Want help sharing your story and growing your audience? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for my best tips and advice.

Do You Choose To Be Overwhelmed?

We choose more. Not less.
We choose potential, not acceptance.
We choose new, not old.

We race.
We strive.
We double down.

Do more. Be more.
Conquer. More.

Overwhelmed. This is the singular theme I see repeated again and again with so many people I know. Overwhelmed with all they want to do. All they want to be. All they have. All they hope for. All they are obligated to do.

We say we want simplicity. We lie. To ourselves.
What embodies the simplicity and focus you want in your life?

This week I saw my favorite singer perform in an intimate gathering of 200 or so people. Glen Hansard, famous for his music in the movie Once, which won an Academy Award, and the bands The Swell Season and The Frames.

There is something about a singer such has him that embodies what so many seem to desire: Focus. Simplicity. Meaning.

The music embodies the ingredients of a fruitful life: Conversation. Art. Relationships. Literature. Travel. Experience.

You likely have someone like this in your life, a singer who inspires you, or perhaps an athlete, writer, social leader, scientist or someone in another profession. And when we see them or experience their work, perhaps we idealize that they embody a balance, a focus on only what matters.

That when you consider this person you admire, it strips away the things in your life that you are slightly unsettled by. That you sit in a gray cube at work all day. That your Saturdays are spent cleaning out the garage. That you are overwhelmed by email and social media. That when you were 19, life was about exploration and conversation, and now, somehow, it all seems to come back to money. That perhaps you feel like you can’t remember the last time you read a book. That you are defined by a business card.

That you would spend more time with your family, if only…
That you would spend more time with your faith, if only…
That you would get back in shape, if only…
That you would be who you always wanted to be, if only…

… if only you weren’t so overwhelmed.

I have been immersing myself in the topic of productivity in preparation for some upcoming projects. And when I see Glen perform, things like the Getting Things Done system seem, well, silly. Yes, I have a respect for the system, and know it works. But the need for it justifies a life that many fear. One with constant inputs that need to be managed. One where we need to train ourselves to be disciplined, just to keep up with it all. To to excel, but just to keep up.

Do you feel the pressure to live up to a certain standard of consumption and productivity?

Here is a video I shot of Glen singing this week:

To me, it is a reminder. A respite.

What is yours?


  • Dan — What a powerful post. I love that you used the word choice in your headline, because it is about choice, isn’t it? Whether we want to be honest enough to admit it or not. And, I love your comments on the Getting Things Done system. I believe that formula works really well for certain types of people, but for those with more artistic and creative temperaments, it’s a poor fit. Yet so many of us accept that formula as truth and “the only way” and feel obligated to adopt habits that are unrealistic for us in order to simply keep up (and most likely to be accepted, but that’s a whole separate discussion, right?). I have several friends who are living the dream of being professional musicians, and I’ve seen others envy the opportunities available to those musicians due to their level of musicianship. That envy always annoyed me (infuriated, actually), because the envy-holders failed to acknowledge the years of very, very hard work, grueling hours of practice, rejection, and less-than-ideal gigs for those musicians to get where they are today. It’s the same for writers, right? Or pro golfers and Olympic athletes. And there were hard choices involved. They’ve likely sacrificed time with friends or loved ones, they don’t volunteer at three or four different organizations who are doing great things, and they may not take vacations for a lot of years. 

    Yes, I’ve absolutely struggled with overwhelm. But over the years I’ve gained some wisdom, and gotten much better at saying “no” to things others may be saying “yes” to, and resisting the urge to feel guilty over saying “no”. It takes a lot of practice, and a lot of courage, to learn to do this, and I certainly don’t have it mastered. But I’m continuing to practice! 

    Thanks for bringing this subject to the surface. There’s strength in community, so you’re serving your readers and clients well by offering your support. Thanks again for all you do and share. 

    • Thank you so much for this Diane. You make GREAT points about choice, envy and work. Justine Musk just shared a great post about the power of NO as well: http://justinemusk.com/2012/06/10/power-of-saying-no/


  • Lovely post, Dan. I find that periods of high productivity are fine as long as relaxation afterward gets the same priority.  When I’m in the midst of a big project, it’s easy to get into overwhelm, but I try to break it down into smaller pieces, with little breaks between each piece to get a massage or go for a walk, something to clear my head and rest my body.I make sure to take time for yoga, gardening and needlework, all of which keep me calm. 

    It’s funny, though, that even after more than four years out of the corporate rat race, I still have to counter a strong Puritan work ethic that wants to take over. It’s a constant balancing act, a “one day at a time” work in progress.

    • Nadine,
      So interesting to hear that, especially that it is a constant struggle, you are always resisting an urge to just work more. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • Great thoughts—you’re right about choosing to be overwhelmed.  Wanting to do it all sometimes results in doing nothing well–which I can do often.  This was a good reminder about having a focus on a goal and sometimes not trying to do everything.  Thanks for the reminder!

    • Thanks Diana. I think folks are too quick to just blame “the world” or blame “others,” when the problem starts with ourselves. 

  • What a gorgeous piece of poetry, Dan. Thank you.

  • estock

    Thank you so much for posting these powerful words–exactly what I’ve been fretting about. On one hand, wanting a simpler life, but on the other, trying for more and more while trying to get myself published. We all need to breathe and remind ourselves that it’s okay not to produce every second we live. And, we certainly can’t take it all with us into heaven!

    • Thanks so much. Yes, a writer has so many competing pressures. This is exactly what I spend my days talking to authors about!

  • Barbara McDowell Whitt

    So what is my reminder, my respite? That tomorrow, June 17, 2012, my husband and I will be celebrating our 40th  wedding anniversary. Yes, we were married the on the day of the Watergate Break-In. We’re still a functioning unit.   

    • “Still a functioning unit!” The highest praise for a marriage! 🙂
      Seriously – congratulations!