Have You Ever Felt Overwhelmed?

Recently, I felt overwhelmed. When I think of it now it seems a little silly. Here's the story:

I was running on all cylinders. Many of you know that in addition to writing this blog, I:

  • Teach and train emotional intelligence for corporate clients.
  • Speak at conferences on leadership topics.
  • Maintain an active executive coaching practice.
  • Am adjunct faculty at Indiana Wesleyan University.

I love it all, but I was beginning to feel overwhelmed with all the travel I was doing, which comes along with these responsibilities. Like many of you, when I show up to any of these responsibilities my goal is to do it with excellence. When I get tired and stressed I have to make sure that I can deliver what my clients need, no matter what the circumstances are in my life.


I was describing my overwhelmed feeling to a very good friend who suggested I take a retreat.

Where I live we have a beautiful national historic landmark, Bok Tower, which bills itself as a contemplative garden. My friend suggested I go spend half a day there. Here is part of that conversation:

“Retreat! What do you mean?" I asked him. “Just get away and clear your head for a few hours," is what I heard in reply. "I don’t have time” was my response to him.

                                 Big Fat Lie. Really what was traversing my mind were thoughts like:

“What would I do?“ "How would I do it? “I don’t know what to do." “What would I do?” I actually remember thinking this one twice.

It is funny I said that I didn’t have time, but time isn’t really the issue.  I just didn’t know what to do, but I really didn’t want to admit that to my friend.

Here's what I've discovered since then...

When I get that overwhelmed feeling it means that I have so much going on in my mind that I can’t really think clearly about anything. The pressure of all that I have to get done starts to close in around me. My emotions really start to take over and I feel the stress in my shoulders and a shortening of my breath in addition to being overwhelmed.

Dr. Henry L. Thompson, an award-winning organizational psychologist, in his book The Stress Effect, emphasizes that an emotionally intelligent leader must be aware of emotion to be able to “choose when, where, and how to use emotion." According to Thompson, “Anything that interferes with this ability, such as stress, will tend to degrade the application of emotional intelligence." The feeling of being overwhelmed will trigger stress and could lead to outcomes where I may not deliver excellence for my clients.

The overwhelmed feeling I had, along with the stress it produced, meant that my thinking was actually inhibited. I was at risk for making poor decisions, not because of my intelligence or lack of information, but because I needed to step away so that I could be objective.

Retreat Is A Power Position

I didn’t need to step away, or retreat, as a sign of weakness. Actually, retreat is a powerful tool for positioning yourself for strength.

The state of being overwhelmed was causing me to not be able to provide excellence. I had two choices:

  • Slug through it and hope that no one noticed
  • Retreat. Take a step back so that I could re-engage into the circumstance more powerfully.

I chose retreat. And am I glad I did.

So what does this mean to you & me?

The next time you get that overwhelmed feeling, why not take a Personal Leadership Retreat?

A Personal Leadership Retreat is where you carve out a small amount of time (I did 4 hours) and gather your thoughts about the impact your leadership is having.

As a result of the conversation with my friend, I finished a Personal Leadership Retreat a few weeks ago and came out with much clearer thinking. I felt really good about how I spent my time. The benefits for me were:

  • I felt better about my relationship with God.
  • I was clear on what I had accomplished in the first half of the year.
  • I have clarity around things I want to get done in the second half of the year.
  • I have more focus around my core business moving forward.
  • I felt relaxed so that I was making better decisions.

If you are interested in doing a Personal Leadership Retreat, here is the agenda I followed:

8am - Arrive 8-9am - Bible Reading and Reflection 9-10am - Reflections on Leadership 10-11am - Nature Walk 11-11:45am - Leadership Issues that need to be resolved 11:45-noon - Final Reflection

The next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, why not take a few hours and do a Personal Leadership Retreat? Once you do, I think you will feel more focused, relaxed, and perhaps even improve your outcomes.

Hey Mike, thanks for recommending this to me. I owe you.

Let me know how this works for you, Scott

Homework: Schedule your own Personal Leadership Retreat. I've developed a step by step guide to help you. Click here to download. In this guide you will get hour by hour instructions on what to do during your retreat. You will get questions to answer to stimulate thought. You will get a list of resources to take with you on your retreat and much, much, more. I would love your feedback on the guide, so if you do take a Personal Leadership Retreat be sure and let us know how it went for you.