Overdrive works — it’s that boost that takes you across a finish line, the extra energy to meet a deadline, plan a memorable event, or tend to a sick family member. After overdrive, we downshift back into a sustainable lifestyle speed, enjoy our evenings and weekends again.
Unless we don’t. It’s easy to do: new demands come on the heels of each deadline met; unexpected opportunities show up; a colleague is out for a bit. We start putting in a few extra hours of work in the evening and then regularly on the weekends. Even our “time off” is filled with errands and things we want to get done and, honestly, not quite enough casual time with loved ones.
When overdrive has become a lifestyle, we’re working all the time. We’re saying yes to things we can’t possibly get done without being in overdrive. We’re legitimately overextended but we worry there’s something’s wrong with us if we can’t “do it all.” Our health, self-care, and well-deserved R&R have dropped to the bottom of our priority lists. We’re unhappy.
What happens if we look around at our lives and think, “Uh oh”? Where do we start when we realize that something needs to change?
We sat down with Clare and Riva, two women with very different lives, who saw what was happening in their overdrive lives and decided to do something about it.
“Life isn’t perfect. But I am so much happier and more sure of myself.” —Clare B.
Clare B. is in her early 30s and works for an organization that supports women in running for office. In 2016, the work began to grow exponentially. “I had my dream career and I loved my job. It was an exciting time as more and more women wanted to run.”
Work became all-consuming. “It was a lot. I soldiered through. I believed in the work I was doing and felt a responsibility to meet the needs of the now thousands of women who were ready to start running for office.”
That was also the year that Clare had her own wedding to plan — and eight friends’ weddings to attend. It was a time of nonstop going and doing.
When it comes down to our own self-care or the demands of everything around us, many of us will chose to sacrifice the very things that make it possible to sustain overdrive.
Somewhere along the way, Clare dropped her meditation practice, stopped exercising, and let go of her hard-won healthy eating habits. And she wasn’t happy. Her mother would occasionally remind her about Clare’s father’s heart attack, which the family felt was at least, in part, caused by work pressure.
“I WANT TO BE A ROLE MODEL”
In 2017, Clare made a conscious intention to bring meditation, exercise, and healthier eating back into her life. She joined a women’s life and leadership program to support her getting clear on her priorities and the way she wanted to live and work.
“The most important practice for me is meditation.” Clare does her meditation practice when she first wakes up. “I have a spot in a corner of my room. Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-day Meditation Challenge is my favorite. Our lives are always going to have competing priorities, high-stress moments, chaos. With meditation, there’s a part of us that doesn’t get as swept up in it. We have that experience of stillness to return to.”
She’s exercising again — “I feel so much better when I do” — and makes deliberate time for reflection. “I like to sit and think about the week and what happened at work and at home. I write down my thoughts … What I want to celebrate, what I want to do better or see differently.”
Commitment to a practice or mind-body routine of some kind — meditation, yoga, dance, writing, qigong — helps us navigate transitions. With so many things changing around us, our practice becomes a touchstone time for self-reflection and well-being, which are essential for thriving.
While Clare wanted a healthier, more integrated life for herself, she also wanted to set an example. “The women who are running for office have jobs and families, too. And a lot of questions about how to do the all things that matter to them as they take on larger, more public responsibilities. I want to be a role model.”
WHEN I AM NOT AT WORK, I AM NOT AT WORK.”
A lot of people think that if they’re not in overdrive, they won’t get anything done. Clare says the opposite is true. “Because I am centered in my own well-being, I can make clearer and smarter decisions. I actually get more done. More of what matters.” She’s growing in her career, taking on challenges, and and seeing interesting new possibilities she hadn’t considered before.
“Oh, and I now do ‘happy dances’ when things go well,” Clare shares. “I want to savor moments, not just move on to the next thing. I want to enjoy myself. Before, it was just do, do, do.”
In any process of inner change, we don’t become completely other people. We become better versions of ourselves, with all of our messy, complicated humanness.
Clare still makes more food choices just out of convenience than she’d like. She gets nervous about what’s next in her career. “Life isn’t perfect. But I am so much happier and more sure of myself. I am enjoying myself more. I want a lot more women doing happy dances — taking a let yourself enjoy a moment!”
The biggest change? “When I am not at work, I am not at work,” Clare says. She and her husband are enjoying being newlyweds. “We spend time together, really present — not checking emails and reacting to the text bings.” Neither a natural chef, they’ve been trying out recipes together. “Thai Chicken Curry was a success. Others, not so much”
CLARE”S ADVICE FOR WOMEN WHO SUSPECT THEY MAY BE IN OVERDRIVE
“Connect with other women — find communities, colleagues, coaches,” Clare says. “When you are moving from overdrive to thriving, you need wise advice. This isn’t about getting more mani-pedis, or even starting to meditate like I did. It’s not one-size fits all. We each need to ask ourselves, whatever our lives look like from the outside, are we happy on the inside?”
