Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Yvonne Ator, MD, MPH.
“Oh shoot! The power’s out!”
Shame washed over me as I realized what had happened. My electricity had been disconnected because I didn’t pay the power bill. It was yet another reminder that “I don’t have my iSht together,” as the brilliant networking and storytelling strategist Marsha Shandur of “Yes Yes Marsha” named her viral movement.
I had just arrived home from Divorce Court, where I was berated yet again for not submitting all the financial documents asked for by the opposing side. “What’s wrong with you?” my lawyer queried in the zillionth email about finances. I had spent countless hours scouring my possessions for the requested documents, including pulling documents from all of my creditors to show proof of income and expenses required to finalize the divorce.
It was not enough. It was never enough. That is the definition of shame and boy, was I living it!
Divorce was like the apocalypse of all the things that drained my life source, zapping my creativity and productivity. I was constantly wrestling with FLAT issues and tasks — an acronym I had discovered during a Productive Flourishing Momentum Call — and the letters summed up all the things that were sucking the life out of me.
How to Recognize When You’re F.L.A.T.
Maybe you can resonate? Which of these leave you FLAT?
- Finances — Money, budgeting, taxes. Maybe you are like me: I majored in math in college, but, put a currency sign in front of the number, and my brain becomes a wet noodle.
- Legal — (Legalese, anyone?) Registering your business, filing taxes, figuring out the legal parameters of your website, etc.
- Admin — Paperwork, tracking receipts, organizing operations, processes, systems, etc.
- Technical — Figuring out websites, apps, software, marketing, and other processes (i.e., know-how, and waiting until your website is just right to launch your offering…).
I had spent three months pulling my hair out trying to figure out Quickbooks (technical and financial), so I could have the right financial info for my lawyer (legal and financial). I was drowning in paperwork, the filings were neverending, and the divorce was dragging on.
Each approaching court-date and filing deadline filled me with dread, and, after each day in court, I would find myself in a fetal position. I found myself utterly drained, unable to create blog posts or be creative at all. Thankfully, I was still coaching. Since coaching was my superpower, it gave me the energy to get as much done as I could about the FLAT issues.
Maybe you are like me, a Creative Giant: You are great at what you do, but the FLATs of life leave you lifeless, deflated, and unmotivated.
How to Find a Better Way Forward
What to do? There has to be a better way.
Imagine you are driving on your favorite highway. You are on your way to your favorite destination with your favorite music (Led Zeppelin and Foo Fighters! Woohoo!) on blast. Suddenly, your car gets a flat tire. Or put the situation another way. You are making headway with your favorite projects, doing what you love. The money is good, you’re feeling the love, and a FLAT happens!
Remember my framework for thriving? I said your values act as the GPS, and your strengths are the gas in the tank.
FLATs are not preventable. FLATs are inevitable. They happen to everyone. You can be aligned with your values and empowered by your strengths and still get snagged by a FLAT.
This idea has been liberating for me. I used to feel shamed by my struggles with mastering Finances, Legal, Admin, and Technical. But I have learned there is nothing wrong with me. We Creative Giants are just wired differently. What others are great at, we struggle with, and what we are great at, others struggle with.
So what do you do when you get a FLAT? Here are 10 tips to keep going and maintain your momentum:
- Pause and Acknowledge. When you get a flat, you have to pull over, put on your emergency flashers, and assess the issue. If you continue driving on that flat, you are in for a nasty surprise — bigger damage on the wheel rim. For a Creative Giant, the FLATs of life can be so overwhelming, suffocating, and stressful that you want to curl up into a fetal position and hide. Funny, we are multi-passionate, renaissance souls, but many of us are not wired to be naturally adept at FLATs. We would rather focus on the creative and entrepreneurial pursuits than attend to FLATS. But when FLATs happen, don’t go into denial and act like nothing is happening. (Ahem, the unopened pile of mail on your desk? That’s how my power bill went unpaid!) Things will go from bad to worse if you stay in denial and continue with status quo. Pause. Take a look at the issue at hand and decide to do something about it.
- Change Your State. For many of us, acknowledging the FLAT sends us into panic or overwhelm. However, in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, we learn that when we are in a negative state, we are less creative and unable to see the options in front of us. If you are feeling anxious, use box breathing, a technique I learned from Mark Divine, retired Navy SEAL commander. Box breathing disrupts your sympathetic mode (flight, fight, or freeze mode) and puts you into parasympathetic mode (calm and relaxed). Listen to positive uplifting music, look at something beautiful, get a hug. Meditate. Write in your gratitude journal. Get out of the house. Get into nature. Move your body. Grounding yourself dispels the overstimulation and anxiety, brings you into the present, and puts you in a positive state.
- Be Kind to Yourself. Remember, you are wired differently. So stop beating yourself up. Treat yourself like someone you love. You are doing the best you can. Figuring out FLATs is not intuitive. What are you saying to yourself? “I suck!” is not empowering and will make things harder for you. “I’ve got this!” is more like it. And after you have gotten it, reward yourself. If the task is too big to wait for the grand reward, consider nanorewards. Reward yourself after each tiny step, or nanogoal, along the way.
