The Overextended Entrepreneur: The Path to Zen

Article contributed by Maimah Karmo, Entrepreneur and President/Founder of the Tigerlily Foundation. She is also a Global Philanthropist & Health Advocate, Author, Editor, Leader, Mentor, Breast Cancer Advocate and Survivor, and last but not least, a Mother.

Maimah meets Mrs. Obama.

Maimah meets Mrs. Obama.

It’s interesting how my definition of the word “busy” has changed over time – both in my professional and personal life.  You see, I’ve found a place of realization, that being overextended doesn’t necessarily lead to the path of success. It’s a conscious choice we each make, every day.

When I first became an entrepreneur, I thought my calendar had to be filled with projects, tasks, calls, and events.  Somehow these indicators seemed to help me feel a sense of accomplishment, importance, and success in my career. From charity events, personal appearances, to social media activity – there was certainly no shortage of things to do. But, add this to the ongoing management of content for several social media pages, blogs, and delicately balancing all that with Motherhood, spending time with family, and managing home necessities (i.e. laundry, cooking, car, etc., plus special projects…)

Okay, are you tired yet? Right, that’s exactly how I felt this time last year.

The cycle of excitement of feeling ‘needed’ by others and my perception of a good work/life balance – really just made me into a stressed out, overextended, “busy” woman. Frankly, I felt more overcommitted than successful. I was not happy, and wanted to ‘pull my hair out’ and run away from it all and so I did.

While on a business trip overseas, I had time to think, as I had less access to the Internet. I felt myself…dare I say relaxing and disconnecting from the world. I recall the moment that my mind quieted completely, and I thought to myself. How did I get here? When did I become so overextended?

This ‘aha’ moment initiated when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to start my non-profit.  In my role as CEO of Tigerlily Foundation, a national breast cancer organization, my goal was to help young women like myself who were diagnosed breast cancer.

Ironically, as I lectured, mentored, and educated young women everywhere, yet I could feel my own personal passion and drive for success quickly slipping away quickly – as the demands grew. I was getting to the point where I wasn’t enjoying my passion anymore. As cliché as it sounds, the saying is true ‘something had to give’ and I couldn’t continue on this path to being a burnout.

The realization I made was that having a laundry list of things to do, is in reality – setting yourself up for failure. By simply sitting down and forcing myself to shorten my list of top ten priorities, I felt a new sense of accomplishment, and no longer a sense failure for trying to get a million things done.

In my opinion, the best leaders’ prioritize and simplify. Although each individual has to find a formula that works for them. I established six rules that worked for me, and I want to share them with you:

  1. Learn to Say No: Teach yourself that the word “no” is a full sentence. You can’t be all things to all people.  I started to choose the events I needed and wanted to attend, and to invest my time only in those relationships that were important. I stopped trying to make everyone happy, because I became frazzled, late, and scattered and not having quality time with those that matter most
  1. Establish & Reinforce Boundaries. Establish hours for work, time for exercise, family, etc. and do not overlap. Do not take phone calls when you’re on the treadmill.  Don’t interrupt family time for something someone needs you to do right now.  I found that if I didn’t prioritize my life, others did it for me. I believe the more fulfilled you are in each area of your life, the more you’ll be able to give to others.  I also found that establishing boundaries made me happier in my life, less resentful, and had more self-respect and respect from others.
  1. Put “You” First. Don’t make yourself the last thing on your list.  Do you wake up first thing in the morning, reach for your phone, then right away, your list of tasks starts ticking off in your head? Well, focus on YOU first. For me this takes the form of a prayer of gratitude, doing a morning meditation, and having a ritual of reading spiritual “food” that fills me up and energizes me for the day.
  1. Schedule Time with Yourself. Put time on the calendar to meditate, stop and breathe, to go to the gym, yoga, etc. For me, it was rewarding myself with a daily inspirational quote, or a massage, or a two hour workout with a trainer. I found that time with myself was, was the most important meeting on my calendar. I have forced myself to make time with me ‘non-negotiable.’
  1. Doing “Nothing” Is OK. Schedule time to relax, watch a movie, and enjoy dinner – alone. Friends would call and ask what I was doing – and when I said “nothing”, they would say “but you told me you were busy,” etc. My response, “yes, I am busy…with me”.  And trust me, you’ll enjoy that quite time with yourself.
  1. Make time to do things that make you feel good. Do yoga, meditate, and STOP what you are doing for others to do something for yourself. I was so overextended and stressed, that I’d have anxiety attacks, break out in hives and sometimes need a glass of wine to sleep.  I realized that I was so busy empowering other women that I wasn’t feeding myself emotionally. I didn’t even have any hobbies.  So, I began to do more things that made me happy.

Becoming overextended doesn’t equal success, and the outcome is the opposite for many (including me) – a less productive and less happy person. My biggest lesson learned, is that we all have the responsibility to ourselves to seek balance and make a change. It’s up to you (and no one else), to advocate for yourself to find your own path to zen for both your professional and personal life.

Learn more about Maimah’s story here, and check out Maimah’s book: “Fearless: Realizing My Life’s Purpose After Breast Cancer” & new publication, Bliss Magazine. Follow Maimah on Twitter.

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