The thing causing most of your stress
Ep. 262
| with
Ep 262 The thing causing most of your stress, Lessons from a Quitter Podcast

Follow Along:

In the latest episode of Lessons from a Quitter, I dive into the topic of setting impossible standards for ourselves and the negative impact it has on our lives. As overachievers and type A personalities, we often tie our productivity and worth together, making it difficult to rest and relax. I share my personal journey of reprogramming myself to prioritize rest, without feeling the need to constantly work or be productive. I discuss the importance of defining our own standards of success and realizing that perfectionism is unsustainable. By understanding this concept, we can substantially reduce stress and overwhelm without changing our circumstances. Tune in to discover how to redefine your standards and find more joy in your life.

Show Transcript
Hey! Welcome to Lessons from a Quitter where we believe that it is never too late to start over. No matter how much time or energy you've spent getting to where you are. If ultimately you are unfulfilled, then it is time to get out. Join me each week for both inspiration and actionable tips so that we can get you on the road to your dreams.
Hello my friends and welcome to another episode. I hope you are all doing well. I am back from Hawaii and it was an amazing trip. And what was interesting for me on this trip, as I've talked about before, I've really been focusing on how to slow down and on my health. And part of that is taking more time off. And I've worked a lot on my thoughts around not being productive when you are a quote unquote overachiever or type A personality. Or you spent your whole life thinking that your productivity is really a reflection of your worth and resting can feel really crappy.
It doesn't feel good. We're not used to it. Our brain is on fire screaming at us constantly to get up and do something. And even though I teach this stuff, I had found myself when I would go on vacation feeling this, wanting to get back to work, feeling anxious, feeling like I needed to check in even though I work for myself and I make my own hours. And I had things set up. I was finding that even when I would go on certain short vacations, I would feel better when I worked because I would have thoughts of like, “look, okay, I'm getting this done. Okay, now I know everything's okay, there I can relax for the rest of the vacation.” And I've really been intentionally trying to reprogram myself to rest fully and disconnect fully and not feel the need to have to deserve it or earn it or work for it or whatever it is.
And so that hasn't been easy. It seems like it's easy work. It's not.
I took a vacation in April and it's funny because when I set out this year I wanted to do four weeks off. I had said that I was going to do four weeks off this year. And then when it comes to it instantly my brain is like, “oh, we've already taken so much time, time off, you can't take more time off. You don't need it. You already rested, you just went on vacation.” So I had to manage that. But what was interesting is that, that vacation I went on in April, it took me a couple more days to be able to disconnect. I still felt kind of the draw to need to work or to feel productive. And it was fascinating to watch myself on this vacation, see how much faster I just dove into relaxing and not needing to make the vacation productive and not needing to do everything on vacation and even needing to read like I wanted to read, I wanted to journal.
And I realized when I got there, like I didn't want to. And so I was like, okay, I guess I'm not going to do that. And before, that was so hard for me because I felt like, well I'm wasting this time, I have this time to lay here on the beach and I should read. And I've really been working and cultivating trusting myself to know what I want in the moment and give that to myself and allow that to be good enough and to not need to make everything the most productive or squeeze out every drop of you know, anything I'm doing. Whether that's vacation or work.
So I feel very well rested and, I think, a good byproduct–it's not the reason to do it, I even hesitate to talk about this because I don't think the reason to rest is so that you can become more productive. I don't think the reason to rest is so that you can work more. I think you rest just to rest because you deserve rest because you're a human–but I have found after this one that I wanted to get back. I missed the community, I missed coaching, I missed the Quitter Club, I missed the podcast, and I wanted to get back and talk about all the things.
And so I'm super excited to be back now. I hope you guys are well. This topic today is one that I was recently teaching in the Quitter Club. It's really important. So I wanted to bring it here because I think we all need to ask ourselves these questions. I've realized the source of so much stress for so many people, it's so much of the anxiety and the pressure and the make-believe overwhelm that we put on ourselves is caused by this.
And so I want you to realize that like without changing your circumstance, without changing your job, without changing your boss, without changing the people that are around you, you can substantially reduce your stress and your overwhelm and your negative experience, the dread that you experience from your job simply by understanding this concept today.
So what is it? If you're new around here then you may not know that what we focus on here is entirely on your thoughts. And I think for so many of us we think that the external world is what's causing our stress. We think work is stressful. I mean we say those words, right? “Work is stressful. I have so much to do. My boss micromanages me. My coworkers don't do their fair share. The clients are always angry. There's always problems. I'm always troubleshooting.” Whatever the circumstances that you think causes your stress or we do this in other areas of our lives.
