Have you ever felt so exhausted and just depleted that your #1 goal and sole pursuit is to figure out when you can take a nap? Well – I realize that I have spent the last 3-4 years doing just that: living for sleep. And, well, when you’re a vibrant person who is super enthusiastic about things and generally is pretty darn satisfied with life, that’s a pretty lame existence. I’ve spent the last 13 years (3 working for another company and 10 for myself) traveling the country training, talking with, cajoling, laughing, encouraging, playing bad cop and learning with some of the most deeply committed educators (Note: “Deeply committed educators” is not synonymous with “educators in deep need of being committed.” I thought I should clarify.)
It’s not easy work and here’s why: the travel, the time zones, the delayed flights, the train-all-day-and-travel-all-night schedule, the being away from home, the feelings that everyone else is curled up on their couch spooning with their loved ones while I’m spooning the extra bag of mini-pretzels I smuggled from the flight attendant. It’s not easy because along the way, I literally started to fear Sundays because I had to check in for my flight for Monday and it felt like the weekend was already over at 7:00 a.m. when I got that little text message that cheerily announced, “It’s time for check-in!”. (By the way, I HATE that dumb-ass message.)
I started hating it when people asked me (and they always do), “So, where are you off to next?” It’s a normal question and many people are intrigued by a life of traveling for a living, but when people would ask me that, it would catapult me out of my “normal” personal life and into my work-mode. It’s frustrating not being able to join a book club during the week or go to dinner on a Wednesday like “normal people” – that’s what I call non-traveling folk. There’s a constant feeling of missing out on regular life – the monotony of life seems really appealing when you’re gone a lot. Laundry and grocery shopping were awesome because they are things I only do when I’m home and signaled that I was “normal.”
But there are perks and I’m not going to lie – they’re pretty dang good: freedom, the money, the encouragement and attention that you get when people appreciate what you do, the upgrades, the long weekends in a fun city, the people I get to work with on the other end of the flights. It’s a LOT of good and that’s why I’ve felt like a jerk feeling discontent and just plain tired over the last few years. I mean I get a lot of perks and STILL I’m crabbing about the travel, the business and the job? I mean, get a LIFE, kid!
I’ve tried to adjust my schedule through the years and come up with some really funky plans: not traveling on the weekends (a LIFE CHANGER), not traveling on Fridays (super great), only traveling 3 weeks out of the month (getting better), taking two trips out of the month (I couldn’t say no to people because I wanted to work with them and I also started to wonder how on earth I was going to make enough money to sustain the business and get my name out there and all the jazz that comes with running your own show). This year I did a really dumb thing and decided to do all of my travel at the beginning of the year (29 flights in 3 months). Um…that needs to go down in the “What the Hell Was I Thinking?” Hall of Fame.
One weekend when I was in the middle of the 29 flights in 3 months madness, I was in Salt Lake City doing a key note speaking thing (they gave me awesome truffles from SLC that I still crave…I mean they paid me, too, but those TRUFFLES….!) on a Friday, I was spending the night at the best hotel in SLC (FYI – even staying at a five star hotel doesn’t cover for spending another night out of your own bed…I promise this is true.) I was flying to Montana to do some speaking and consulting on Saturday on a super early flight in the morning, checking into a new hotel and then working with some old friends at the statement department on Sunday.
I flew to Montana, checked into the hotel, ordered room service and set out to get organized for the next day when I had a sobering thought: What on earth is wrong with you that you are consulting on a Sunday?
I kept trying to tell myself that it wasn’t that bad because I had front-loaded my travel to the beginning of the year and it would soon be over (ummm…it wasn’t even CLOSE to being over) and that soon I would be able to rest and get acclimated to normal life at home and really focus on writing my next book and running my business and preparing for 2016. Yadda yadda yadda…these are the lies I was telling myself.
It didn’t matter how I tried to explain my way out of this one – it didn’t work this time. (By the way, I had another speaking thing after Montana…so I was hardly done with my trip)
I remember calling a friend and saying, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” And she said, “Once you get home, you can relax and have fun and sleeping in your own bed…”
She said the things that I think I had trained my family and friends to say to me when I was exhausted. But it wasn’t ringing true this time.
I started to fantasize about just quitting. And if you know anything about me, you know I am not a quitter.
