When I Start to Get Overwhelmed With Work, I Look at This Postcard of Earth

One founder shares what helps her keep things in perspective.
When I Start to Get Overwhelmed With Work, I Look at This Postcard of Earth
Image credit: Courtesy of Kathleen Futrell
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the July 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Early in my career, I was easily overwhelmed. I over­extended myself, and soon my responsibilities and commitments and ambitions piled up into this mass that felt unfathomably large — until, one day, my manager gave me something that is still on the bulletin board over my desk 26 years later, even as I’ve now transformed my career: It’s a postcard picture of Earth.

Related: My Dad Gave Me a Knife When I Was 11 to Help Him Work. That Knife Opened My World.

I worked in federal contracting at the time, and my manager gave it to me for perspective. He wanted me to look at Earth and think about the significance of what I was trying to accomplish, and the stress I was feeling, and to do so in the context of what others around the world faced. I started to do this during late nights in my office, when I hadn’t seen my family in days, as I lived on caffeine and cheese nabs. I imagined the good happening to people around the globe. I also imagined the bad — people starving, enduring war, or losing their homes — and then weighed my situation. I would say a prayer for them, and I would remember that my time on Earth was limited.

With this perspective, and my manager’s encouragement, I went back to school, then took a job with a Fortune 500 firm as a contracts manager and rose to become a director and VP. I recently started my own consulting business to mentor small companies entering federal contracting. I’ve found that many folks feel they must make a good impression or prove themselves, and that to do so, they cannot admit when they need help. But I can see it in their eyes or hear it in their voices. I tell them what my manager told me: Step away for a few minutes, prioritize your actions, and focus on what your best can be in that moment.

Related: 5 Ways to Keep Yourself Inspired to Achieve Your Goals

Many people say they want to change the world, and we tend to lionize those who think big. But I’ve always felt that changing the world starts in a small way, through those with whom you come into daily contact. Most people want to feel seen, loved, and respected by others — not because they are part of something huge, but for the unique individual they are. That is how I hope to make a difference in their lives. And who knows, maybe beyond what I see, my presence ripples out to their circles of influence, which reaches others’ — creating waves akin to those that make up all that blue in my picture of Earth.

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