The Hamster Wheel
Wake up. Shower and get ready. Go to work. Do the work. Drive home. Make dinner. Clean up the mess. Go to bed. Repeat. And repeat again. And again and again and again. It’s the hamster wheel of life that we often don’t even realize we’re on.
I remember running on that hamster wheel earlier in my career. I’d earned a job title that included the word director, and that meant my time while at work had to be used in the most effective ways. I needed to be on all day (run, hamster, run). The meetings I was part of needed to be focused on the agenda’s bullet points. The employees who came to me needed answers quickly so they could get back to the work of bringing on more clients and keeping the current ones happy. My calendar had to be full of appointments that would ultimately increase the bottom line for the organization.
That wasn’t the end of my days, though. I didn’t drag myself home and plop down on the couch, ordering take-out to spend the evening relaxing with my husband. When I arrived home each evening, there was another kind of work to do—the Mom kind. My evenings were all about keeping on schedule and staying on routine. Spin, hamster wheel, spin.
Need to and Have to Mindset
There were so many “need to” and “have to” tasks in my mind. I was hired on as a director for a reason, and that reason wasn’t to chit-chat with coworkers and veer off the meeting’s agenda because someone wanted to share her review of the fabulous movie she saw last night. I had to (had to, had to, had to) make the best use of my time, and that meant sticking to the schedule, focusing on the business at hand, and fitting as much as I could into the day—every day.
Where did the need to/have to mindset come from? Was my superior pushing me to behave in this manner, or was it my own myopic view that unless every minute of the day was focused on making more money and increasing that bottom line, I was doing something wrong? I realize now that it never even occurred to me to step off that hamster wheel so I could better focus on all the moving parts around me—the humans around me. Perhaps if I’d done that, I would have been able to see things more clearly, and I wouldn’t have always been so out of breath from running on that wheel.
Jumping Off the Hamster Wheel
I did eventually jump off the wheel. It came at the lowest point in my career because while I was running like a hamster every day, I wasn’t taking care of me. My health began to suffer and not just the physical kind. My mental and emotional health had taken a huge hit. I wondered why meetings were happening that I hadn’t been invited to, and were people whispering about me, or was I just imagining that? As I focused on what I didn’t feel I had, I still scrambled to find that hamster wheel even though I knew it was a huge factor in why I felt so lost at that time.
My career moved in a new direction—a positive direction. There is no hamster wheel for me anymore because I’ve discovered that living a need to/have to existence doesn’t serve me well. Instead, I work each day to follow these principles:
1. Align my work with my values.
My greatest values are authenticity, vulnerability, kindness, and connection. I can’t do my best work when I’m not being my true self, and ironically, my true self cares more about connecting with others than making more money and filling every time slot on my calendar. Since I’ve taken the time and made investments (i.e. coaching) to really figure out who I am and what’s important to me, the lens through which I look at the world has become so clear. I work to stay in touch with my authentic self. When I was living the hamster wheel life, my self-care suffered. I never took the time to reflect on how out of alignment my life had become. Getting rid of the wheel allowed me to open myself up for better opportunities that came my way.
2. Know that ROI doesn’t happen instantly.
In last month’s article, I shared some tips on how to foster authentic, solid connections for the most meaningful return on our networking investment. It all goes back to connection.
For so many years, I focused on getting it all done, and then I’d be disappointed in myself when I wasn’t able to do that. I continued the mistake by pushing myself harder the next day so more of that “it” would get accomplished. I never understood that in order to be the most effective professional (and person) I can be, I need to show up with the intent of truly connecting and understanding others. The ROI might not happen immediately, but I’ve found it’s much richer this way.
3. Understand that living my best life means reinvesting in myself.
There have been so many times (more than I care to admit) I’ve told myself and others I didn’t have time for new opportunities that came my way. That hamster wheel keeps us busy, right? There was a time in my career I wouldn’t have even thought about working with a coach or being part of any long-term professional development. Now I realize that reinvesting in myself and my continued growth is the only way to kiss that hamster wheel goodbye for good because I am my own best investment. When I’m at my best, I give my best.
The hamster wheel of life is common. We see it every day, and as I’ve shared, I ran on it just as much as others do. The effect of running on that hamster wheel, though, is a hectic life with no time for big-picture thinking and goals. It’s time to change the effect with the simple understanding that it is we who are in charge of our time, our life, and how we show up every day. Hopping off that wheel was the beginning of my greatest success.