Screw giving 100%

Posted on May 2, 2022

relaxed woman in white bathtub with bamboo wall

How do you define success, professionally or otherwise?

My new definition of success, as I told my therapist recently, is to give max 85% (instead of 110%.)

Success is giving no more than 85%.

I enjoy working, but I don’t want to sacrifice my health. I want to stop striving for the mythical straight A+’s and enjoy B’s. I want to thrive!

And my colleagues want the same, whether they say so or not, because that’s how I do my best, most innovative work. We make better decisions and are more creative when we’re less stressed.

… Although it’s easy to forget in the moment and instead DO DO DO!

Why we get stressed

Overgiving is tied to worrying about what others think. When I’m in that space, I forget to do even the simplest things to reduce my stress (like drink enough water throughout the day.)

Ironically, by worrying about others’ perceptions, I fail to be fully present with them.

Recipe for success: Anything but this.

Clearly not a recipe for success. Hence my new definition.

How I’ve tried to quantify 85%

But what does 85% look like? How do I know whether I’ve achieved it?

To quantify this 85% idea, at first I tried tracking my energy level at the beginning and end of each workday. Was my job energizing, depleting, or somewhere in between? What activities were especially lifting or draining? While your results may vary, I concluded that the variations seemed to have more to do with my menstrual cycle than the work itself.

Next, I tracked my hours. I wanted to work about 35 hours per week (9 to 5 with an hour lunch.) No matter how many people I’d coached to use their own guidance on such matters, I still needed evidence to keep my anxious mind at bay, so I found articles like this one to help me commit. 

Tracking confirmed that I was overworking, so I added blocks of “unavailable” time in the following week when I would theoretically leave my office to do not-work and achieve my target as a 2- or 3-week average instead. I adhered to some of these. I was still tired.

The next week I iterated on my approach again. I put fewer things on my weekly to-do list (tasks that were most important for meeting my own expectations) and committed to going outside between each meeting, if even for a few seconds of fresh air on our back deck. While I’m not yet feeling sustainably energized come Friday afternoon, these two steps are helping.

Honestly, I’m still only about 85% clear on what it means to me to give 85%… and maybe that’s the perfect amount of clarity.

Ask better questions

I ended April exhausted but also grateful for the career change and for the grit to keep iterating on a solution to this puzzle:

How can I feel effective at work while thriving physically?

We all have voices telling us some version of the story that we aren’t enough. What might be possible if we focused instead on how we want to feel? What if we let our tiny everyday choices move us closer to that instead of chasing someone else’s imagined expectations?

What is success? In other words, how do you want to feel?

IMO, it’s the only way we’ll harness enough creativity to solve the world’s greatest problems. 🌎