[posted by Victoria Smith on March 27, 2017]
I don’t often write on business or work topics, but the whole “consistency” bundle of advice the “experts” online have been doling out has had me thinking about when consistency can actually be a problem for us. Yes, I know I can be a bit contrary about such things, but too much consistency can cause havoc for some personality types in both our personal and professional lives. This essay has been wanting me to write it for a few months now, so I finally sat down and set it free. I hope you enjoy.
I’m sure you’ve heard all about the importance of consistency if we want to be successful in any area of our personal or work lives. It seems I can’t go more than a day without seeing yet another post or article about how we MUST be consistent in X, Y, and Z without fail or we’ll never be a success at ________(fill in the blank with the life or work topic of your choice).
But here’s the thing, consistency is highly overrated in some areas and, frankly, makes me want to weep with boredom just thinking about it. We’re each delightfully evolving and changing every day, as are our interests, passions, personal circumstances, proclivities, and habits. The rhythms of the seasons, the months, weeks, and days all vary considerably too, which affects our own rhythms as well. Plus, as unique human beings, we each have our own personal ebbs and flows of energy and capacity.
We’re also blessedly different from one another in how much consistency we each need or are able to manage in our daily lives and work. Then there’s also illness, unexpected life challenges, and sleepless nights that get in the way of our best intentions. On the flip side, there’s also the happy-making consistency-busters like traveling, holidays, social events, family gatherings, going on adventures small or large, or just the odd mental-health day we take to retain our sanity and cheerful disposition.
Our ability to be consistent in some arenas is also greater than in others. For those who are more extroverted, constant and consistent connection with others and the world (online or off) energizes them and brings them great happiness. Personally, it makes me want to go put my head in a toaster. Introverts like me find showing up constantly and consistently online or in public (or even on the phone) day after day to be exhausting and draining.
So how in the world does one-size-fits-all consistency even make sense?
Different peas, different pods
We also each have different work styles and speeds. Some people make the most progress and feel the most comfortable doing the same work on the same schedule, day in and day out. I have some friends who are like little wind-up machines of consistent daily productivity, following a set schedule every day of what they get done when. It impresses the hell out of me, but I also recognize it fits their personality and work style, not mine.
Some people are energized by task switching a dozen times a day—they’re invigorated by rapid-fire focus-shifting from project to project, task to task, conversation to conversation, all day, every day. Some of us are sprinters, some of us are plodders. Some of us need large swaths of uninterrupted time to make progress on a project, while others do much better just giving it an hour or so a day and then switching to other things for the rest of the day. Some of us need a string of days (or weeks) to solely focus on a big project to get it done. That would feel like purgatory for other folks I know. Some thrive when they can move sequentially through a string of small projects, others need something much, much bigger to focus on to be happy.
The view from here
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can share how it all works for me as an example of how some kinds of consistency can be detrimental to doing our best work and being happy.
As an introvert, I need loads of unstructured downtime to be a functioning and pleasant human to be around. I post and engage online when I truly desire to connect and have the bandwidth for it. I’m not going to fake it and I wouldn’t want you to either.
I don’t know about you, but I can always tell when I see a post or receive a newsletter from someone who isn’t feeling it, but is compelled to post or send something, anything, because they’ve been told it’s more important to be consistent than to wait until they have something they want to share.
As my good friend Hagrid says … Codswallop.
A curse or a blessing? The vote’s still out…
I’m definitely a deep-focus type of worker. I need big chunks of uninterrupted time to create something new. I am cursed or blessed, depending on your viewpoint, with intense laser focus. It means when I’m working on something, nothing else exists. Nothing and no one. If the phone rings, it about startles me out of my skin. To do good work, I know I have to have that kind of deep, undisturbed immersion for extended periods of time for my creativity to come out and play.
But I also know that I can’t work intensively like that indefinitely. I have to come up for air and have periods doing small tasks, and time away from my desk altogether, to keep it all in balance. I think this is why I didn’t thrive in corporatelandia. I managed dozens of projects at times, all with overlapping or sequential deadlines with no chance to catch my breath in between. For someone who works as intensively as I do, it was a recipe for disaster and burn out.
I saw others who chugged steadily along each day quite happily, plodding their way through their assignments, and never intensively engaging with any of it. They were calm and well rested, and I found myself a bit envious at times. Life would be so much simpler were I like them. But, in truth, I could never adopt their approach and still feel any joy from my work. I’m pretty much an “all in” type of person.
This doesn’t mean what I produce has to be perfect. I’m a firm believer in wabi sabi after all. But it does mean I give everything my best, whether its washing dishes, writing a newsletter, or crafting a new offering here at the Mojo Lab. Which also means I have to manage my energy carefully and recognize the signs when I’ve been in the creative cave too long and am in danger of burning out. And I have to curb my enthusiastic tendency to take on too much at once (I’m still working on this one). It’s counter-productive to the deep immersion I need to get anything of value done and the need for a breather afterward.
I also know I don’t do good work with a rigidly structured routine or soul-crushing list of “shoulds” dictating my work flow, activities, engagement with others, or how I share my work.
In truth, I need a lot of variety to keep the creative fires burning and my energy flowing. Yet I love nothing more than a big juicy project to sink my teeth into. But if I’m getting drained, I’m much better off taking a break and then switching to simple, small tasks for a few days. So consistency in some things doesn’t work for me. I’m simply not built for it.
