Our Agency to Choose
A few months ago, I went to see a successful nutritionist who owns a private practice in New York and only takes clients on a referral basis. After we finished my health evaluation, he told me about one of his recent clients, a partner at a financial firm on Wall Street, who wears a $30K Rolex watch but has about 3 good years of life if he continues his current lifestyle. He told him to sell his watch and hire himself a personal trainer and chef. I hope he took the recommendation seriously but it sounds like he was on the phone as soon as their appointment was over to make deals.
I foresee a huge risk of burnout at the leadership level today and in the future. Why? Outside of companies, the macro-economic climate is volatile and uncertain. Inside of companies, acquiring and retaining talent while combating employee burnout requires more advanced skillfulness and support. Leaders today are having to regularly shift from defensive to offense with flexibility and resilience.
A helpful exercise is to get a very clear picture of one’s ambitions versus one’s capacities…and assess the gap between the two. Ambitions are the desires we have: the impact, results and growth we’re trying to drive (with our teams). Capacities are the inner and outer resources we have: our health, our energy tank, our team resourcing, and our financials. An observation I have as a coach is that most people are not as skillful at assessing their own capacities. People aren’t really tuned into their body and energy levels and what they’re signaling about the edges of their capacity. Exploring our boundaries and limitations, and then going the step further of declaring our boundaries and limitations, is in and of itself a big unlock for many people who are used to powering through. Many people carry limiting beliefs and shame about admitting that they’re human.
The biggest internal shift is about claiming our agency in it all. What do I mean? Taking responsibility for the choices we are making about how to use our time, energy, finances and resources. Think of them as part of a personal budget that you manage and allocate. Because for many of us, we are constantly making choices: we are choosing to say Yes to meetings and projects and hedonic treadmills, and it almost always comes with trade-offs (and that includes our personal wellness and mental health). There is a liberation in accepting that we simply cannot optimize for everything and making intentional choices on what we commit to. So what are you choosing today? And how aligned is it with what really matters to you?
To quote one of my mentors: “To believe that we can do it all and have it all is cruel.” Let’s de-bunk that right here, right now. Developing a sense of agency is an ongoing process of self-reflection, feedback loops, and adaptation. Own your choices and pay attention to what you’re choosing and trading-off. Make peace with it. It’s an ongoing process in the ever-changing landscape we are in, and I don’t know a single human being who is doing this perfectly these days. And maybe there’s some comfort in that too.