As an entrepreneur, I believe I’ve been pretty successful in my career. I’ve done some cool stuff and built some cool things, but I want to own up. I avoid things. I sweep dust under rugs and hope I remember to get back to it before we spontaneously decide to move the tables when company is here.
As an entrepreneur, I believe I’ve been pretty successful in my career…but I want to own up. I avoid things. Tweet This Quote
It’s not that I want to get away with the thing under the rug. I know it is there. I wake up in the middle of the night and make promises to myself that tomorrow, tomorrow I will sweep under the rug, organize the bills, write to that person who seems mad. I have good intentions but then in the morning…
I am not talking about the kind of compartments you buy in the Container Store where everything is neatly organized and put away “appropriately”. I’m talking about the walls we create in our minds to survive. Because we can’t face it all, not all of it, not every day.
I’m talking about the stack of forms on the side of all our desks that need to be filed, signed—because we haven’t organized everything enough, or raised enough money to have the magic bookkeepers who make all of that stuff work. Or we’ve had one of those bookkeepers, but they weren’t that good, and then forms came right on home to roost anyway.
I compartmentalize…because we can’t face it all, not all of it, not every day. Tweet This Quote
These forms are, by the way, in the same category as the cash flow on the edge, the risks you take to close a deal, the project you have pushed to the edge of doable. These are the things we do to make the impossible possible. To do the social change work needed. To do the hard stuff that really isn’t possible from the comfortable seat of safety.
Ever been on the road giving a speech, not sure if you have enough money on your debit card to be able to take a cab to the airport? Have you wondered what it will take from your pride to say you need help, or what it will take from your energy to manage the risk? It takes a game to put yourself out without a fully constructed net.
Some of this is about shame. We sweep under the rugs the stuff that we’re ashamed of. And let’s face it—given the pressures of leadership and everything we have taken on, we are going to be fallen leaders. We are going to accumulate mistakes, skeletons.
Turns out, I need to block 15 minutes before a meeting to put on my game face. Tweet This Quote
So you compartmentalize. You can’t feel things all the time. Can’t care about everything all the time. If all of this is with you all the time, then you are, frankly, a basket case. And that gets you nowhere.
I remember a meeting with a foundation exec a couple years ago. I showed up, thought I had my strategy straight and my story together, and he looked me straight on and said, “you are too tired to lead.” I hadn’t compartmentalized. Turns out, I need to block that 15 minutes before a meeting to put on my game face, to push the worries and the exhaustion to the back so I can show up as I need to.
Am I saying don’t be authentic? No. All of this is authentic. It’s just not being authentic about everything all the time. It’s about those methods that sort stuff so we can handle it a bit at a time.
Face something. Solve a problem. But don’t try to do it alone. Tweet This Quote
Never confuse compartmentalized with handled.
Compartmentalization is risky. You get so accustomed to pushing things aside that you can’t remember what it would mean to face them. And then, suddenly, the monsters start really jumping out of the closets.
Face something. Solve a problem. But don’t try to do it alone. I’ve found it always helps to tell someone about what you have put in the compartment and have them think through with you more options than you likely see. The practice of opening the compartment and having the stuff come falling out on your head means that you can see there isn’t so much to feel shame about. Perhaps this happens to a lot of people. Perhaps there is someone who can help you sort it out because it is less scary for them than it is for you.
The stuff in the compartment is yours to deal with. No one can fix this for you. Tweet This Quote
A side note of caution about the type of person who is actually helpful: there is the person who is shocked, truly shocked that you have let it go this far. They say things like, “How could you?” and, “Oh, that seems risky.” These people are scared of the stuff in the closet, and that’s not helpful. If you find that the person who is helping you sort things out is more scared of the stuff than you are, find someone else. It’s like cleaning out the basement with someone scared of spiders. It’s not helpful to be shocked that that there are spiders in basements. You need the person who is not really fond of spiders but knows that they are there. And doesn’t need to squeal every… single… time.
And, one other word of caution (I’ve thought about this a bunch, recently)—you can’t actually bring in someone to fix it for you. Remember those folks you dated who thought they could fix you? That didn’t work out, either. No one can fix this for you. The stuff in the compartment is yours to deal with. If there was someone else who could deal with it, we likely would have given it to them ages ago. We are not idiots. Just compartmentalizing.
Every entrepreneur needs someone who is really good at sitting with you while you sort through your crap. Tweet This Quote
Every entrepreneur needs someone who is really good at sitting with you while you sort through your crap. It is easier to face with someone, so it isn’t so scary. It isn’t a monster—just some stuff that needs to be handled.
So compartmentalize to make it through the day, but don’t let your compartments come back and kick you in the butt. You are better than that. Kick the door down, pull the crap out, and with some good, fearless friends, figure out what to do with it all.
Editor’s Note: Joy owes the idea behind this blog, and a good portion of her sanity to Cheryl Dahle. She’s the best ally possible in a monster fight.