- Remember Your Why. Your destination is important. Don’t give up. Remember why you are doing what you are doing and where you are headed. It wouldn’t make sense to give up your destination because of a flat tire. Why then, would you give up on a project or goal? Of course, you can take a break to recover, but the world needs you and your work. I held myself back during my divorce. The FLATs were so draining that I didn’t feel like writing or marketing. But I knew my mission. I wanted to help idealists, mission-driven professionals, do-gooders, and creatives serve sustainably and thrive. I couldn’t afford to stay in fetal position while Rome burned.
- Maintain Perspective. FLATs are inevitable but not permanent. As Marie Forleo always says, “Everything is figureoutable.” You will figure this FLAT out. You are resourceful and brilliant. You will find a way. Sometimes life is overwhelming, but it doesn’t stay that way forever.
- Throw Some Time at It. Sometimes you just have to put your butt in the chair and do the work. No two ways about it. Because you are a brilliant Creative Giant, you will figure it out. Set your Pomodoro timer or Forest app, clear away all distractions, and chip away at it. I recently witnessed and supported a team go for the world record for the maximum number of burpees achieved in 24 hours to help Courage Foundation’s mission to help veterans with PTS. I remember Commander Divine repeating, “Chip, chip away,” one burpee at a time. What seemed impossible was achieved with focus, time, and commitment. Also, create some reminders, routines, and rituals around the FLAT tasks to automate your taking action even in the fog of overwhelm. Having these in place, using my Momentum Planner, and the PF mid-month reviews have helped ensure forgetting my power bill doesn’t happen again.
- Ask for Help. Don’t put all the pressure on yourself to figure it out. Delegate. Enlist help. The last time I tried to change a tire, the nuts wouldn’t budge. Come to find out, they were rusted. I had to flag down a stranger to help me. There we were, sweating in the sun, hopping on the lug wrench together to loosen the lug nuts. Our team effort worked. For my Quickbooks nightmare, I asked friends on Facebook for help, and they pointed me in the right direction. I must add that after getting help, I still I had to sit my bum in the chair and throw time at the FLAT. You can’t escape #6.
- Nanogoal It. As I described in my previous article, nanogoaling is a term I coined for my clients who are busy, overwhelmed professionals, especially physician moms for whom the idea of microgoals was overwhelming. “What is the smallest task you can accomplish consistently?” I asked them. Ask yourself the same question. Break the FLAT down, all the way down until you can show up consistently. That is how you keep going. Don’t forget to nanoreward yourself after each nanogoal!
- Simplify Your Environment. According to Mark Divine’s Unbeatable Mind, simplicity is one of the disciplines of the warrior. You have to adopt a warrior mindset when facing the FLATs of your life. The easiest tire repairs can quickly become dangerous. You want to pull over away from all the whizzing cars. You can’t change a tire in the middle of mess and drama. You have to clear the area, lift the car, loosen the bolts, and take the tires off. The same goes for life’s FLATs. When overwhelmed by the pile of papers or technical tasks at hand, find a way to simplify your environment. Discard irrelevant information, clean up your space, declutter. If you can’t, then get to a quieter place internally. Journaling gets all the mental and emotional clutter out of your head so that you can think. So does meditation. Ramping up those two practices makes room for you to focus on the work at hand.
- Be Prepared. Be like the Boy Scouts. Prepare for the inevitable FLAT. It’s not a matter of if, but when you get your FLAT. According to AAA, tire-related problems account for a third of roadside emergencies and they recommend preparing for the inevitable. AAA says to stock the car with an extra tire and all the tools you need, including an emergency car kit. Similarly, you’ve got to prepare for the FLATs in life, especially if you know you are not good at FLATs. Educate yourself. The thing about the School of Life or Universe is that the lessons will keep repeating until you learn.
What are your FLATs? What triggers you into a fetal position? Listen to podcasts on your FLAT issue, read blogs, take courses, get a virtual assistant, enlist a friend who is an expert to teach you or a coach (me!) to guide you and hold you accountable. Sometimes the issue is that you just need the right framework to help you learn that issue. For example, I didn’t think I could plan or be productive until I discovered Charlie Gilkey’s framework. Turns out that because I am a Creative Giant, the mainstream productivity paradigm didn’t fit. It took Charlie’s lens to help me see that I can be productive. Now, I have my year, quarters, weeks, and days planned using the Momentum Planners! For years now! Same happened with me finding Bari Tessler, who teaches about finances in a soulful way, or Lisa Fraley who teaches about legal issues in a way this unicorns and rainbows person can really understand. So, find experts who teach about FLAT issues in a way you can connect with. Check in on the Creative Giant Campfire where there are lots of members of this community who are experts with these issues and are also Creative Giants who are wired similarly to you! Either way, keep studying.
As I stated earlier, it’s not a matter of if, but when a FLAT will happen, so prepare for the inevitable. And when the FLAT does happen, take a deep breath, whisper a positive mantra (I’ve got this!), get to a simpler environment, ask for help, and get to work. (Tweet this.)
You’ve got this!