with whom.

Here are some things that I’ve learned.

Remember that YOU control your schedule.  It’s soooo easy to blame our clients or “being in search marketing” or (insert your favorite excuse here) as the reason why we work so hard. But that’s just B.S’ing yourself. Would you work a consistent 14+ hours a day, every day, if you were working in-house? Hell no. You’d quit that job as soon as you could. Why would you ever do that to yourself when YOU control your schedule?

Yes, that means saying, “no.” Yes, that means that you may upset some folks. But you know what? Most people understand. There have been a number of times that I’ve said, “I won’t be able to get it to you on X day, but I can get it to you by Y.” And guess what? The world didn’t fall in – nor did I lose the client.

Get rid of toxic relationships. Do you feel your pulse quicken (in the bad way) every time you get an email from a certain client or vendor? Stop making excuses for them and let the relationship go. Granted, I have some…challenges…around this myself. Just this past weekend, my husband said, “You know, every time you talk about (name withheld) you get angry and stressed out. You wouldn’t let me treat you like that. Why do you let them walk all over you?” He was right. As soon as I made the decision to let them go, I immediately started feeling better.

This can be tricky if you’re making a lot of money from your toxic client – or your toxic vendor is “OK, but not the best.” You will make excuses about how they “aren’t that bad.” But don’t you deserve more than “not that bad?”

The reality is, life is too short to work with folks who don’t have your back. If they’re driving you nuts, let them go. You will find someone else to take their place. Trust me. You will.

Take some time off already! I am the mistress of “why I can’t take time off” excuses. Before I took my 30-day vacation (complete with a Grand Canyon rafting trip,) I thought my business would literally end if I wasn’t available to it 24/7. Seriously. I really thought that leaving for 30 days was a stupid mistake.

You know what? I was wrong. Not only did I come back feeling like a new woman, I was more creative than I’ve been in years.

Taking time off may seem foreign and impossible. But it’s not. You just have to get used to the concept of “taking time off.” My strategy is to plan something fun a few weeks in advance – maybe a road trip, or a spa day. Then, I take it – no matter what’s going on, how busy I am, or how stressed I’m feeling.

But remember, if you are planning an “unplugged” day – that means that you are truly unplugged. No email. No client calls. No working on vacation. Period. I thought I would go nuts when I didn’t check email for 30 blissful days. Nope. It. Was. Wonderful.

So, isn’t it time to get off the hamster wheel and live your life instead? Because you can – and you can even start today.

It’s up to you. :)

P.S. I just watched a great video by Marie Forleo called “Burned out, or time for a change?” If you’re thinking that it’s time to close shop and do something – anything – else, watch this. It’s awesome.

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Photo thanks to captainmcdan