The best way I could describe how I was feeling, six months ago, was that a steamroller was coming downhill and I was trying to outrun it.
I had taken on a year-long commitment without realizing exactly how complicated it was. It was taking about quadruple the amount of time and concentration that I thought it would. I had information coming at me any time between 5:30 AM and 12:30 AM. Email, text messages, phone calls, more email in another account, binders and calendar updates and meeting requests and attached files and polls and votes and RSVPs and paper notes. Seven days a week!
As soon as I pictured a steamroller coming at me, downhill, fast, I understood.
Somebody had better be driving that thing!
Someone who knows how to drive a steamroller!
The good thing about earth-moving equipment is that it doesn’t need a key. If you know what to do, you can basically climb up in there and get it going. My background is such that I know I should be wearing a hard hat and steel-toed boots. I’m ready to get muddy.
How ready to get muddy am I?
I’m a backpacker, adventure racer, and marathon runner. I’ve trained in hail, snow, ice, rain, and mud. I’ve waded chest-deep through brown water. I’ve hurdled over open flames. I can carry over 50 pounds up a hill for eight hours and pitch my own tent afterward. (Consider that I’m 5’4” and I weigh a buck thirty. I’m basically an ant). I also hold belts in two martial arts. I’ve been elbowed in the face, been stepped on and smacked in the mouth and punched in the nose and hit in the eye and tagged in the throat. I routinely fight five people in the shark tank.
So, what? I’m feeling a little dread and anxiety over... some texts and emails?
Is a deadline going to kick me in the stomach? No.
Is a deadline going to come up and shove me in the back while I’m blocking a strike to the face?
Is a deadline going to give me a black eye or a fat lip? No.
This is what stress inoculation can do for you. It reminds you that you’ve survived worse. If the scariest thing you can imagine is a physical attack or survival in natural disasters, then there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the business world that should feel all that intimidating.
As soon as I realized that I felt like I was about to be crushed by a steamroller, I determined to get in and drive.
I needed to get out of reactive mode and start taking the initiative. I needed to be the one making the plans. I needed to be the one looking a few weeks or months down the timeline and anticipating questions that would come up. If there was a steamroller to be driven, and anyone was going to drive it, then I wanted it to be me.
It turns out that nobody cares who is driving the steamroller, as long as the right stuff gets flattened.
What a steamroller does is to smooth the path for heavy traffic. It eliminates bumps and fills in potholes.
That’s management. Find the road that handles the most traffic, the one that’s in the worst condition, and pave it. Roadwork is stressful but it needs to get done. The longer it’s delayed, the worse the conditions, until traffic eventually grinds to a halt.
People don’t like uncertainty. They don’t like feeling uninformed. They especially don’t like the feeling that nobody is in charge and that nobody is addressing their complaints or suggestions. Whenever someone steps up and says, “Let me find out and I’ll get back to you,” or “Let’s fix this,” there’s an audible sigh of relief. Finally!
The first time you claim that you’re handling something, and then you handle it, you find yourself behind the controls of that big old steamroller. At least for that day. The second time you do it, you find that others expect you to operate it. The third time, well, guess what. Your name is painted on the side.
You’d better like driving steamrollers!
As a more, ahem, “concrete” example, I was having an issue with evening meetings. Stuff kept being scheduled that conflicted with EVERY SINGLE THING IN MY LIFE. I started missing classes at my gym and feeling like I never got to see my husband or eat dinner at a normal time.
Then it occurred to me that if I went first and suggested the meeting time, maybe it would work for everyone else. Sure enough, I was the one with the most complicated schedule. I didn’t have to say why. All I had to do was say, “How about 6:30?” Not only did I get what I wanted (having it all, my way), but I took a task upon myself that other people no longer had to do.
Once I started visualizing myself driving the steamroller, everything got easier. I created enough cushion in my schedule that I could do more strategic planning. That helped me on my quest to always be ahead and on top of everything. I finally started to feel like I knew what was going on.
The most important thing about driving a steamroller is to make sure that nobody is standing in front of it. The point of the steamroller is to pave nice, flat roads. The steamroller is there to make it clear which direction to go, and to make it easier to go that way. If I found myself running from the steamroller, it was only because I found myself on the correct roadway, a little farther along where it still waited to be paved.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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