“I see that wanting to help heal people has always been with me.” —Riva D.
Riva D., a graphic designer, loves overdrive — “It’s that energy of a deadline that, for me, catalyzes good work. And I’ve never missed a deadline in 50 years,” she says. But Riva’s journey out of overdrive and into a life of thriving didn’t happen overnight.
Riva started her own design business when she suddenly lost her job as creative director at a publishing company. For 15 years, while raising a family, she had been overseeing a team of people creating monthly magazines, a pressure-filled, deadline-driven mecca of overdrive. Riva was good at what she did and her colleagues loved her.
When she got laid off, Riva had to face the hard truth that actually underneath it all, something wasn’t quite working in her life.
Like so many others living a rat-race pace, she felt she’d neglected her children and her partner; hadn’t been sleeping enough, she hadn’t been eating well; she’d been drinking too much coffee. The truth was that she often felt cranky and a bit angry and defensive in her skin. “It wasn’t until after I left the corporate world,” Riva says, “that I could see I wasn’t happy. I was a high-functioning creative executive who wasn’t actually connected with myself as someone doing something important, making a difference, or even deserving of the impressive salary I was being paid.”
“I WANTED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE HAPPY.”
With her severance package for the transition, Riva created her own freelance design business — and went back to therapy.
Over the next two years, she also saw her partner through her final years with a difficult cancer diagnosis. “In an odd way, death woke me up,” Riva says, “After that time, I needed to follow my spiritual yearnings, which I’d neglected for years. I also needed to take care of my own health and well-being. I wanted to figure out how to be happy.”
Alongside her design business, she began to explore alternative healing modalities, such as shamanism and Reiki. She also wrote and painted. She followed her curiosity and trusted her instincts — and found her sources of happiness. Several years later, Riva trained as an interfaith minister, and now holds sacred space at important moments in people’s lives, deaths, births, marriages.
“I had shut down whole parts of myself, actually hidden some of the best parts,” Riva says. “When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a surgeon. I gave that dream up for many reasons. Now I see that wanting to help heal people has always been with me.”
Riva discovered what many of us still need to learn. When we slow down our lives enough to know what we know and feel what we feel, we have a better chance of making the right choices, the ones that come from what matters most to us, our sense of meaning, where we belong.
I HAVE A LOT MORE ENERGY. MORE SELF-ACCEPTANCE. I’M MORE PRESENT IN MY LIFE.
After many years of struggling with her relationship with food, Riva found a whole-life approach that works for her. “I made a deeper commitment to my health and clarity of mind. As I age, I want a strong, nimble body. I am making life choices that support me.” Riva follows a food plan that has guidelines for each meal and does not include sugar, flour of any kind, or snacks. “I feel great. I made a decision to accept the terms. It’s working. I feel a lot more self-acceptance and am learning about boundaries and priorities.”
“When I took on food as a practice it healed an important part of me and that radiates out into the rest of my life. I still don’t enjoy cooking but I love the simple fare I prepare from high-quality ingredients. I have a lot more energy. More self-acceptance. I’m more present in my life.”
Anchoring into regular practices brings enormous benefits, especially in times of change, but also as sustaining support for our lives. Riva’s morning routine usually includes meditation and/or qigong, although the specifics of her routines change every few months. “But I always start my day intentionally. This world, these times, are so draining that unless I raise energy to meet it, I won’t have enough to stay balanced and centered.”
Riva’s freelance design work keeps humming along. She still loves a deadline, but works a little differently with them. “I start a little earlier. I don’t take on too much. I schedule in time off after a big project.” She says there’s less stress and more community. “I am mentoring some of the younger women who are new to their jobs. It feels good to help them navigate their first years in the workforce.”
“I want a woman at any stage of her life who realizes it’s time for change to feel good about herself in the process.”
Riva says that the time is coming to retire the graphic design business and spend more of her time as a healer and minister.
“Life’s not perfect — that’s an illusion. But boy do I feel good about being alive and doing what I do … and the people in my life. I have a lot more gratitude now, and an honest appreciation of what I’m good at. I am deeply grateful for my family, who were always the priority even when they weren’t.”
RIVA’S ADVICE FOR WOMEN WHO SUSPECT THEY MAY BE IN OVERDRIVE
What if a part of our overdrive is the story we tell ourselves about it, a story filled with self-blaming reasons for why we don’t feel well, why we feel depleted, depressed, anxious, why we just can’t seem to get the hang of work/life balance.
I learned to ask this question when I was overwhelmed or being judgmental with myself — “What if you’re ok?” This question helps me to see myself from a new perspective, the way a friend would. Instead of assuming that we are the cause of every problem in our lives, we could simply address what may not be working in the situation.
The patterns of self-judgment can be strong and I want a person at any stage of their life who realizes it’s time for change to feel good about themselves in the process.