We do this with a lot of our roles, right? Like say, as a mother, you think like, “God, being at home is so stressful. Being with my kids is so stressful. They fight all the time. Somebody's always throwing a tantrum, somebody's crying. Nothing is ever good enough? Nobody likes the dinner I make. The house is always a mess.” You know? Whatever those circumstances are, like that is what feels super stressful.
So we constantly think that we are failing. We think that we are not living up to our standard that we should be at work. We're not getting our work done on time, we are not doing as good of a job as we want to do. We're not meeting the standard at home. And so one of the questions I really want you to ask yourself though is like when we think this, we often have never actually defined what that standard is. And it's really important for you to know what standard you are holding yourself to.
So you have to ask yourself that. Right? And one way to ask that if you don't know the standard is when can I finally think I'm successful at this? Like when am I allowed to believe? When will my brain let me believe that the job I did was a job well done? I want you to think about that because for most of us it is very rarely, if ever. It's typically never enough. No matter what you do, no matter how present you are, no matter how much work you do get done, no matter how great you did on the presentation or the uh, you know assignment that you did, no matter how well you're leading your team, no matter how engaged you are with your children at home, whatever the situation is, you constantly feel like you are failing.
But simply because you believe that you are failing does not mean you are actually failing. It's simply a thought that you keep thinking over and over again and it's because you have this standard that you haven't defined that you're trying to reach but you don't even know what the standard is and that keeps you on this perpetual hamster wheel, right?
When you don't define it, when you don't know what “good enough” is for you, it's this nebulous concept. And it's almost, we believe, this thing, like “I'll know it when I get there, I'll know good enough when I get there.” Right? But you'll never get there because your brain will constantly tell you like you could have done more. Yeah, maybe you did this but you didn't do it fast enough or you did okay on that presentation but you kind of messed up on this part. You could have done it perfectly, you could have gotten more rave reviews, right?
And it's funny because we like base it on what other people tell us. We don't even know what we're basing it on, to be honest. We are just so used to now telling ourselves that it's not good enough but we don't know what “good enough” is.
And so it's really crucial for you to define what “good enough” is for you in your job, in any role you have in your relationship at home, in your health journey. I don't care whatever goal you're trying to go after, whatever situation you're in, whatever role you play in your life, you have to define what “good enough” is for you. Because what happens is that we have this perfectionist standard of a hundred percent perfect. Like when we don't define it and we think, “oh I'll know when I get there,” what we're really saying is that unless it's a hundred percent perfect and everybody is praising me and everybody loves me and I always get the pat on the back and I always achieve that A+, then I can rest easy and know like okay, that was good enough.
Like that can be fine. But we already know that doesn't work either. Even if you do that your brain's onto the next thing. Your brain's like maybe you did good but you also didn't work out this week and like you yelled at your kids so you're really not good enough, right? And so it's really important to have this defined for yourself in all areas, only to see the impossible standards that you're setting up for yourself. Because when I ask this and when I ask this in the club and when I've asked this of my clients, when they do really think about okay, what standard am I holding myself to, right? If I was to define this, if I was to say like what is successful for me? When do I, I think I'm successful in my job? It's almost always an impossible standard. It's like I can never make a mistake and I have to always know the answer and I have to finish things as soon as I get them. And I never procrastinate and I don't drop any balls and everybody loves me and you know on and on it's laughable.
But if that's the standard you're holding yourself to, no wonder you're stressed, of course you're going to be stressed. And of course you're going to always think you're failing because you can never reach that standard. I've had clients who are, let's say doctors, tell me that like their standard is they have to save every single patient. You can tell that, that is an insane standard because people die. It's just what happens to human beings. And while doctors are great, that's not what their role is. Their role isn't to save every single person. They are limited by their human capacity. We are limited by science. We are limited by the human condition, in that death occurs. And so if you think I'm going to go become a doctor that let's say, helps cancer patients, and if any time a patient dies of cancer, I'm going to beat myself up or tell myself I'm failing or take it so emotionally hard. And I'm not saying that's not like you want to be happy and it's rainbows and butterflies and you're like oh I don't care. No, you obviously went into that profession because you want to help people.
But notice that like if your standard is, “I only get to feel good when I save people and it that's the only time is when I do things perfectly,” then you are consistently going to fail at that.
