You will face a shit-storm.
It may be a Cat 5 — like my Cloverfield-sized meltdown about five years back, to which I’ve alluded.
It may be smaller but more personally devastating — like my “I sold FOUR copies” ebook experience.
And, just like Steph did, you may find yourself waking up one morning after a particularly soul-quaking dream with an epiphany blowing your mind.
But before that happens, you will probably spend several days, weeks, months, or even years, struggling to make sense of it all, asking yourself in ever-increasing degrees of frustration and desperation “What the hell happened there?!”
I tell you this not to bring you down, or put a damper on your glowy unicorns-pooping-out-rainbows-and-sparkles dreams, cupcake.
I tell you this so that it will be somewhere in your mind when it happens (and it will).
And on that day, that tiny part of your brain will flick a neurological switch, and seemingly out of nowhere, the thought will bubble to the surface:
Annie told me this was gonna happen.
And on that day, I want you to remember to come back here and re-read this post. Read it many times. Read it out loud. Print it out and sleep with it under your pillow. (Just in case that whole “learning by osmosis” thing turns out to be true after all.)
Because I’m about to tell you the Cat 5 story.
And if nothing else, it should make you feel a whole lot better about yourself and your shit-storm.
How Procrastination, Overwhelm, a Lack of Planning, and a Failure to Call For Help Killed a Career
So, once upon a time, I was a lawyer. I had a cushy job with a government agency, and made over $70,000 a year.
And it was crushing me.
Slowly, to be sure, and not all of it due to the insane political pressure of this job, but enough to make me painfully aware that if I didn’t get out, I would lose some part of myself forever.
About the same time as this realization was hitting home, my family sort of … fell apart. My brother died, which broke my mother’s heart. Shortly after that, she fell and broke her hip. While she was recovering from that, we learned her cancer had returned – and this time, it would kill her.
Full-time care for Mom wasn’t an option for us, so the hubby and I decided to sell our house and move in with mom, where I would then launch my own law practice and be Mom’s caregiver. I should point out here: Everybody thought this was a great idea — yes, even me. I was motivated, it sounded like a challenge that would actually be fun, and everyone around me was supportive. Not once did anyone say “Um, hold up there … ” although it wouldn’t have mattered if they had. My mind was made up. I could make this work.
And for several months, it was working. Or, rather, it seemed to be working.
Then Mom died. Then, in the same month, my marriage ended. Then my ex lost his job.
And the next thing I knew, it was a year later, and everything was in shambles around me.
“What the hell happened there?!”
I asked myself that question a lot. I’ve spent more hours than I can possibly recount examining that time frame, and the precise path from A to ZOMG.
Here’s what I know …
How It All Went Wrong
Since 1999, I’d been coping with chronic pain as a result of an untreated case of scoliosis, as well as a ruptured disk and fibromyalgia. Medication, yoga, and a whole host of other conservative treatment measures had brought this pain under control for the most part, leaving me able to function fairly close to normally.
But when Mom came home, and I became her caregiver, the pain began increasing – mildly and slowly at first, but then dramatically.
By the time we buried her in her hometown in late January 2007, my pain had increased from an average score of 3-4 out of 10 to 6-7. That’s with prescription pain medication.
On top of the pain, I was suffering from a pretty severe case of sleep deprivation. Due to all the combined stress, I began experiencing insomnia. When the pain increased, that sleep deprivation just grew worse.
I didn’t want to add any more medication to my regimen because I was concerned about mixing even a mild opioid like the one I was taking with any sort of sleep aid. I tried increasing the conservative treatments — more massage, more yoga — and then, when that didn’t help, cutting down on the physical activity, which was also unhelpful.
So I was caught in this never-ending, always-escalating vicious cycle of more pain –> less sleep –> more pain.
Now, here’s the part that surprises me even to this day, and it’s something I want everyone reading this to take to heart:
When I was in the middle of the worst of this,
I had no idea I was in trouble.
Zero recognition of impending doom.
No funny feelings in the pit of my stomach.
No conscious thought of “Hm, maybe I should ask for help.”
Instead, I kept telling myself something like this:
OK, this is bad, but it’ll get better. And I want to help these people. They’re depending on me. I need to get my shit together and just work harder. I can’t let them down. It’s not that bad. I’ll be OK.
Meanwhile, I was stumbling around like a zombie. And the impact was nothing short of disastrous.
I would be on the phone with a client, making an appointment to meet. Then, somehow, somewhere between my mouth, which said “Sure, Tuesday the 17th at 10 AM is great” and my hand which wrote down “Wednesday the 18th at 1 PM,” things would go horribly awry.
I was making huge mathematical errors in the very simple math that accompanies a bankruptcy filing.
I’d read a one-paragraph statute for over an hour, and have no more clue what I’d just read than before I started.
And inevitably, my “to-do” list exploded almost overnight, as it began taking me longer and longer to perform even the simplest of tasks.
This part of it – right up until the next thing that happened – it’s bad, to be sure, but I’m at peace with it. That’s because my only other option would have been to not help my Mom when she was injured and dying. And that was never an option for me. So yeah, up to this point, I’m OK.
It’s the “what happened next” that makes me want to vomit.
What Happened Next
I stopped answering the phone.
I put off those simple tasks that I struggled with, endlessly procrastinating.
I’d spend hours sitting on the couch, staring at the television, without a clue as to what was actually going on there.
That’s not just procrastination, folks – that’s world-class procrastination. And ever so predictably, it led to overwhelm. And for this part, it was all on me. At some level, even if it was subconsciously and in a brain that was addled from sleep deprivation and constant pain, I decided to procrastinate. I decided not to call anyone for help.
And just like that, I was done.
By the time I realized, finally, that the problem was monumental, far beyond my ability to control, and creating significant risks to my clients — the very folks I’d wanted to help for Christ’s sake — it was too late.
The Price I Paid
The sum total of the fallout from this nightmarish two-year period is beyond measurement, I think. But here are just a handful of consequences:
- I went from barely making ends meet to income-less in the span of three months.
- My car was repossessed.
- I was evicted.
- I had to move into a one-room studio, less than 200 square feet total, with my daughter.
- I lost my law license.
- I was homeless, for all intents and purposes — couch-surfing with friends for a little over a year, capped off by five weeks in a dirt-cheap fleabag motel.
- I had to declare bankruptcy myself.
And, of course, the pain I experience on a daily basis stayed at the new, higher levels.
But the biggest price of all? The hit to my self-esteem. I struggled for months to stop thinking of myself as someone who needed to be and deserved to be punished.
What I Learned
Five main lessons — that’s what I want to leave you with:
- We are none of us alone … unless we don’t ask for help.
- Procrastination will inevitably lead to overwhelm, if it’s allowed to run unchecked.
- And overwhelm can kill a business. Any business. Any creative endeavor at all, actually.
- Whatever you’re afraid of — whatever that fear is that’s keeping you from doing the task you’re resisting — it’s nothing compared to what will happen if you don’t do it.
- You can recover from any failure, if you allow yourself to learn from your mistakes, then own your mistakes, make it right where you can, and forgive yourself for your part in the failure.
Especially that last one. Because you will make mistakes — we all will.
Just aim to keep making different mistakes, and stop repeating the same ones over and over. Make right what can be made right. Apologize where you can and need to.
And then forgive yourself. Pick yourself up, humbled and wiser.
And begin again.