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What to do when you're discouraged

You ever have a season where you just feel lost? Like you’re working so hard, but you’re not sure what for? You’re frustrated because you aren’t yet where you want to be, yet you don’t know how to get there? You’re starting to resent your work, even though deep down you know you love it?

That’s where I was last Monday. Defeated. Utterly discouraged. Questioning my purpose. Carrying so much on my shoulders and wanting help but unsure how to ask for it. I felt like taffy, stretched so thin trying to give my time and energy to so many things that I wasn’t really giving anything to anyone at all.

And you know what made it even worse? Right in the middle of my pity party, I had to pack my bags and head to our leadership team offsite, which is one of the few chances each year that my all-remote exec team gets together to bond, recharge, have fun, and work on our business. Who wants to do that when you’re feeling the lowest of low? I knew my energy would set the tone for the week, and I wanted our offsite to be amazing, not discouraging. I had two choices: Hide my feelings and fake a smile, or be honest. I chose the second.

When my team gathered together on the first day, I did something I rarely do: I told everyone how I truly felt without sugarcoating any part of it. I’m the queen of positive spin, but there was no spin to be found in this conversation. I knew what I had to say would be hard for them to hear. I knew some of my words would hurt. But I also knew I had to say them.

What happened after that was incredible. My team listened. They hugged me. They helped me make sense of my feelings. They validated them. They owned their part in what led to me feeling the way I did. They came together and created a plan to move us forward. And just like that, one of the worst weeks of 2019 turned into the best week I’ve had all year.

Here’s the deal: We all get discouraged. We all feel lost. We all have our moments. It’s what we do when we feel these things that makes all the difference. So, while it’s fresh, here’s what I learned last week about how to get out of a funk when you find yourself in one:

  • Write in a journal: Journaling is a new habit of mine, and I can’t believe it took me this long to jump on the bandwagon. Each morning when I wake up, I write a reflection of how I’m feeling and why. Doing so has made me more in tune with my emotions than I’ve ever been in my life and is the reason I was able to pinpoint how I was feeling last week and what was causing it.
  • Be honest with yourself and others: When you feel something, the worst thing you can do is minimize it. If you pretend your feelings don’t exist and sweep them under the rug, they’ll continue to build and build and build. Eventually you’ll explode, and when you do, it won’t be pretty. Be honest about how you feel, both to yourself and to those who are affected by your feelings. Don’t sugarcoat. Don’t feel the need to put a positive spin on it. Just say it out loud. All of it. (But there's a right way to do it! Check out this post about giving feedback for some tips on sharing your thoughts and feelings in a constructive, supportive way.) No one can help you if they don’t understand how you’re truly feeling in the first place.
  • Ask for help: Once you admit how you feel, now something can be done about it. However, you might not be the best person to do that something. When we’re emotional, we’re usually not logical. When we’re too close to the problem, we’re usually not able to see a clear path forward. After I told my team how I was feeling, I told them I needed them to lead me. And lead me they did. I left the room for a bit, and when I came back, they had a plan.

For some reason, we view asking for help as a weakness in leadership. I think it’s the smartest thing you can do as a leader.

You invite people in, you give them a chance to make a difference, and you build trust by showing that you’re human. Asking for help is courageous.

  • Reprioritize: One of the reasons you might be in a funk is that you’re overstretched. Maybe you’re giving everything you have to everyone else and not giving anything to your own work. Maybe you’re spending tons of time on things that don’t make a big impact and you’re neglecting the things that actually move the needle. Look at your to-do list. Identify what’s crucial and pause (or cancel) everything else. I canceled a few meetings this week. I extended a few projects past the deadline. I had to in order to get back to feeling my best, and there isn’t anything wrong with that.
  • Practice gratitude: It’s so easy to get discouraged and want to be further along than you are, but why is it so hard to stop and reflect on how far you’ve come? Another daily practice I have is gratitude. I think about ten things I’m thankful for before I start my day. It helps me put things into perspective and have a positive mindset. I’m always reminded that there were days I wished for the life I have now. But you know what? During this “funk” that I had, I wasn’t keeping up with my gratitude practice. I’m sure that played a part.
  • Refuel: What things energize you? What are the things you love to do that make you the best you? For me it’s going on long runs, reading, watching movies to disconnect, writing, and spending time alone. I usually make time for all of these things, but lately I’ve been putting work priorities before my own. When we do that for so long, we begin to resent our work because it takes us away from doing things we love. It’s so important to make time for you first. You can’t serve others unless you’re serving yourself. After I left our offsite, I made time for a few of the things I’ve been neglecting and it made all the difference in the world.

If you’re in a funk, know that it will pass as long as you do something about it. I hope my tips above will help you, and remember—we’re all in this together!

Big hugs,