I had another client recently who didn't know why she was dreading work so much and the part of work that she was dreading was these conversations with clients, and she was a lawyer, and we were coaching on what part of it that was really like the where the dread was coming and it was giving bad news. It was basically like telling them what the law says and what their case, you know, the fact that they don't really have maybe good chances or whatnot. And when we kind of dug into this like what do you think your role is as a lawyer, right? What do you think that you're supposed to be doing?
And like she had this standard and this role that like I should always be giving them good news. Like they're coming to me in this time and they, they're looking to me for some hope. And that the fact that you know, like I don't know that they're going to win this case that they have. And of course it was unconscious, she didn't consciously think this but there had become this standard of like, “I only get to feel good about my job if I'm going in there every day and I'm the hero and I get to tell them the good news and I tell 'em that their case is great and that it's going to be wonderful,” but that's not going to happen a lot of times. Like your role as a lawyer is not that. It's not to constantly win every single case that won't happen. It's to guide your clients through their options. It's to explain the law to them so that they can decide what they want.
And if you are taking on the stress of like, “oh God, they're going to be upset,” which somehow means I did my job bad or I'm not a good enough lawyer or I don't know what I'm doing, then yes that creates a lot of unnecessary stress and suffering for you. As opposed to getting super clear on like, “No, what is my role as a lawyer and what is that standard I want to hold myself to?” Right? And you have to even think within that. I think for instance, like with law I, you could do this with any profession but like just, you know as we talk about with lawyers, oftentimes for so many of us, the standard that we have is I should know the answer all the time. I should know exactly what I should do in every single case. And if I don't then that means that I'm an imposter and I'm an fraud and I'm not good enough and I don't know what I'm doing.
And yet you live in a world where you know, let's say your doctor science is always changing. You're going to get cases that are always going to be new. If you're a lawyer, you're going to get cases you've never heard of. The law is always going to change. Whatever it is, there's no finite amount of information, it's always ever evolving. So of course you're not going to know all the answers. Even if you've been practicing for 10, 20 years. There's always going to be room to be a human and make a mistake or not know or need to research it. And if the standard that you have set for yourself is that I should always know and I have to be perfect and I have to get it right in order for me to feel okay about this, you will consistently fail.
And so I want you to really ask yourself like don't just listen to this. You can pause this if you're at home, if you're driving or whatnot, like do this work. Ask yourself like what has been my standard?
When have I been able to feel good enough?
And maybe think back to sometimes where you did feel good enough, like what happened where you got to feel good enough?
And typically that's when we have some huge success, some big, like I did something really perfectly, I got really good reviews or whatever. And it's short-lived because then we move on to the next thing that we didn't know or we got wrong or we didn't do well. And if you start seeing like, okay, well this is what's happening. I'm holding myself to the standard that just cannot be, cannot exist. We can then start redefining what do I want good enough to be?
What is good enough, really, in this job? Because what I have found, what's really fascinating and the reason I say that this is the cause of so much of your stress is like I don't even think your bosses or the people that you work with hold you to that standard. I don't think they think you should be able to do this. Of course they want good workers or they want people to do their best and you know they are going to take whatever you give them. And if you're going to give them perfectionism they will take it happily.
But I think about like as an example, when I was in big law and I was a first year associate, like if you're in law, you know that as a first year, you don't know anything. You are coming out of law school really blind. Like they teach you only theory and then you get thrown into practical work and you don't have any skills and it's extremely stressful because of the thoughts that we are given, right?
When you come in you start thinking well, well they're paying me a lot of money and I should really know what I'm doing and they're going to be upset and everyone's going to hate me and I'm going to get fired. And I don't know the answer to this and I don't know how to research this and I should have known this by now. And it's fascinating for me to think about like how much anxiety I had about not knowing how to do a job that nobody had ever taught me how to do. That like, there's no way for me to know until I was on the job. But I think back and I'm like the partners know that first years don't have these skills. Like it's not as though they expect the first year to come in and be a senior associate and understand, you know, the ins and outs of running a case and know how to find the right answer and research every time. Like they are all aware of the level at which first years operate. And yet I thought like I should be better than this. I should be perfect at this. I should know the answer. And I think for so many of us that have been achievers for a lot of our lives and have known the answer and we're the top of the class or whatever the situation was, when we go into the real world where it's like there is no top of the class, there is no way for you to know everything. It's really disorienting. It's jarring because we're so used to that sort of comfort level of like if I memorize everything, if I know all the answers, if I can somehow be the smartest, then I can feel protected. Right? And that perfectionism is simply a defense mechanism. It's simply like a way to try to protect ourselves from judgment or feeling bad or feeling not good enough or feeling not worthy. It's our ego trying to be like, if I do this perfectly enough, then I can be safe from rejection, I won't be fired, I won't get ridiculed, I won't have a bad review, I won't have to sit through that discomfort. And that sounds lovely and if it worked I would say go for it, but it doesn't work because there's no way for you to be perfect.
