By Kathy Miller Perkins

Kathy Miller Perkins, one of our Career Coaches, shared this insightful and valuable advice in her column last month, and we are delighted to share it with you here. 

You are passionate about your work as you pursue ways to impact the world positively. Yet you feel like you are running a race you can never win. And as you plan for next year, you resolve to undertake and achieve more even though you are already busy and overwhelmed. You are exhausted yet constantly feel like you are not accomplishing enough.

You are due for a mental health reset. By scrapping the self-defeating assumptions that keep you on the perpetual hamster wheel, you can break out of this all-too-familiar pattern plaguing so many purpose-driven, high achievers.

Recognize healthy values
Consider the possibility that some of your values may be harmful to your well-being. In their classic book, Self-Esteem, mental health professionals Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning claim that we form values early in life out of basic human needs such as the need for love and approval from parents and the acceptance and admiration of peers. Yet, some of these childhood values may be unhealthy in adult lives.

McKay and Fanning offer criteria for gauging whether your values are healthy.

  • Flexibility – Healthy values are not rigid. Healthy values allow for the occasional failure. Look for limiting beliefs that include words such as "always, never, perfectly." McKay and Fanning claim that everyone will fail to live up to the ideal standard a certain percentage of the time.

  • Lead to Positive Outcomes – Healthy values promote a way of living that yields well-being and happiness. Your values-driven behaviors feel right.

  • Life-enhancing vs. Life-restricting – Healthy values enable you to meet your human needs. They do not leave you feeling drained or debilitated. Life-enhancing values will allow you to stay balanced.

Examine limiting beliefs
Unexamined beliefs, such as those caused by fear, may limit your well-being and long-term effectiveness.

In the run-up to the holidays, Jana struggles to push back feelings of hopelessness and despair. She needs to take time off from her high-pressure position in a well-known consulting firm. Yet Jana has difficulty putting her task list aside. She fears she will let herself and others down if she ends the year without clearing all the items on it.

The truth is, no matter how hard she works, Jana cannot check off every item on the list, because she continuously adds to it.

To halt this self-defeating behavior, Jana must understand what is causing it. She calls her leadership coach for help.

Jana's coach prods for the underlying beliefs driving her perpetual need to do more. Together they discover Jana believes she must stay constantly busy to live up to her potential. She fears wasting time. Her real fear is of failing.

Jana's coach encourages her to overcome her fear by making new choices. For example, she might try refraining from adding additional tasks to her to-do list for a week or perhaps until the end of the year. Or she might examine her list and delete anything that is not critical to her most significant longer-term goals. She might even intentionally leave a task on her list undone.

When you choose to confront your fears and try something different, you will feel uncomfortable. Do it anyway. Sit with the discomfort and observe what happens. Did your new behaviors lead to the failure you fear?

Most likely, you will learn that your fears are unfounded and that you can decrease or eliminate your fear-based behaviors in time.

Review your definition of productivity
In a conversation online, Kerry, an executive in a human resources advisory firm, claims she doesn't make good use of her leisure time. She says, "I am planning now for how I will make the most of my winter break."

While she routinely reorganizes her closets over her break because it makes her feel a sense of peace, she believes she can do better. She pledges to set goals for what she will get done over the holidays.

When one of her colleagues points out that resting over the break might be a productive activity, Kerry laughs and says she knows she can be "annoyingly goal-oriented." Can you relate?

What drives overly achievement-oriented beliefs and behaviors? Perhaps it is how you define productivity. One definition of productive is "the achievement of results.” However, results aren’t always immediately measurable.

Expand how you envision productivity to include activities that yield something useful, constructive, or valuable in the long run. Relaxation contributes to your long-term well-being. Life shouldn’t be a race, after all.

Reflect on why you might be defining relaxation as a waste of time. Maybe an internal voice tells you that productivity requires constant attention to goals.

Everyone has many internal voices. Which ones are you listening to without examination? Perhaps these voices came from a parent, teacher, or other significant person in your early life.

What are the voices that serve your well-being telling you? Allow your internal voices to debate. And listen to the ones you determine serve you best all around.

Everyone operates from internal values and beliefs. Yet, many are either unaware or only vaguely conscious of what drives their behavior.

If you are feeling depleted, exhausted, hopeless, or burned out, now is the time to examine any internal voices, values, or beliefs that may be limiting your well-being and the positive impact you wish to bring to your leadership and the world.

Kathy Miller Perkins Career Coach Virginia Tech headshot

Kathy Miller Perkins is a psychologist and a leadership and career coach. In her role as the owner and CEO of a consulting firm, she has assisted leaders of global corporations and educational institutions. Kathy directs a research program exploring the culture and leadership characteristics of successful purpose-driven organizations. She authored the book, Leadership and Purpose: How to Create a Sustainable Culture, and writes regularly for Kathy obtained her B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University and her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Kentucky. She is currently pursuing B Corps certification—a designation for businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.