Taking on the world like Atlas

Door Anneke Dekker | December 2, 2018


According to the Huffington Post the top three things millennials struggle with are: making enough money, saying no (especially to their parents) and, at the top of the list, the fear of making the wrong decision. This fear seems to relate to the abundance of options millennials deal with. Though options might sound like a great opportunity, in reality too many options can lead to paralysis.

Ambition, responsibility and expectations

I see my students struggle with that too. They are very ambitious, feel responsible and tend to focus on what others expect of them. Taking on that responsibility towards others can feel like quite a burden. Some of them say it feels like they have the whole world on their shoulders, like the statue of Atlas.

And that is exactly what makes them worry about making the wrong choice. If we focus on what others might think, need or expect, there are two big pitfalls:

  1. Our choices are based on assumptions (how often do we really know what the other person needs or expects?)
  2. Our choices are based on fear (what will the other person think of me if I don’t do X or if I choose for Y?).

Not only does it take the fun out of our job or study, it also has a great impact on our results.

How effective are we, when we try to juggle too many balls?
To what extend do we reach our personal goals when focussing on the expectations of others?

Usually not so effective in my perspective. More often it leads to feeling stressed and being busy all the time, but not actually getting so much done ánd not feeling satisfied with what we do get done. This is why I believe guidance in personal effectiveness and time management is so important. Especially for students and young professionals. If they learn to deal with expectations and make healthy choices early in their career, they will benefit from this the rest of their lives.

The challenge of making choices

To me personal effectiveness is all about making conscious choices. Choices that are not based on fear, but that are based on what will actually help us move forward, feel happy and be successful.

In my classes and workshops I focus on the following three steps:

  1. It starts with being aware of our personal goals and strengths. This requires taking a step back and being honest to ourself: what is really important to us? When we know where we are heading and what can help us get there, it is already much easier to choose what to work on first and to get started.
  2. Once we have that clear, the next step is to decide when and how to work on our goals. There are multiple tools and methods for planning, organising and prioritising. For example the Eisenhower Matrix and my favourite: Getting Things Done (GTD). This method is developed by David Allen. The theory behind it is that time management is not about creating more time, but about creating room to think,  to be creative and to be focussed. The method helps you to get all tasks organised and out of your mind.
  3. Besides the goals to strive for and how to work on them, personal effectiveness is also about choosing a lifestyle that supports you. The choices that we make on nutrition, sleep/relaxation and exercise can have a huge impact on the level of energy and stress we experience. Did you know exercise makes you more resilient to stress for example? According to a Princeton research physical activity reorganises the brain in such a way that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function.

From the students

When reading the reflection reports of my students, what stands out to me is that it’s not the practical time management tips that are most valuable to them (although that often is what they sign up for). More often it is the realisation that focussing on their own desires and taking some time off is not something to feel guilty about.

What they write about the course:

“The best way to describe how it affected me is to say that: I am more aware of what I do, what I want, and have more tools to get there or to do it. I know more about myself, my skills and faults and ways to figure out how to deal with that.”

“In general, I feel more detached to the work and studies. “Detached” in a good way, because I used to feel responsible for everything like the statue of Atlas. Therefore, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work and by the pressure on my neck. Today, I am less stressed than before and I know that meditation or walk in the park will help me if stress symptoms come back.“

A tip to recharge

Do you feel stressed or overwhelmed? Is there an important choice to be made?
If I could give you one tip, it would be:

Go outside for 30 minutes, walk in silence by yourself (preferably in nature) and note all the beautiful things you see around you.

The combination of being in silence in nature, focussing on something positive and the repetitive movement of walking are supportive to clear your mind. It’s very likely you will feel better already afterwards and more energised to continue working!

Fun fact: when I was writing this blog, I got stuck at some point… After rereading it a couple of times, I didn’t know how to move forward. Until my own tip caught my eye. I decided to close my laptop and go outside and while walking I got new insights that helped me back on track.


Anneke Dekker
Coach, teacher and facilitator AcademicVision