And what happens is that instead of like we're so afraid of this doomsday scenario of like let me say like I'm, I made a mistake and I'm going to get a bad review or whatnot. Or let's say the worst case scenario, I'm going to get fired. We're so afraid of that. And then what we do instead is like, you know what, I'm just going to beat myself up every day for not being able to reach this impossible standard and I'm going to make myself miserable and burned out and stressed out in the hopes that someday I won't have to feel a negative emotion. Like I don't have to feel any shame or disappointment or whatnot if I get fired, if I get a bad review.
Like again, consciously we don't think this. But when you think about it, like it doesn't make any sense. We're like, I'm going to literally drive myself into the ground and try to prove to everybody that I'm the best so that at some point I can maybe, you know, sit back and relax and like breathe easy, which will never happen by the way, unless you learn how to manage your mind, in the hopes I just ward off the negative emotion of somebody else noticing that I maybe got it wrong. Or that I don't, you know, have the answer all the time.
And so when I talk a lot about on this podcast like self-confidence and we look at people that are confident, you look at people that are confident in the working world, right? It's not because they know all the answers. Nobody knows all the answers, nobody does, right? It's not that they've somehow mastered some impossible standard and they're perfect every time. It's simply that they accept that they're going to make mistakes and they don't ruminate over that they can move on quickly and actually get the job done right? They're confident in their own ability to figure it out. They can figure out like, “okay, yeah maybe I messed that up but I'm not going to spend all of this time beating myself up. I'm going to move on to the next thing. I know my strengths lie here. I know I can do this better.” Whatnot. For so many of us that don't have that natural self-confidence or haven't built it up. It's like, as soon as something like this happens, as soon as we mess up we just go into like this shame spiral and beating ourselves up and which by the way like leads to more mistakes. We're so in our head, we're so like hung up on how terrible we are and whatever, all of the mean things that we say to ourselves.
And so what happens is that you end up, instead of fixing the problem or your mistake or finding the answer, you're just in an all consuming like, shame spiral, beating yourself up, which doesn't help anyone.
I've done episodes on self-confidence and we do a lot of that work in the quitter club if you want to work on that.
But the first step is really just becoming aware of this. Becoming aware of like, what is the standard that I am holding myself to and how can I change that? What can “good enough” be? When I was talking to some of the doctors that I've worked with as an example, I was asking them like when is good enough? Like when what is success? And a lot of them is like I have to give a 10 out of 10, I have to be a hundred percent, I have to be at a hundred percent. And we were talking about like they're patients and it's like, “I have to be the best doctor for 10, out of 10 of them,” and I can understand where that desire comes from.
Nobody wants to think that they let down a patient. Nobody wants to say like, well you know what? Like I'm going to get to 7 out of 10 patients but I'm not going to be able to get to those other three or I'm not going to give, do a good job with them. Or maybe I just can't even treat them because like I don't have the time. But here's why this is so important to even accept that, to accept that like maybe I can only give a 7 out of 10, because a 10 out of 10 is not sustainable for so many of us.
When we want to do it perfectly, we think that there is some like other realm of our capability that will allow us to maintain a hundred percent for the rest of our lives and it just won't. And so what will happen is you will burn out and you will quit. And I get so many people that come to me that want to quit. Not because they hate their jobs, not because they hate their profession, not because they don't want to do the work that they're doing, but they're so exhausted they've run themselves ragged.
And the same thing happened to me when I was a federal public defender. I was so passionate about that work and I got burned out cause I didn't have any of these tools. And so when I ask like, okay, if you want to give a 10 out of 10 and you keep doing it to the point that you quit, you're now giving a zero out of 10, you're helping zero people, you're just done at this point.
So what if giving a 7 out of 10 is actually the better way of going?