I’m a bit “inconsistent” in when I send my newsletter out, how often I write a new blog post, and how frequently I engage and post on social media. That blessed inconsistency is what allows me to do the work I do in a way I can sustain without crashing and burning. It gives me the space to create new things at a level of quality and soulfulness that I can feel very good about sharing with others. And I do love sharing.
It also gives me the wherewithal to show up consistently for the women I coach, the women in my courses, and for the book club’s newsletter and monthly meetings, all of which are on a set schedule. (Oh yes, I am consistent about the important things). The key is having breathing room built into those schedules.
Embracing my square peg-ness
Learning how I work best was a huge turning point for me in all areas of my life. I still can occasionally fall back into the guilt game at times, thinking I should be more consistent by sending out a newsletter at least once a week, posting daily on Facebook and Instagram, and writing two or more new blog posts a week. I know I can’t, but those online business gurus’ dire consistency mandates can still seep in occasionally and taunt me when I’m tired or feeling behind. Thankfully, those episodes are rare and brief.
According to some “experts,” I should also do Facebook live sessions, host webinars to market my courses, be active on at least three social media platforms (really active – like 12 posts a day on each!), hang out in others’ Facebook groups to promote myself, and generally be much more visible online and off. Other experts have told me I should be in my subscribers’ inboxes multiple times a week (or a day if I’m on the last day of a course registration) lest I’m forgotten, because those who are truly “making it” online do this consistently.
The truth is, if I did all of that (or worse, did it consistently), my soul would shrivel up and die. I’d also never accomplish anything else except the basic admin and promotion of my little one-woman business and running occasional sessions of my already-existing programs. All of that soul-draining “must do” consistent activity would take up all the time, energy, and focus I have. And it would be so far outside of who I am, what I value, what I want to create, and how I want to share, that I wouldn’t do it even if I could.
My approach is much more about just being me, in all my imperfect wabi sabiness.
So I’ve learned that as a square peg, I simply don’t fit into the round holes in many areas and that’s okay. I admire those who can pull it all off with panache, but I’m not one of them. And the more women I meet who are doing work in the creative or personal development arenas, the more I’ve come to recognize that my situation is far from unique. Few of us fit into those round holes and we’re bruising ourselves and our gifts when we try.
I see the same bad advice about slavish consistency being touted for our personal lives too ~ with the same painful results when we can’t mold our lives into some unrealistic ideal that we’re trying to squish them into (and that wouldn’t make us happy anyway). It may work beautifully for some, but for the rest of us, not so much.
Ah, but not everything is foolish consistency
Don’t misunderstand me, there’s a big difference between foolish consistency and wise consistency. Foolish consistency causes harm or is simply pointless. But there are certain things we need to do consistently to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, our homes, and our work. You know, things like brushing our teeth, eating good food (not too much, not too little), accounting, paying our bills and taxes on time, taking care of our health and wellness, cleaning house, doing our work … the day-to-day bits that keep our lives humming along happily. And in our work lives (online or off), we still have to find effective ways to share what we do with others (unless of course you build The Field of Dreams, in which case they’ll come regardless).
Yep, we all have things we need to do consistently or we’ll have to deal with the unpleasant consequences. Therein lies the wise side of consistency.
And there are things that if we do them consistently make our souls happier too. For me, that means having morning and evening practices that keep my personal and spiritual life evolving and growing as well. Oh yes, those practices change. Too much sameness, and I start getting restless and bored. What seems to work best for me is switching things up seasonally, but sometimes I do it more often if needed. I thrive and am happier if I have some consistent soft time morning and night for what feeds my soul. Time to reconnect with myself and my own inner wisdom, process what’s happening in my life, invite in new inspiration, connect with Mama Nature, read, or indulge in some creative play.
For every woman I know, what feeds her soul is unique and so her sweet spot of consistency will typically be different than mine. Which is as it should be.
Just know that unless it fits you authentically, you don’t have to proscribe to anyone else’s model of consistency to “make it,” personally or professionally … or spiritually either. If you’re trying and it’s not working, you’re probably in the wrong sandbox to thrive. In fact, I believe the only way we’ll have satisfying and sustainable personal and professional lives is if we honor our own needs, personalities, rhythms, and cycles. If our current approach isn’t working for us, then it’s up to us to change it and find something that will.
What if you started tracking how you work best, what energizes you in your work, and what depletes you (whatever you define as your “work”)? Are there certain times of the day or certain days of the week when you’re more creative? When do you feel most inspired and have the desire to share with others (and have the bandwidth)? And when do you find you’re better off focusing on less-intensive activities?
And what is your authentic work style? Are you a sprinter, a deep-cave creative, a happy task-switcher, or someone who thrives doing the same kinds of tasks steadily each day?
Do you need more structure or less? Or something in between?
Do you thrive on loads of human contact or do you need more quiet time alone? When do you tend to need some soft time time to reconnect with your inner world, other interests, and to recharge your batteries?
What if you started noticing and honoring how your energy ebbs and flows in different seasons, months, and days of the week?
What if you gently started realigning your life and work with your personality, true needs, rhythms, and cycles?
What if you made it a soul project to craft a thriving personal and professional life that is both nourishing and sustainable?
There’s a beautiful wabi-sabi imperfection about allowing a bit of inconsistency when it serves our higher good.
And that’s something I can happily live with, how about you?