Exhausted? Join the club—then leave it.

I recently received an email from a woman that said she was moving from “survival mode” into “purpose mode.” And without having met her, I knew exactly what she meant. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’ve been stuck on the proverbial hamster wheel, doing what we can to make it to the end of each day.

The majority of client interactions I’ve had this week have been with people who consider themselves to be “midlife” (40-50 years old), and the common thread in our sessions can be summed up in one word: exhaustion.

“What do you do when the bar you’ve set is too high?”

The client who asked this owns a business that is booming. But she feels as if she might just roll down the stairs from exhaustion every single day. She hesitates to share her feelings of being overwhelmed because she knows she’s lucky to have the incredible book of business she has—that she created from the ground up. But she’s gasping.

“I am on demand 24/7 for my colleagues, yet I haven’t talked to my dad in over a week.”

Another client said this, sparking a good conversation about the time we invest in work relationships and the time we neglect to give the people we love most.

Yet another client said this:

“My mentor recently took a medical leave of absence. He is a workaholic, and it finally caught up to him. He keeps telling me to not end up like him, but my work is my identity. I am addicted to high performance and praise.”

And then over lunch, a friend told me that while driving home from a weekend trip, she was feeling so stressed about the combined chaos of work and life that she asked her husband to pull over while driving because she needed to get sick.

If you find yourself relating to one or more of these comments and long to shift from survival to purpose mode, consider your answers to the following questions:

  • What would happen if I lowered my expectations? Most high-achievers are perfectionists. But if you’re too exhausted to think clearly, you can’t even be good, let alone perfect. What are the things in your world that can be “good enough?” If you can let go of the idea that everything must be perfect, you can recoup some energy and redirect it as necessary—whether it’s into the project that deserves the most attention or that yoga class that is bliss.
  • What opportunities do I have to control the pace? Set realistic expectations with clients and colleagues about your capacity, and set boundaries about how and when you’ll communicate. Need to make a miracle project come to life on a tight turnaround? What front-burner project can be moved to the back to make this request happen? Flooded with emails around the clock by your global team? Let them know when they can realistically expect responses from you based on your time zone. (You do need sleep in order to perform to your highest capacity.)
  • How do I choose to measure myself? Consider what standard you are holding yourself (and others) to, and ask if it’s worth it. So many people chase “success” without knowing what, exactly, that looks like. I like to measure it by the number of meaningful interactions I have with those I love most. This week—or even just this day—how many of those moments can you make time to enjoy?

I’m in my mid-life, too. Marriage, kids, career … trying to keep all the balls in the air is no joke. But remember that even amidst the chaos, you are in control. Small changes can yield big returns. What one small change will you make today to reclaim order?

As Mary Oliver once said, we have but one wild and precious life. Own it. And love it.