"Overwhelmed" - How we got from there to here
Ben Allen, WITF General Assignment Reporter | 07.18.14
If your mind is already be rushing through the long to-do list as the day is starting, you might be stuck in the "overwhelm".
And Washington Post staff writer Brigid Shulte says you're not alone.
Her best-selling book: "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time", is the midstate's Summer Read.
As part of WITF's Transforming Health, she detailed the history that got us here, and what could be changed to ease all the stress. Hear the conversation above, or read select excerpts below.
How overwhelmed did you feel before writing the book?
That’s a great question. I would say that I didn’t even realize how overwhelmed I was. That’s why I invented sort of a noun if you will for that state of being. It’s like there’s so much stuff coming at you, you’re so pressed for time that there’s no room for anything, you can’t even have a moment to breathe, you don’t even know where you are. I was feeling incredibly, incredibly overwhelmed and stressed all the time.
You detail a lack of good child care options, the pull of work, and the history behind all of the factors. Do we need to have a full understanding of history for changes to occur?
I think so. Because I think when I was sort of in the middle of that overwhelm and I would look at the magazine racks and there would be all this great advice 10 ways to take back your time, 5 ways to organize this, 7 ways to do that, and I would always buy those magazines looking for answers.
And I think people buy those magazines they’re looking for answers, they’re looking for hope because there is this feeling of breathlessness, of time crunch or time famine if you will. It really took writing this book to really dig into the roots of where this comes from. Why there are these pressures and what you can do about it.
And where there are bright spots out there that really kinda helped me to begin to navigate through. And like I say in the book, I’m still a work in progress. Some of these are just human nature, human issues.
We tend to value busyness. Doing, instead of being. I think that’s been Western tradition for centuries. It’s not gonna change overnight.
The book really does call for some larger structural changes as well as looking on the personal level. What can you do right here and right now.
Social change, change in workplace culture, change in policy, change in attitude, that might take a generation or two and I won’t be around so what can I do right here and right now to feel like my time is not racing from out under me and I’m constantly slipping on a banana peel.
Did you see those bright spots while writing?
Well they didn’t come to me, I had to look for them. (Laughs)
The reporter in me really wanted to find evidence. Wanted to be very open minded, but also skeptical. I didn’t want to be Pollyannaish.
I wanted to understand that this is hard, and why it’s hard. Where things were changing and why. And it really was in the process of reporting that I found that there are workplaces that understand that people do better work when they are they’re authentic or whole selves, which means they work but also have a life outside of work.
Whether you’re a parent or not, everybody has a life, you’re here on Earth. You have a purpose and work is a part of that purpose.
And work is very meaningful. That there are workplaces that understand that, that have cultures and policies that embrace that. The parenting standards that you had referenced, they have gotten really out of whack with what we’re able to do and frankly what children need.
There are some researchers who say we’re not just child focused, we’re child dominant. That’s not good for us, that’s not good for our kids either. It’s sucking parent’s time, it’s vigilant and worried about our kids.
Kids today are over-scheduled and overprotected and they have just about as much anxiety as the average mental patient did in the 1950’s. When you talk about the middle class, that was one of the most shocking findings to me, is that researchers who study stress and anxiety in both suburban, middle class, well off children, affluent children even, and those living in poverty in the inner city and chaos and violence, it’s the affluent kids who actually feel more stress and anxiety.
And I think that’s something we all need to kinda stop and disrupt this sort of cycle of business and overwhelm, kinda step outside of our lives and really look at well what are we doing, what are we thinking, and who is that good for?
Author Brigid Schulte
What would you say to an executive who says, well this just isn't going to work for me, I need face time with my employees?
Well and what I would say is, you have to decide for yourself. Each person has to decide for themselves.
What does good work, what does hard work look like? And when do you draw the line between hard work and overwork? Because hard work is great, and that’s part of the American tradition, it’s part of what we all value, I’m all for hard work, I work hard.
But when it falls into overwork, that’s when you are staying someplace just for the fact that you feel like you need to stay there.
I can’t tell you how many people I run into when I’ve gone out to give talks about my book, they’ll come up to me afterwards, and they’ll just say ‘Well I’m often at work until 10 or 11 at night. But I’m just trying to look busy because the boss is this still here so I feel like I have to be here.’
So that’s what I’m asking people to question. When do you draw the line? When does being mission focused and performance focused, when does that cross over into work being the be all and end all?
Because that kind of overwork, is what’s going to lead to burnout, disaffection, disengagement, depression, health problems, and there are a number, number of indications that many of our workers are already there.
Listen to the interview:
Published in Personal Transformation