Learning to be the “boss” of MYself HELPED MANAGE toxic self-pressure
By Mia M. Rodriguez
Regardless of employment status, we’re sharing our lives with ourselves. It’s the ultimate companionship. We might as well learn to get along.
You may be one of the 4.8M British workers who are self-employed; maybe you work for a massive company; or you might just be feeling a bit lost post-graduation. Perhaps you’re caught between two paths, internalising the well-meaning but conflicting advice of our families, mentors and friends. Whatever your situation, we all find ourselves, at some point in our quarterlife, turning to an inner voice for guidance. Unsurprisingly, this inner voice often speaks in extremes and can be, quite frankly, a bully.
I definitely felt the volume of that voice creep back up a few decibels once I had been flung out to float in the big, wide world. I saw milestones ahead and compared myself to strangers with seemingly universe-sized goals.
I put myself down constantly for not trying hard enough to reach these goals, without ever stopping to consider whether I actually wanted them.
What became clear to me was that there is no guarantee that once you hit a milestone – be it a promotion or finding a perfect new flat – all will fall into place. Life is messy and unpredictable, but it’s also a little bit brilliant. Things change, our desires evolve, and the end goal will always be transforming.
What actually is self-pressure?
This will be different for everyone, but generally speaking it’s being caught in a cycle of self-inflicted stress, guilt and punishment. For me, this means convincing myself that the worst-case scenario is inevitable and that I shouldn’t even bother putting myself out there because it’s all out of reach anyway. Or I’ll find myself still switched-on in work mode long after midnight, desperate for something to distract myself with. We might have the best intentions, and things don’t go to plan. We might then convince ourselves we deserve some form of suffering. You don’t need me to tell you just how wrong that is.
Reminder: You don’t have to earn this kinder voice, or better days. You are allowed to forgive yourself for an unproductive blip and move on.
If you work for yourself, like me, it means that there are no meetings about staff treatment. You are at liberty to talk to yourself however you like, and no one need know. But while it might seem like there are no consequences for your being cruel to yourself, your overall wellbeing will no doubt suffer in the long run.
So, what makes a good boss?
Strong and reliable communicator. The factor-50 kind.
Gives credit where it’s due. Praises with awkward emails of approval.
Has clear expectations.
Provides constructive criticism.
Offers perks (beer on Friday afternoons, stale doughnuts in meetings, etc...).
Creates a positive environment. Fresh air. Windows. Plants. All the teabags.
Is understanding of bad mental health days, childcare; other priorities.
Being your own boss rarely comes with an instruction manual, so I thought I’d share a rough guide below.
(Remember – even if you aren’t self-employed, you’re still the ultimate authority figure in your life and could probably do with being a little kinder to yourself!)
Here are some of the coping mechanisms I’ve found have helped me to approach working life, the kinder way:
Identify what triggers self-pressure and anxious thoughts. For me, interviews still send shivers down my spine. Once you know what causes discomfort, you can reassure yourself. Confront your bad thoughts gently with simple statements: “I’m fine”, “We can do this”, “Shall we give that a go?”.
Play with finding work-life stability. Polly Vadasz makes cute weekly planners here, which aim to encourage people to dedicate time to both work and their favourite things (lunch dates, new hobbies, etc).
“You feel like time is a boss that you need to please, and that you labour for time – the better you perform, the more you get given”.
“Time management becomes a means of self-expression, not self-policing”.
“What would our days be like if we approached happiness with the urgency and insistence that we give to deadlines and should-dos?”
The above hit home for me. Hard. Learning to approach my daily schedule differently has made a huge difference to my productivity and happiness levels.
Create an ideal day framework. This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to get up at 5am to prove something, I’m talking basics. Getting some rest and sunshine, eating something relatively healthy, replying to loved ones and emails or work tasks needing your attention. This creates a base-line you can refer to and remind yourself you are actually doing enough.
If it’s gone tits-up, do some angry hoovering. Pummel some pillows. Write down your feelings on paper. Rip the paper into shreds. Repeat if necessary. Who doesn’t love a bit of productive rage?
Treat yourself. Adults don’t get the same reward systems as kids, and it’s a shame. I love gold stars and badges as much as the next girl, but there are heaps of other ways to congratulate yourself or cheer up a bit. Popcorn for breakfast, starting a stupidly big puzzle, learning another language, teaching a friend a snazzy card game, using the word “snazzy” whenever the opportunity arises. You get the gist.
I’m learning that this reward approach should probably mean giving yourself a quick pat on the back or shoot a smug smile at a mirror, not watching 13 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy back-to-back, but hey, all in the name of balance.
Old habits might creep back, mine do. But I try not to punish or snap at myself for slipping up.
Even if you wake up sluggish, when you hoped to be dancing in your pants before breakfast. No matter your mood or energy levels, be reasonable with yourself in response.
Truth is, you’re already a good egg. The best kind (the Creme-Eggs-Seem-Boring-In-Comparison kind). You probably remember the occasional birthday and all sorts. We’re employees of ourselves, sure. Spaghetti-enthusiasts – absolutely, if you're anything like me. But we're also, human. Regardless of employment status, we’re sharing our lives with ourselves. It’s the ultimate companionship. We might as well learn to get along.
Image by unknown Pinterest artist.