I have encouraged leaders to look for seasons of being overwhelmed, to disregard the cliché “don’t bite off more than you can chew” and intentionally take on more than you thought you could handle so you will be forced to learn and grow.
In their newest book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath offer similar encouragement. They believe one of the biggest benefits of intentionally putting yourself in a season of being overwhelmed is the insight you will gain about yourself. And they believe, based on interviews with psychologists, that there is a deep relationship between self-insight and psychological well-being. To grow, you must leave your comfort zone and be stretched, or as they put it, “stretch for insight.” If you want to know yourself, you have to put yourself in situations that stretch you. When you do, there are two possible outcomes:
1. You will adjust to the new demands you have placed on yourself.
You have a new responsibility added to your plate, go through months of intense pressure and internal wrestling, which forces you to learn things you never thought about learning. You get more efficient in other things so you can give more energy to the new thing. You remove some less important things from your schedule. In time, you develop a new normal and you look back and see how much you have grown. The work develops you more than reading a book about the work or going to a conference about the work. This, of course, is what everyone wants to happen. And it is common. But it is not the only possible outcome…
2. The new demands will be too much and you will have to refocus.
It is possible that when someone “bites off more than they can chew,” the person will be unable to handle the additional work, the added responsibilities, or the new pressure. It is possible this will be too much for you. The Heath brothers tell a story of a woman who was passionate about baking and started a baking business, becoming completely overwhelmed. The reader expects the story to end with triumph after months and months of intense pressure and stress. It does not. She realizes, “This is not for me,” and quits. To which the Heath brothers say, “Awesome.” She better knows herself through experience than wondering what could have been. Stretching sped up her self-understanding.
So according to the Heath brothers, with whom I agree, both possible outcomes are positive ones. Even failing is not failure if it helps you learn and adjust. But we will never know if we don’t put ourselves in seasons of stretching.