I worked myself into a lovely pickle at the end of 2016. I told my manager that I’d love to have a session on career planning and goals for my role in the company. I love these sorts of chats!
Well, I used to. I’ve been so knee-deep in survival mode during my son’s first year of life, wrangling a puppy, and finding out that I was pregnant with No. 2 when my son was nine months old, that I suddenly realized, while preparing for this chat, that I had no short- or long-term goals. “Well, what do you want life to look like in five years?” my friend asked as a prompt.
After pondering this for an hour or so, all—and I do mean all—I could come up with was: “I want to sleep through the night, for more than three hours at a time.”
Is that reaching too far?
Rewind another 10 years and beyond. I was the straight-A student, the very nerdy girl riding horses (working at barns to pay for her horse habit), and writing novels in every spare moment.
I was the one involved in three to four clubs or nonprofits at a time. I directed two musicals. I served on a rodeo court and was crowned for a state title as “Miss Teen Rodeo” in my first year of college.
I was the news editor and editor-in-chief of the college paper. I was editor-in-chief of the college magazine. I won several national awards for my writing in college, and even won trips to conferences and such. At the same time, I freelanced for the local newspaper and several statewide publications. Ambition, plans, side projects were never in short supply.
This continued as I entered the professional world; I often took on more in my roles and shaped my jobs into what I wanted them to be (and what the organization needed). I knew that when it came time for me to start a family, I wanted to work from home. I started a side business while working full-time at a university, hoping to accomplish this.
Landing a job here at Buffer was an avenue I’d never anticipated—but something far better than my plan of making my business self-sufficient. (I have always worked better with teams than working for myself!) And while I still worked my dream job in my dream environment (home office!), I continued to work on some side projects and write novels.
I’ve never not had three to four “jobs” at once. I thrive under the constant yearning to explore more, learn more, test a new skill.
I remember the moment when my side projects, novel wanderings, and drive faltered. It was April 24, 2015. I found out I was pregnant with my first child. This didn’t manifest in an instant cosmic shift. We were elated about the news, and new plans and tons of new projects swirled in my head.
I dove into every baby and parenting book I could get my hands on, and when that initial freakout stage passed, I attempted to dive back into the projects and novels I’d been working on. But it was like a dam had been erected, in the exact part of my brain where my fiction writing and freelance design work resided. For months I battled this dam, but I felt like I was poking a thousand tons of concrete with a needle. I couldn’t even get a drop through.
Then came baby, and somehow I blinked. A year ago, I had the dreams: a family, a career, a side-passion project of writing a novel a year. Well, the side project never quite happened, and I sometimes feel like I’m barely holding onto the career and family. So what do I want out of 2017? I do want sleep. I want an afternoon to myself every now and then.
But then I shake myself a little: Who is this person? Where are my goals of publishing novels? Why aren’t I involved in a dozen nonprofits? Sleep? That’s not a “goal”! The hour I spent pondering my goals for the year ahead led to a few hours of panic, then a half a day of mourning for the woman I once was.
A few days later, I felt at peace.
I realized that while this past year flew by, I wouldn’t have traded a single baby snuggle for more writing time or more time on the laptop. I know the next few years will go by just as fast, and I’ll welcome that lofty-goal–setting person once more. Until then, I’m on a journey toward being more content with smaller (but equally impactful and more realistic) goals.
I’ll work on being a better parent and teammate. I’ll strive to live more in the moment and less in my to-do list. I’ll let go of the things that don’t matter and hold onto the essential.
After a few weeks of reflecting on my career-planning session and seeking lots of advice, here’s how I plan to get through the next instance of survival mode that eclipses all else:
1. Slow down and breathe. Like most phases in life, the panic and frustration is fleeting. Time really does make a difference.
2. Identify that you’re in “survival mode.” Consider this a “get-out-of-jail-free” card in the sense of a “get-out-of-your-head-for-now” card. The more I pushed myself, the more I felt paralyzed. Sometimes you can’t force yourself out of a situation.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s important that your supervisor is aware of what you’re feeling–the highs and the lows. Sometimes it’s easier to put on a brave face and convince everyone that all is well. And this could set you up for failure when things get a little too rough.
4. Seek mentors, colleagues, and friends to talk to. For me, it was a comfort to hear, “Oh, I’ve been there. It’s okay.” When we bottle up our feelings, it’s easy to think we’re the only ones who’ve ever experienced something like this. Thankfully, we’re not. There are so many wise people out there who can encourage you.
5. Seize the moments outside of “survival mode.” January brought with it more than I could have ever expected in December, while I was trying to map out my ideal 2017. I found moments of inspiration and clarity (and lost a few more days to no sleep and lower productivity.) That’s okay. That’s life.
6. Remember: Survive! If you’re in “survival mode” in your life, don’t ignore the most important thing: your well-being (and the well-being of those close to you)! Running yourself into the ground won’t do you or your work any good.
A version of this article originally appeared on Buffer. It is adapted and reprinted with permission.