When you feel like you’re not doing enough


Last week I had an awful moment one day where I felt like I was sitting squarely in that valley-wide gap between where I am and where I want to be.

I felt despair.

In that moment, I could not see clearly how I was going to get from here to there. It just did not feel possible.

When I feel this way, my initial impulse is usually to push myself really hard to do more.

Which doesn’t work very well. Not when my “doing” is coming from a place of despair. I can do more from that place, and only see mounting evidence for how very much there is to be done.

The other thing that happens when I approach doing from a place of fear is that everything seems to have equal priority. There might be twenty things on my list and they all rise up at once, calling out to be done yesterday.

And this isn’t true. They do not all need to be done now, and some of them probably don’t need to be done at all.

The good thing about despair is that there is not a lot of energy in it. So, in that space, instead of making to-do lists or scheming about all the steps I needed to take to get “there”, I sat down. (Notice if a feeling of despair sometimes follows an unmet need to ease up on yourself. It often does for me.)

From the blue chair in my living room, I began to focus on the blowing snow outside, the newly de-cluttered room, my cat’s snore. I picked up my journal and began to write not about what was bothering me, but about what I was noticing in my surroundings. (This is what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice”.)

And within a few minutes, I came solidly back to the present moment — in which, truth be told, I had everything I needed. Nothing was lacking.

I still had that feeling of wanting to grow, expand, move into newness and openness to change.

But it was coming, now, from a space of desire, of welcome, and not from that space of “I need to be there in order to be happy.”

It was coming from a space of “I am already enough — and wouldn’t that, too, be wonderful?”

Subtle shift; huge difference.

And from that space, my true priorities rose up before me. And there were only a couple, and they felt light. Not twenty equally heavy things.

So often, when I think I should be doing more, it’s because I believe doing more is going to get me something I don’t already have. In an external sense, this can certainly be true. And it’s important to honor that — I do need to take certain actions in order to get things done.

But what I sometimes forget is that nothing I accomplish “out there” can give me something that can only be generated internally. When I pursue something “out there” from a space of grasping, I only see evidence for how graspy I am and how much more I need.

The idea here is not to try “not” to be graspy; it’s not to stop pursuing what I want. The idea is to notice the back and forth between wanting and having, doing and being, between what it means to feel empty and what it means to feel satisfied. And to notice what “doing more” can help me achieve, and what it absolutely can’t.

Something to try:

For the next week, notice what happens when you have the thought “I’m not doing enough.”

How does it feel? Does it feel deeply true? Does it motivate clear action? If so, terrific! If it feels icky or stressful or — like me — you find yourself in despair when you have this thought, notice what happens if you slow down rather than speed up. See how you can return to the present moment. And when you’re there, notice the true priorities that make themselves known to you.

Hatched into the World …

This year, I want to start a ritual of pointing you to gifted writers, artists, and other creators — people who are putting healing, nourishing, and amazing things out into the world.

My friend Terri Fedonczak writes beautifully on parenting from a place of joy and abundance (rather than lack) in her new book  “Field Guide to Plugged-In Parenting … Even if You Were Raised by Wolves.” (I love that title.) I had the pleasure of looking in a bit on Terri’s daily process of writing this book as she participated with me in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. And although I’m not a parent myself, this is a topic close to my heart, as I believe we’re all in the process of parenting ourselves, throughout our lives. Terri’s also the CEO of Girl Power for Good, LLC. You can check out Terri’s amazing work in the world at her website (which is beautiful, by the way), here.

Image is “Sleepy Dog”, © Mihai Dragomirescu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

11 thoughts on “When you feel like you’re not doing enough

  1. OK, it worked, because I changed my password. Strangely, this blog fits beautifully with my experience of your blog with the exercise of picking 3 objects around you that touch you and assigning them the qualities you like in them, then seeing if those qualities are, in fact, the very qualities you aspire to in 2014. For me it was interesting what DID NOT touch me e.g. a beautifully decorated Christmas tree right in front of me (but at a life care facility’s library.). On the other hand, an elderly man reading his newspaper with great CONCENTRATION did, as well as the ORDER and SOLIDITY of the cases of bound and hardback books. And, yes, those are qualities I wish to develop. But that revelation came from connecting to my surroundings in the present and it’s clear these qualities are already in me, even though they need some appreciation and honoring to develop further. So those are the “true priorities” in the present moment you mention in this blog! Thank you.


    • Fredrica, that is fascinating! And I love your words: concentration, order, and solidity. So cool how those are your true priorities in the moment! I feel like most of my blog posts circle around a handful of themes, so it makes sense that this one and the earlier one are connected for you. Love it! Thanks for making the effort to comment after the password issue! I’m glad both your posts made it through. 🙂


  2. Writing truly is magic! I’ve had similar moments when, if I can just get myself to write, just whatever wants to come out, I come closer again. Not necessarily immediately back to center, but closer. The focus and physicality of pen on paper and the fact of seeing my thoughts in black and white on the page shifts me gently to greater awareness and I can breathe again. And often I…laugh! 🙂


    • Harula, I so agree with you about the physicality of pen on paper. It always feels like I’m using “more of me” somehow when I write by hand. And yes, seeing what’s going on in my mind on paper helps my awareness so much. (I end up laughing sometimes too!) Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂


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