Several years ago, I knocked on the door of my professor’s office, resume in hand and eager to present my novice professional achievements. I was in a college program that had a class dedicated to professional development; my professor was tasked to be my mentor and provided me guidance in pursuing and preparing for my future career. I confidently handed over my resume, watching, as my professor studied it attentively. After a few fleeting moments, she looked up and kindly said the phrase I wasn’t expecting, but needed to hear.
“You’ve got a lot of breadth, but you ain’t got much depth.”
I prided myself on overachieving: balancing school full-time, five part-time jobs, three volunteer positions, two internships and numerous side projects. I had experience in everything from law enforcement to fashion, not because I was trying to find myself, but because I kept seeking out new challenges and wanted to do everything — all of which, painfully reflected in my resume.
When the professor told me I didn’t have enough depth, she unknowingly gave me a reality check that has resonated with me to this day. My interpretation was I needed to acquire some focus, consolidate my commitments and dedicate myself to what would make me happy.
I maintained her words and my interpretation of those words in my mind, continuously making sure that the steps I took would lead me to my ultimate goals. However, overtime those words took on a new meaning — the ability to say “no.”
As I began to venture into the professional world, those words progressed backward and I began to fall into my repetitive pattern (for lack of a better word), doing everything. I said yes to every assignment and project, and took on responsibilities that weren’t desired by anyone else. The things I was truly passionate about meshed into things that blurred my path in getting there. I was afraid to say no because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and most importantly didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t doing enough.
What I’ve realized is my ambition translated to overcommitment which led to burnout. I’m not the only one. Every person I’ve met falls into a plague of always saying yes and hardly ever saying no. When we overcommit, we spend our time checking things off a list rather than creating value.
Let me preface this by saying, some people thrive on the adrenaline rush that can come with working on many projects, however, for many people it can be a recipe for burnout. Here are a few steps I have consciously implemented to reel in my breadth and create depth.
Establish a value assessment system.
If it is difficult to say yes or no to a project or commitment. I encourage you to write them out, take a step back and reassess where your values and passions lie. Determine which project on that list will get you closer to those passions, and if you have the time and capacity to dedicate yourself to fully achieving it. That is the project you say yes to.
Set your limits.
I heard someone say that “overcommitment is often a consequence of poor limit setting.” If you feel like you are on the brink of burnout, ask yourself… How many projects are you committed to? How many promises have you made to friends, family and co-workers? You can’t juggle them all and you shouldn’t feel compelled to say yes to everything. Even if you have, you can still say no.
Prioritize your health and mental well-being.
We generally try to do more than humanly possible, using up our energy and unknowingly adversely affecting our health and mental well-being. It is so easy to say yes to everything and everyone, and say no to the attention of our mind and body. It is second nature to prioritize everything before ourselves. Although the challenge is to practice saying no to overcommitment, also try to practice saying yes to focusing on your health. Implement a healthy diet, exercise, meditate and practice being okay with doing nothing, even if it is just for a few moments. Intellectually stimulate yourself by attending a workshop, reading a book or watching a documentary (without listing off a to-do list in your mind simultaneously).
My mother always tells me, you can have a dozen jobs, a dozen projects and endless opportunities, but you only have one bill of health. Don’t take it for granted. Learn to rest. Learn to reassess. And take care of yourself.
Don’t feel guilty for saying “no”
Many of us work in “yes” culture. Therefore, when we do say no it is often associated with guilt or the feeling that we aren’t doing enough. Keep in mind, if you are overwhelmed, your ability to create value and effectively achieve the projects and commitments you’ve said yes to will be impacted. You’re not putting a halt to everything, you’re simply reeling in your time and resources, and reallocating your skillset to the tasks you can fully dedicate yourself to.
“You’ve got to have depth”
By reeling back and fully dedicating yourself to something you’re passionate about, you will be able to streamline your focus and accomplish those goals, pushing them to unforeseeable heights in turn creating value you otherwise would not have had the capacity to create.
I now believe that when my professor said “you’ve got a lot of breadth, but you ain’t got much depth,” it can be translated into many lessons and one of which is not only to practice focusing on my goals and passions, but to be content with saying no to overcommitment.
Northern Region Program Coordinator, Women’s Business Center of Utah
Teresa Bagdasarova is a Utah native and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Westminster College. She is currently the Northern Region Program Coordinator for the Women’s Business Center of Utah and co-owns Mosaic Bakery, which sells Armenian and Lebanese baklava, dedicated to celebrating the diverse community of Utah through pastries and education. Teresa is also the co-chair of the South Salt Lake Women in Business Committee. Before WBCUtah, Teresa worked for four years at Promise South Salt Lake as a program manager and art instructor. She loves supporting local entrepreneurs through creative and educational events and enjoys volunteering her time to various organizations that help the art and entrepreneurial community.
ABOUT THE BUSINESS WOMEN’S FORUM: The Business Women’s Forum (BWF) is a program organized by the Salt Lake Chamber where local women managers, executives and entrepreneurs meet to improve their personal development and networking skills through bi-monthly luncheons and mixers. For more information on BWF, visit slchamber.com/business-womens-forum.