Is Overwhelm Part of Who You Are?

I think this is a question that many people have wondered.  Possibly you’ve thought, “Maybe I don’t have any choice.  Overwhelm is just who I am.”  One of our R & D team members said that was part of her story:

Sometimes I wonder if the feeling of being overwhelmed is just part of who I am, as I seem to be able to carry the feeling through different life circumstances. Through high school and undergraduate years, I felt overwhelmed by wanting to do excellent work on all my assignments. I didn’t ever want to turn in work that wasn’t to the best of my ability, even if the best of my ability meant not doing many other things besides schoolwork. In graduate school, I again wanted to do excellent work, and this required many, many hours of concentration and meticulous scrutiny of the modeling codes I developed. I did recognize at that point that I needed more in my life than academics, and did develop some friendships and activities (volleyball, community band) that helped me gain some perspective.

When I started as an assistant professor, I was overwhelmed by the expectations (research, publishing, and teaching). During my assistant professor years, I met and married my husband, and I remember a few months in there when I didn’t feel overwhelmed, I felt like I was very happy. I went up for tenure the year I had my first child, and that actually helped me combat the feeling of being overwhelmed. I realized that my body had a job to do, and that sometimes meant that I couldn’t do everything.

As an associate professor I agreed to be interim department head, and that’s when I felt like my feeling of being overwhelmed really increased, because there were so many competing demands on my time: administrative “fires” to put out, class, research (which always seemed to come last) as well as personal life obligations. After a year as interim, I was named head, was pregnant with my second child, and had medical complications that required me to be hospitalized for five weeks in a city 250 miles from my home before his premature birth. This event was a harsh wake-up call that I *can’t* do everything, as I was furiously typing emails on a Blackberry regarding a P&T case while lying in a hospital room. Thankfully, my son is fine, and life has returned to only a slightly chaotic pace. I realized this year that I need to take some more control of my schedule to lead a happier life. I can’t say yes to everything that comes my way that seems valuable. I am a better administrator, teacher, mother, wife and friend when I slow down enough to really see people.

What do you think?  Is overwhelm part of who you are?  Thoughts on this?

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