Waving the Overwhelm Banner

While keeping up with appearances and making it through the day seems most urgent in our lives, what's often being overlooked is one's lifestyle, or standard of living. Successful entrepreneur and mentor to small business owners, Sue Painter, has seen this happening time and time again in the lives of busy entrepreneurs.

Sue points out that a few years ago, being stressed out was all the rage. Now the big "O" word has taken over. Yes, being overwhelmed, on the move and busy, busy, busy is trending everywhere. Sue says, "I bet that you hear the same statements I hear nearly every day from my clients. I just can't move forward. I have so much work to do, I don't know where to start. This is all so overwhelming to think about. I need a vacation." Any of those sound familiar?

Sue goes on to explain, "When I hear the 'O' word I know I'm dealing with someone who most likely lets their day work on them instead of working on their day." The overwhelmed person doesn't lack time, although they think they do. Sue believes that a business owner who complains of being overwhelmed lacks four specific things. What are they? Learning to loosen up control, implementing concrete business systems, becoming more willing to delegate, and opening into rather than resisting the work in front of her.

Painter, who has been coaching small business owners since 2006, points out that constantly feeling overwhelmed isn't healthy for one's business or one's mental and physical health. On her website ( she has blogged about the small business lifestyle for years.

As Sue points out, the state of overwhelm is pretty much the same as emotional immaturity, that same push-back one gets from teenagers who just can't be bothered. It's acceptable for a teen to check out by sleeping well past noon. An adult, hard put to stay in bed past lunchtime, instead cowers under his or her overwhelm banner. He or she vigorously waves it to anyone who expects behaviors leading to the relief of overwhelm - behaviors like digging in, sorting out, casting off the unnecessary, and settling in to work through the in box of one's life.

As Sue sits with small business owners and listens to their angst, she realizes that a sense of overwhelm is fed by indecisiveness, a constant desire to please others, a lack of confidence in one's business plan or marketing strategies and blatant fear. A good case of overwhelm puts the brakes on your business and your personal life. Some entrepreneurs have come to a false belief that safety lies under the overwhelm banner. If they don't decide or act, nothing more can happen, and that feels safe.

A clear-thinking, mature adult knows that this is not the case. But a dish of overwhelm is always served with fantasy as its dessert. We buy into the false belief that by shutting down we can prevent even more that requires our attention from piling into life. Checking into overwhelm has become an acceptable way of saying, "I'm not going to get organized, make hard decisions, buckle down, learn how to prioritize, or tackle anything that is hard and scares me."

Sue is here to say that if you describe yourself as overwhelmed, then you are really just procrastinating. She says, "Being responsive rather than being reactive will make you feel better about the situations in your life. It's the solution to your overwhelm." Quit the fearful reacting. Instead, step up to responding the best you can to your life, your business, your kids and your aging parents. Being responsive helps to end the feeling of being overwhelmed. And while we all know that parts of life are painful, responding creates change and relief, while an overwhelm reaction digs you into prolonged pain and feeling stuck.

According to Sue, there is a way out. The next time you find yourself saying you're overwhelmed, sit right down and ask yourself: "What is the one thing I really need to do that I am avoiding?" Take a big breath and start working. I'll bet your overwhelm will lessen and eventually disappear.

Sue Painter is the owner of The Confident Marketer, a coaching firm that works with small business owners who want to create and profit from work that is both satisfying and of service. You can find her website and her blog at

By Clarissa Burt with Madeline Ulivieri