Do you have a favorite negative emotion? Okay, so it’s not like you actually like to feel it. But it’s your go-to. It’s the one you indulge in most often. Mine is OVERWHELM. Hands down! As a mom with five kids, I probably indulge in overwhelm at least once a week.
Honestly, I really don’t like feeling overwhelmed. I just haven’t mastered the tools to avoid it quite yet. But I’ve been learning. And trying. And getting better at it. And an experience I’ve had recently has offered me so much for this learning process.
A couple months ago, my sister-in-law came to me with an offer. They wanted to hire somebody to paint their new construction home. They wanted to avoid a professional to save a little money, but didn’t really want to do it themselves if they didn’t have to. My oldest son had just been in an ATV accident and shattered his ankle, requiring surgery, and I knew the medical bills would be rolling in soon. So she asked me if I would like the job. I have minimal painting experience (I’ve painted inside my own house, but that’s it!), but I felt like a blessing was falling right into my lap, so I accepted.
At first, things went pretty well. I watched some YouTube videos about using a paint sprayer (something I had never done!) and went to work. The primer went on without much drama. But as I started with the paint, things started falling apart. And I started falling apart. The sprayer wasn’t working well, I couldn’t find the answers, I was using too much paint, and I ended up having to just roll over the top of almost all of it anyway. I started getting discouraged, and let my thoughts run wild. I kept thinking about how much time I was spending away from my kids, how I wasn’t producing any new content for the blog, and how my house was completely falling apart (which is what I like to call it any time it hasn’t been cleaned for a few days).
After two weeks, I finally finished the inside, and I was done—as in, overwhelm was running rampant, and I was seriously considered quitting and letting them figure out something else for the exterior. It was the only solution I could think of. I don’t know about you, but I’m not my most rational self when I am feeling overwhelmed. But thankfully, something clicked that night, and I decided that I wanted to continue. I wanted to finish what I had started, and I wanted to do it better—not just the paint job, but the emotional management that is important when tackling any big project. I knew I could learn a lot from this job if I would just be intentional about it and manage my thoughts better. And I am so glad that I did!
Painting the exterior of the house took almost twice as long as the interior did, but I never felt like quitting again. And some days, at least the days when my hands weren’t freezing, I actually liked it! As I painted, I did a lot of thinking about how taking on a 6-week paint job, while continuing to do my best as a wife, mother, sister, and friend, was pretty similar to taking on any big project. And I came up with a few tips for anybody who is feeling overwhelmed with their current task. As I share these tips with you, I want you to see how they apply to your big project. This could be your project of loving your body, it could be your goal to lose weight or improve healthy habits, or maybe it is a project at work, improving a relationship, or being the best mom you can be. Whatever your cause of overwhelm, I truly believe these can help. So here they are…
7 TIPS FOR “UNDERWHELMING” YOUR OVERWHELM
- Learn all you can, then find what works for YOU. I wanted to use a faster, more professional way to paint, so we bought a sprayer and I studied up, YouTube style. I tried it for a while, but without somebody there to mentor me and help me troubleshoot, the sprayer actually ended up taking more time, causing more headaches, and wasting more paint than rolling it. Deciding to do what worked best for ME on the outside of the house (a good ol’ roller and paint brush) may not have been the most efficient choice, but it was the best choice for me.
- Know the end goal, but focus on “one brick at a time.” Before I even started my first day painting, my brother-in-law gave me some advice. He said, “Just chip away.” I didn’t listen very well. I started setting deadlines for myself, and then berating myself when things took longer than planned. But when I decided to do the outside, I remembered a Will Smith story I had heard several years ago. When Will Smith was just 12 years old, his father asked him and his younger brother to re-build the brick wall outside their family business. This seemed like an impossible task for two young boys. But a year and a half later, they had finished the wall. In Will Smith’s words, here is how they did it:
You don’t try to build a brick wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, “I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that has ever been built.” You don’t start there. You say: “I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.” And you do that every single day, and soon you’ll have a wall.
Yes, I still had the end goal of finishing the paint job. But as I stepped back, quit worrying about finishing, and just started focusing on taking it a day at a time, a section at a time, and just doing my best, the task became manageable. “Just chip away.”
- Forget Perfectionism. I know, I know, Will Smith just said to lay it perfectly, but look again. He actually said “as perfectly as a brick can be laid.” I think this takes into account our human-ness. Remember to take into account your human-ness. That sneaky Perfectionism is always trying to derail our best plans. (Read more here.)
- Find some JOY along the way. Whatever the task may be, ask yourself, “Is there a way to make this more fun?” I found a couple. Listening to audiobooks (if you haven’t read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, you need to!) and having picnics with my son 20 feet above ground in the lift I used were a couple ways I found joy along the way.
- Validate yourself. So often, we are alone in our projects and alone in our overwhelm. There were many times that I just wanted somebody to see what I had done and give me a nice little pat on the back. But there was only one person who knew, and that was me. This may sound cheesy, but when I started just telling myself, “Hey, great work today,” it made a big difference.
- Only worry about your OWN expectations. I can’t even tell you how many times I was asked (by my husband, kids, or other family members or friends), “Hey, are you done yet?” I really had to try hard to not let this question bug me, which my husband noticed, so he started making a point to ask me several times a day if I was done yet (Grrrr!). But as I would re-direct myself to my expectations of me—lay one brick at a time, or do the best job I could do each day—I was able to feel good about what I was doing, regardless of what anybody else thought.
- Pay attention to what you are learning. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. We aren’t here to just float through without any challenges. We are here to LEARN. And I find that when I am intentional about learning, situations change from overwhelming experiences to growing experiences.
I am incredibly grateful for the experience I had painting a house this fall. Nothing about that 140 hours was wasted because of what I gained from it. And while I’m sure I have not conquered overwhelm yet—and maybe I never will—I have found a few tools that will help me to manage it when it starts creeping in on me again, and again…. (We are doing some major upgrades to our house in January, so it won’t be long!)
And let’s be honest, doesn’t it look amazing?!