Giving it your all shouldn’t mean doing more, but all of your Onlyness

Q: Lately, I’ve been feeling guilty about my workload. I took on a big charter within a tech firm and spent the first six months or so working about 12-14 hour days. And slowly but surely, I’ve built a team that can not only do what needs to be done but owns the way the work needs to be done. As we deliver results, we have become the glue that makes all the teams we touch stronger and more connected. I know I should be feeling good about all this leadership, but I feel like I should be doing more or working harder or … something. I’m questioning my level of engagement and commitment to my work. And I worry about what happens if they find out? I’m not the only leader who feels like this, am I? 

Dear Guilty

So, if you don’t work all out, you’re not doing enough?


Like Years Later, you’re listening to ideas that don’t serve you. 

As you describe what you’ve done, I can see your creativity in envisioning the team design. I can see your charisma to enroll people and set the organization up for success by hiring well. And I know it takes something special to align people to work, so they become more than the sum of their parts. You’ve done what every great leader aims: enabling a high-performance culture. 

Yet, you ask if you should do more and work harder. As if what you’ve done already is not enough, and ease isn’t permissible. 

That voice you’re listening to? It’s asking, are you giving it your absolute all


” Giving your all,” some would say, is not just a good thing; it is the only thing — it’s the only way to live a full life. It’s you showing up in the arena of your life. On the other hand, how many of us “give it all” to people and places as we deny (or are denied) our own needs?

The difference? It lies in how we define all. Are you giving all of yourself, what only you have to give? Or do we define “all” as nearly 24×7?


You might already know that my husband and I started a trial separation in January? And it might be too soon, and I might be too raw to write about it. But because it’s relevant to this topic, I’ll share that last week, and we made it official. We’re no longer working on reconciliation; we’re working on parting-in-grace.  

Like you, I feel guilty that I did not do more, despite ten years of therapy and resourcing. To this day, I still picture us having a recommitment service on our 20th wedding anniversary this fall. This, even though he has told me repeatedly that what I’m asking for is “too much,” that I am “too needy,” and that what I want is asking for a “personality transplant.” But since I was the person who had grown and healed and therefore changed what I wanted from us, I felt like I should do more or try harder or … something

However wrong an idea it is, I felt I should “fix it” since my growth had “broken it.” 

Like you, I questioned myself a lot. A lot, lot.

Maybe I should accept that my life partner’s face doesn’t light up when he sees me and just get that need met elsewhere? Maybe I should stop caring that his first response to everything I say is to negate or refute my perspective; if I believe in something, I should be willing to argue for it, right? Maybe it’s okay to keep getting hurt since I was getting stronger every time I had to get back off the ground?

So, I kept trying to “give it my all”? 

But do you know what I didn’t ask?

If, in this relationship, my Onlyness was valued.

I had grown so proficient at coping and centering the tree of “us” that I wasn’t paying attention to my fruition. Or lack of fruition in this case. Even though I “know” that for any relationship to work, it has to honor one’s Onlyness, I struggled to center it correctly. 

And that’s why I share this tender news with you.

I get what you’re asking.

Though you didn’t say it that way, you’re asking….Is it okay to choose yourself?

And so let me answer emphatically that yes, you must. You don’t want to be doing the most work you can; you want to be being you the most. Giving it your all is good when it is for your purpose when it taps Onlyness. Leadership involves caring for others, but it can never mean abdicating oneself. Yes, we show up to do our best. But that doesn’t—cannot—mean we drain or deplete the very source of that best work. 

Do what only you are here to do, and enable others to do the same.


This is counter to what we’re taught. We’re taught to hustle, to prove, and all that.

Business “leaders” talk about giving as a universal good. Certain people talk about “give and take” without addressing the fact that there are some who are expected to give until it hurts, while some are allowed to take without question. 

How many of us have worked in institutions, loyally, only to find ourselves “outsourced,” “reorg’d,” or “streamlined.”? Where we learned that, despite giving it “our all,” we were as easily replaceable as a cog. Or working harder than anyone only to see the boss’s boss get the meatiest part of the reward while we got the chance to “prove ourselves.” As the ever-brilliant sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom says, the institution cannot love you. The same can be said about marriage. It’s not the institution that guarantees love or being loved; marriages work when it is a vehicle for each person to keep becoming the person they are meant to be. 

And the spin, the spin around this, can take us down.

About valuing hard work, which translates to being over-worked. Maybe even you are thinking of counter-examples. How some places totally take care of their people, and those places deserve our all. You might point to benefits like free dinners. I’ll just remind you that the work cultures that serve hot dinners at 6 pm don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart, lovebugs. They do it because it benefits them. Ten bucks for dinner in exchange for one to two more hours of labor meant they got that last whatever energy you had in your tank before you left the building. In turn, family or friends got the limpest and wilted version of you. Withered (albeit fed) people happen by neglecting oneself, the hobbies, sunshine, and rest one needs. 


Now, I want to plant an idea to displace yours, Guilty

Instead of thinking, should I be working harder or doing more or something… 

I want you to ask: Are you creating the spaciousness for your Onlyness to shine

I ask because you need at least 5% reserve capacity to have enough room for that next big idea. Andre Delbecq, my former Management Sciences professor at Santa Clara University, taught me that. (I highlight “at least” because it can also mean you reserve—I know it’ll sound crazy to you, but still—40% of your capacity to create, it’s okay!)

I think of this often because research will be published every few years about how leaders spend their time. And it’ll be something like senior managers spend less than 3% of their time on the long-term view of the future. And we’ll do the math and see how that amounts to about two hours of a 60-hour week. And if we look around, we’ll see that’s being generous because that time is counted as a meeting. It’s not the time that allows for ideas to come from a good run or after a restful weekend.

As we’re all “giving it our all,” we’re becoming myopic.

One obvious result: we don’t understand our market needs or what’s blocking progress. We don’t give ourselves the space to be creative. Or energized. Or alive at work. But if we can create spaciousness, we’ll be more present, listen to what is needed, and see what the situation calls for—not going from thing to thing, exhausted, limping as you try to run faster—but calmly centered in Onlyness. 

Consider that new question, will you?


A friend was recently submitting input for his annual performance review. And one question the review process asked was, “How have you gone above and beyond?” This friend thought, “Listen, I’m paid this combination of wages, salaries, bonuses, benefits, and perks, in exchange for how I do my job and do it well.” The question assumed that he should be doing more and working harder.

“Why are you asking this question?” he asked.

Why exactly? 

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