Because you actually will continuously help seven people. And yes, it sucks that you can't help all 10, it sucks that 3 out of 10 won't get the care that they need from you.
But one of the things that we all really have to understand and come to terms with is that as humans, we have a limit to our capacity. I wish it wasn't so, but it is. And the sooner that we come to terms with that and we really realize like I want to do it all, but I can't do it all.
So what do I want to focus on?
What are the things I can do?
And when I know that like it's not because I don't care or that I don't want to, but I truly like don't have the capacity to do that, then I can work on the guilt that I feel because of the thoughts of “I should be able to, I should have helped that person, I should help everybody.”
And we can start redirecting those thoughts to like, how is this better for everyone that I turn away people? I can't help everyone. I have to have another human with more capacity to be able to help them.
And I know a lot of people hearing this will think like, easier said than done. And that's true. All of this stuff is easier said than done. And I think for a lot of us, when we are in professions, especially helping professions, we have this guilt and I think that corporate America uses that against us, right? So if you're a nurse, if you're a doctor, a therapist, if you, you know, social worker, certain lawyers, whatever it is. If you are helping people, your employer will typically not, maybe not consciously, but they take advantage of the fact that because you are willing to do more to help everyone, you will give more hours, you won't put boundaries, you'll work late at night, you'll work on weekends because you have this thought of like, I have to help as many people as possible, or if I don't help them, then they're screwed and that's not fair. Whatever the thought is. And that guilt will keep you again running on this hamster wheel until you burn out. And then there's nobody left to help.
So what we're trying to do is stave that off, right? What we're trying to do is figure out maybe if I limit my capacity a little bit or limit my load a little bit to fit my capacity, then I can be in this for the long run. Then I can actually have a life outside of work. Then I can see my children, then I can reduce my stress, then I can reduce my burnout. And it doesn't mean I don't care about my job or my clients or my patients. It simply means that I cannot keep trying to hit this impossible standard.
So I want you to really take some time to think about:
what is the standard I'm holding myself to?
Am I holding myself like, as a mom, do I think my job is to, I can only feel successful if my kids are always happy and doing well and well adjusted and never have any problems? If that's the standard, you're going to fail. It's going to be really painful.
What do you want the standard to be?
What do you want to feel like is a good enough job as a mom, as a dad, as a brother, as a son, as an employee? Whatever it is.
When you can learn to be like, you know what? The fact that I love them and I'm here to guide them and I'm here to be with them so that they can share with me their worries is really what my job is, is my role. And that's good enough. It alleviates so much stress when my kids are going through hard times because I don't have the belief that I have to prevent all of the hard times.
And so I want you to define, write it down, not just in your head. Again, we want to get away from this nebulous concept. I want you to sit down and think about your role at work. You can start with that and then do it with anything else that you have too. And think about like in this role, what is good enough for me? What can I make good enough? And start seeing how you're hitting that. It's amazing how much your experience of that job will change when you start realizing I'm actually succeeding at it. I'm actually doing a pretty good job. My good enough is actually pretty freaking high. Everybody's happy about it. If I just start lowering this insane standard and stop trying to be a perfectionist, that doesn't help anyone. And I really start shifting my awareness to what's not working and what I'm not doing perfectly to what I am doing good enough. I can handle the stresses of work or the circumstances that come with so much more ease and so much more joy.
So define good enough for yourselves, my friends, before you do anything. Before you go into any project, figure out what is going to be a success to you and then go after that. Make sure it's possible. I hope this was helpful.
If you need help defining good enough, if you need help figuring out how to change that standard, join me in the Quitters Club because this is the work that we will do together. Sometimes it's much different to listen to the concept and then actually apply it to your situation. So go to and join the waitlist for when we open doors. It'll be in a couple months. And get in so that we can stop this insane hustle that we have to try to be perfect and start creating standards so that we can actually enjoy our lives. All right, my friends, I'll see you next week.
Hey, if you are looking for more in-depth help with your career, whether that's dealing with all of the stress, worry, and anxiety that's leading to burnout in your current career or figuring out what your dream career is and actually going after it, I want you to join me in the Quitter Club. It is where we quit what is no longer working. Like perfectionism, people pleasing imposter syndrome… and we start working on what does, and we start taking action towards the career and the life that you actually want. We will take the concepts that we talk about on the podcast and apply them to your life and you will get the coaching, tools, and support that you need to actually make some real change. So go to club and get on the waitlist. Doors are closed right now, but they will be open soon.