Feeling Overwhelmed: How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Feeling overwhelmed…

Where to start? Where to begin? We’ve all been there. Staring into the eyes of a seemingly insurmountable feat. Maybe it’s applying to grad school, maybe it’s that immense beast of a project at work, maybe it’s the family laundry pile you’ve been ignoring in your basement because you just don’t even know where to jump in. Mountains, whatever their form, can be extremely overwhelming.

…what questions feed that feeling?

I wish I could say that by now I have mastered this monster, being overwhelmed, but the truth is I still get stuck more often than I would like to admit. One of my biggest challenges is that I still tend to see the mountain instead of the steps. In a dual-post last year, I wrote on how feeling overwhelmed can lead to some major procrastination. And it’s this question of not knowing where to start that’s the culprit of the stalemate. But if we really unpack this riddle of where to start for a moment, we will find that often this dilemma is anchored in other questions…is there a right place to start? How will I know?

Like I said, obviously this is not unfamiliar territory for me, I’ve written on similar dilemmas before–my very first blog post was about perfection paralysis, discussing how worrying whether you are doing something right can seriously stall you out. Feeling overwhelmed is such a motivation killer and can stop you in the muck if you let your mind run rampant with all the different avenues to pursue and continually questioning which one is right. This idea of endless avenues is pervasive. We find it in the dating world where there’s no shortage of dating sites to be on and apps to utilize. In the writing world there’s endless articles, Facebook groups, writer’s workshops, magazines to submit to and competitions to enter. I’ve experienced this most acutely in my recent job search. With so many avenues to pursue, it’s not any wonder that we end up with the questions, where do I start? Where do I end? And is it enough? In this light, being overwhelmed is really a crisis of definition, or rather, a lack of guidelines.

How do we overcome it?

When I get stuck in this cycle of more questions than answers, I again have to remind myself that when you don’t have any way of knowing if you’re doing enough or doing it right or where to start or when you’re finished, it’s best to just pick something and do what you can.

1 – Give yourself permission to narrow your focus or narrow your field. For me, this might look like choosing one or two favorite job boards and working on applications only through those channels. I know this sounds sacrilegious but in this day of endless job board channels with thousands of jobs posted on each, there’s no way to thoroughly search all of them and keep up with all of the opportunities that they produce; better to make a focused effort on a few channels than to allow all of it to overwhelm you at once.

2 – Setting your own finite goals about what you want to accomplish is key in combating this. Create your own definition, your own guideposts. This might look like setting a time frame to get done as much as possible in a set block of time, whether it’s an hour or four hours. Or perhaps giving yourself a unit goal would be helpful, like committing to complete three applications a day.  Committing to the approach, the habit, or the goal will go a long way in helping to make the endeavor manageable.

3 – Get comfortable in accepting the fact that there will always be multiple ways to proceed or more you ‘could’ do. As an idealist, I have an incredibly hard time with this concept. I like things to have a right way, to be defined, finite and neat. The truth is, only you can decide what’s “enough.” Make sure you are determining what you can handle. Break it down. Make it bite-sized. We know by now that so many things that overwhelm us don’t actually have right or wrong answers. The only wrong answer is not taking any action, not participating at all. Like Nike says, just do it!

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