I started thinking about why I had this ambition beyond the classroom and why being a teacher wasn’t “enough” for me. I even had some stupid Polly-anna-ish little movie in my head about what it would be like to go back to teaching 1st grade and teaching kids to read and having a normal schedule and having a normal life. (Teachers – you can cue all of the laughter right now…I was thinking of what teaching looks like in a movie, not real-life.) I mean what I was fantasizing about was straight-up from a Disney movie…I mean I might’ve been wearing a pinafore and had birds flitting on my shoulder whistling a little tune. Yeah – it was bad!
But STILL. I am an achiever. I am a doer. I don’t like to be stumped by problems. I like to finish things. I like to do things well. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was “off” somehow – no amount of organization, time at home, vacation could soothe what was festering. I thought it was exhaustion, but it turned out to be much more than that.
I showed up and did my thing at my Sunday meeting. It was fun (I think hard work is fun – and doing the hard work with people I really like? Super fun!) and we accomplished what we needed to. But all, and I mean ALL I could think of was how quickly I could get back to my hotel room and in my jammies to decompress.
Then came Monday.
I trained a few hundred people that day. At the end of the afternoon before my early evening session, I ran into an old friend who does the same work that I do. We had tried to do some business stuff together and things got sticky. We ended up parting ways and it wasn’t pretty for either of us. I knew I was likely going to see her and I just thought, “You know, I hope that doesn’t happen…it would be awkward. And, oh, I’m so freaking tired that I can’t handle awkward.”
Well thank God that thought didn’t come true because she had wisdom that I needed to hear.
She came into my training room before my session and walked right up to me and apologized for the funkiness of years past. We agreed that the whole kerfluffle from 5+ years ago was a thing of the past and that we didn’t hold any grudges or ill will. We both meant it. And that felt good.
Then, she leaned in and said something like this, “You know, Jill, I’ve been really sick.” She had battled cancer big-time just recently, I had heard a couple days before. “And I have to tell you something. All of this (she gestured around the training room where all of the participants were mulling around during the break) is really nothing.” I knew what she meant. Yeah – it’s important work and we help teachers and ultimately help a lot of kids, but it’s not everything if your personal life isn’t straight. She went out to say this (I’m totally paraphrasing, but the sentiment is accurate)
“All of this travel is isolating – you can’t have a normal life at home with family and friends because you’re always gone. Even when you’re friends with your clients, they live in other states. The travel schedule doesn’t allow you to get your nutrition, sleep and regime right. Your health suffers because of it. You’re so exhausted that all you want to do is sleep – and life goes on around you and without you.” I started getting teary-eyed because my like-minded road-warrior friend was saying EXACTLY what I had thought…and thought I was a whiny little brat for thinking.
She said, “Don’t make cancer teach you that lesson and try to catch your attention. Life is so short and you’ve only got one.”
Oh. My. Gosh.
I don’t know what you believe, but I KNOW in my life that God whispers things to me, talks loudly about things to me and then SHOUTS them out me to get me to listen to what He wants for me. And this was a shout from the mountaintop. (I mean we were in Montana so it probably was a literal shout from the mountaintop.)
I got it. In that moment I realized that because I was so exhausted, I was living for the next time I could relax/sleep/having nothing on my calendar. In doing that, I wasn’t living in the moment ever (when I was on the road I wanted to be home, when I was at home, I was reminded of how I was going to be on the road soon). I had to shove my whole personal life into two days on the weekend and the thought of that (even the fun stuff!) exhausted me! That’s how your world starts to get smaller and smaller – you spend 2/7th of your life on the personal life and 5/7th of it away from home!
So, how do I start to unravel all of this? And how do I stop feeling like an ungrateful twit when people have said that they’ve admired what I’ve built over the last ten years and here I am thinking, “I just want to nap full-time for the next 10 years.”
I started by asking myself what was my REAL GOAL or step that I needed to take. I found that I thought my goal was to “get off of the road” – but when I realized (through agonizing self-analysis and tons of talking about it) that my goal was to have a life that was well-rounded.
And I hesitate to say this next part because it can seem very arrogant, but I hope you’ll take it with humility as I intend it: I felt called to reach more people with my “straight talk, simple steps” way of doing education. And when you travel, you reach a finite number of people. I am (and so is my team) bound by how often I can travel to people – if I am booked, then the only people who can get the information I have written/train on are the ones I’m traveling to that week. And that’s a really small number in the whole scheme of things. We are booked out 6 months to a year and have a deep waiting list – I wanted a way to accommodate everyone so people could get the show on the road in the classrooms! It always bugged me that, simply because I was bound by my travel, some teachers didn’t have information that would make their teaching life simper and potentially much more successful. I wanted to take the risk and try to change that!
