What Coping Mechanisms are Getting in the Way of Your Dreams?
We’ve all experienced some form of adversity in our lives. The good news is we naturally develop resiliency as a result of negative experiences that we had. Resiliency gives us skills, techniques and coping mechanisms that help us bounce back in the face of future trauma or challenges. Typically, resiliency is a really good thing.
It means we survived.
But I’m here to tell you that resiliency is also a double edged sword. Sometimes the traits that make us resilient, like an “I can do it myself” attitude, over-functioning, or over-responsibility, can lead straight to burnout, anxiety, and depression.
These traits can be valued by society though, so it’s often hard to recognize them as challenges or limiting beliefs. Resiliency keeps us safe, and the skills protect us from future pain or disappointment. But often these coping mechanisms may be hindering us and holding us back from making progress towards the big dreams we have.
That was true for me. Growing up in an alcoholic family as the oldest of three siblings, I started life with more responsibility than the average person. I helped hold the family together by doing the grocery shopping in high school and working in various aspects of our family business.
Tragically, both my parents died of alcoholism-related diseases within two years of one another. As the oldest, I was suddenly in charge of not only managing their estates, but also taking care of my two younger siblings. At the age of twenty-two, I became the sole guardian of my sixteen-year-old sister, which was an unbelievable amount of responsibility to be handed to a young adult.
I didn’t have a typical young adulthood with the safety net of family to learn skills from and fall back on. Failure wasn’t an option. I was “adulting” long before “adulting” was a common meme among millennials. I became self-reliant and was praised for my maturity and “having it all together.” My “can do it” attitude meant that I also excelled in my career.
I was resilient.
But this came at a cost. For instance, I didn’t get to have spring breaks and learn how to “unplug” and turn off. Most of my breaks during school were spent working to support myself financially. I didn’t learn the value of finding balance with my time and my boundaries. I struggled to understand and pay attention to my own needs for support and protection from others or learn when recharging and taking a break would make sense.
I had a belief that I have to work hard, and keep working hard in order to be worth something. Eventually, through self reflection, I made this link between my incessant need for busyness and achievement and how it was the only thing fueling my self-worth. It was mostly driven by my imposter syndrome – a belief that despite outward success I didn’t deserve it or it didn’t really mean anything.
It’s no wonder I struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my teens and 20s. It’s also no wonder that I moved through a career path and career ladder simply because of the circumstances I found myself in, not because it was the path that I designed or dreamed for myself.
I’m trying to speak out against this idea that we need to be busy and achievement focused to be worth something.
It took a long time for me to consider how these traits left over from my trauma — which are often valued in a career — were hurting me. Once I did, the good news is, I think my inherent resilience kicked in. I was able to adapt and consider another path, one that was more even keeled and includes more balance.
You may not think to describe embarking on an entrepreneurial journey as “even keeled and balanced,” but the truth is it was easier for me to create that for myself than trying to create it within the corporate environment.
Crusade Against Busyness
One of the reasons I dared to write a book exploring some of the traumas I had and profiling experiences of many others who made big changes in their life as a result of their own self-reflection and inner journeys is because I’m trying to speak out against this idea that we need to be busy and achievement focused to be worth something. It’s a bit of a crusade that I’m on.
And it’s warranted because burnout is an epidemic right now. People experience burnout in different ways. Burnout can show up in an obvious way like exhaustion, the inability to sleep, or maybe the strong need to sleep all the time. A hallmark of burnout is not having any personal time or self care in our lives. It can also show up as more of a simmering frustration, anger, resentment, or unpleasantness at your job.
Busyness and burnout can also just be a distraction. A distraction from experiencing uncomfortable emotions. It prevents us from looking too closely at how our past painful experiences in life might have given us coping mechanisms that hold us back from living in more happiness and fulfillment.
Once I made that link between busyness and my self worth, I was able to start letting go of the societal pressures to always stay busy and productive. Letting go of my corporate job helped me let go of my busyness faster, as I could now set the bar without input or guidelines from a boss or corporate culture.
Becoming an entrepreneur allowed me not only to live a life-long dream of working to help people with their personal finances, but do it on my terms with protections in place to prevent getting too close to burnout and overwork again.
Naming and achieving a big dream takes courage and being comfortable with a fair amount of risk. However, if we fear risk because it reminds us of something we experienced in the past — it means we have a lot more to overcome in order to do something scary and life a big dream we have in life.
My most important personal goal today is to spend time going back and living a more carefree lifestyle, as opposed to one that’s over scheduled, overworked, and burned out. I invite you to do more of your own self reflection to discover some of your coping mechanisms — what might be holding you back from living your biggest dreams?
The Resiliency Effect draws on the disciplines of life coaching, psychology, and financial planning. My goal with the book is to offer a way to develop excitement and energy around your purpose which often is preceded by deep, inner work. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere books are sold.