Overwhelmed at Work: For Better or Worse

My job isn’t nearly as high stress as a career as an emergency room surgeon, but it has its ongoing stress nonetheless. The stress comes from carving a path that is not clear, and the responsibility that comes with both carving it on your own, while also the pressure of not trying anything too far out in left field, as there isn’t enough time to waste on something that doesn’t work. And you can still mess up quite a bit, even while keeping your work fairly ordinary.

I love the challenge that comes with my current job. I truly have the opportunity to make a huge difference in my company. I also have the opportunity to really hurt my company (not on purpose, of course, but if I just can’t meet my commitments for whatever reason.)

My confusion is when I am fairly overwhelmed and when I’m not organized/focused enough to get things done as they should be. It’s hard to say because I know I do have a tendency to procrastinate, but I’m still working 60+ hours a week, barely sleeping, staying up all night to get projects done. So I might not be the most productive at the office straight through the day, but I’m still putting in quite a lot of hours into this job. I can’t imagine – even if I could manage to retain focus from 8am to 7pm – that I’d be much more productive. I might sleep more, but my output would likely be around the same.

The reality is that with my job there is an unlimited amount of things I could be doing in order to reach our goals, and I only have so many hours in the day to do these things. Just coming up with strategy and coordinating various parties that need to help out takes a lot of time, and sometimes I get to the end of the day and wonder how the entire day just disappeared as I was trying to get a handle on how to piece all the projects I needed to work on, all the speaking opportunities I had to apply to, and responding to the urgent emails coming in, and dealing with everything that needs to be done.

I hate feeling like a failure and I want to be able to do an A+ job on every single detail, but that seems impossible. Maybe the trick is willingness to do a B job, but while a B job gets you through some projects, some really need an A+. Sometimes you don’t even know how to get an A+ result on a project because there are no instructions, and you’re just making it up as you go, and in the end you can still fail. That alone makes me very stressed out, and have trouble focusing.

I’m terrified of inability to succeed in my current role. I know I need to hire help at least for the basic coordination of all these projects so I can focus on getting the larger tasks done — but I’m already so behind and I spend too much time making lists trying to make sure nothing important slips through the cracks.

I can handle this job now — and in a lot of senses I like the pressure and challenge — but I can’t imagine being able to maintain this throughout my adult life. When I want to have a family, there is no way this can be my life. I think that’s why there are few women in startups. And, heck, I’m not even the CEO — I work very hard and am constantly thinking about the company, but I’m quite disposable and replaceable without the company suffering. I really admire how hard our CEO works but it really takes a certain type of person who can be so on top of things in order to do that, and also still maintain sanity and balance throughout the rest of life.

But then again, the jobs I’ve hated the worst are the ones where I go home and I’m not supposed to be thinking about how to solve the challenges of the company… where tasks are clearly defined and you go in and get through so many of them throughout the day, and when you leave you’re done with work until the next morning. I don’t know if I could ever go back to that kind of life.

My life is my work. I am 100% defined by my job right now. I don’t have a lot outside of work to talk about. I’ve given up the few hobbies I have, beyond occasional blogging, because there’s no time for life outside of this. Is that so terrible? I have no ambitions outside of work anymore. I don’t aspire to fame, I don’t even really care about fortune, because what would I spend it on? I don’t like buying things anymore. Decisions make me nervous, especially in terms of purchases. My passion is helping my company get from point A to point B. And when I feel like I can’t do that, I crumble. It’s the only thing I really care about in my life. And perhaps that’s the problem. I put way too much pressure on myself to be perfect. And that pressure makes it hard to do anything. That pressure makes me freeze in fear, only to unfreeze at 3am, when I’m exhausted enough to let go of the fears of imperfection and get things done.

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