As I was thinking about how to reach more teachers and encourage them through my writing and training and resources, I had a zillion and one attacks of “Who do you think you are?” and “Come ON – what if people never call you again?”
But, I looked at the bottom line: the thing that people call about, email about, write about and ask me about is the content that I write.
I decided to take a really big risk.
My first step was to deal with the worst case scenario. I played the worst case scenario out because I realized that if I could live with that, I could take a chance on myself completely and not play it safe. Here’s what the worst case scenario looked like (or at least partially!): I would have to move in with my mom and dad or become a nanny for my nephew and live with my brother and sister-in-law, I would not have any money, I would have to sell the fancy purses and unnecessary luxuries, I would have to work at Target full-time (but I do adore Target, so would that be a win??), I would lose respect from the people in the field because they would think I was a loser…and on and on. What I realized was the likelihood of all of those things happening was pretty small…and it’s not like all would go to hell in a handbasket in one day. I would be able to see that things weren’t going well and I could course correct and act like my newfangled plan never existed! Ha!
So, I made a big move: I only scheduled one trip per month. Just so you know, my team was traveling more than I was, but there was no way that we were generating enough income to sustain the business. This does not make sense mathematically. But what is does force me to do is to get really creative about new content, reaching new people, writing and selling new books and all the things that will help increase the number of teachers I can support.
It was hard, but I stuck with it.
So…just when I needed confirmation that I had done the right thing before I reached out to people and said, “Just kidding!!! I’m traveling four weeks a month – let’s schedule!” – we got a huge order for my books. Literally this order came out of the blue – THE NEXT DAY after I established that I would only do one trip a month. The books had been selling shockingly well, but this was what we needed to make up for my lack of training and travel.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
So, what did I do? I called my dad and cried. Because that’s what you do when you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, thankful and feeling really blessed.
There’s been a lot of great stuff that’s happened since then – so many confirmations that I’m doing the right thing and not running the business into the ground.
I’ve done some really fun things with the time I have home – “regular” stuff that “normal” people do:
- Joined a book study
- Taking a baking class
- Swimming a few nights a week
- Dinners during the week with friends
These things have made a HUGE difference for me…HUGE.
You know the best thing? That by having time to be “normal” again, I’m more excited about the content than I’ve been in a long time. I really am. I feel like by having that personal time as a daily thing, I am more creative and thankful for what I’ve learned and who I get to work with every day. It’s like things have been murky and I’ve been a hamster on a wheel and now the picture is vibrant. That sounds like I’m trying to write some Pinterest affirmation, but I’ve found it’s really true!
I’ve had to make some adjustments to accommodate this new lifestyle like sticking with a daily schedule (since I’d never had one before because life on the road is unpredictable) and putting in some work routines. I found myself using each day as a vacation day because that’s what often happened when I was home from travel. Oops!
When I had talked with friends and family through the years about doing this, I think the first reaction has always been, “Don’t throw away your business!” but what no one but me realized until now is that by creating a life that I love (Thanks Oprah! Ha!) I am MORE creative, MORE productive and can reach more educators with the message of simplicity than I ever have before.
I think some people might think, “Well – this is easier for her to do because she has success.” That’s true to some degree, but I also have a lost to lose. So, I’ve had to be brave in ways I haven’t been for a long time. I have to fight that little urge to want to fill my schedule with consulting dates because I’m worried that I’m not reaching enough people through my speaking and my books, but I continue to remind myself that I am on the right path.
So, the few people that I’d told about ALL of this have asked a few question – and here are my answers:
- Are you still doing consulting? YES! I am still speaking and going to schools and doing PD…and so it my team!
- If you’re not going out to schools to do training, then how are you reaching people? I am going to provide some cost-effective and super timely online live and recorded training that we’re cooking up! Plus I’ll keep blogging and writing one book per year! (At least that’s the goal!)
- Are you going to only write books? Book writing is going to be a major task that I do every day, but I’m also doing consultation, training, blogging and running my business
- Are you still demonstrating lessons like usual? Yes! I will never stop doing this…it’s where all great ideas are born!
- So – are you slowing down? Not at all! Just working hard on different things in different percentages of time than before!
- Are you happy? Without a doubt.
Question of the Week: Do you ever feel that little voice in your head telling you to switch things up in life?
I am just smiling.