Getting Off the Rat's Wheel

I used to start my day at 6 am. Sometimes, if I was running late, I’d start at 6:30 am. I’d begin with email and then race from appointment to appointment. I’d collapse from exhaustion twelve or thirteen hours later. If there was an empty space on my calendar and someone asked for it, I’d always say ‘yes.’ I did everything “they” say you have to do to be successful: I blogged, tweeted, facebooked. When a potential strategic partner showed up, I’d roll out the red carpet, take on new projects and produce new content at a moments notice. I piled it on, formed a partnership, hired an employee, farmed out the bookkeeping. Yep, I was on the move, running faster and faster.

My ears started ringing and I couldn’t figure out why. I went to the doctor and had my hearing tested. While I was sitting there in the doctor’s office getting my results (which were fine, by the way), I burst into tears.

“I’m under a lot of stress,” I stammered.

“I understand,” replied.

I thought but did not say: No, you don’t.

Then the wheels came off. My dad got sick. My partnership foundered. My dad died. My business came within a hair’s breadth of going under.

Magically, at this same time, my ears stopped ringing.


In the silence that followed all the serial disasters, I looked back with grim determination. I’m not going back to the grind, I said, with teeth and fists clenched.

I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I was still clenched. I told myself to relax. A few minutes later, I was clenched again. It took months for me to stop clenching my body. Months.

I started cooking nice meals and inviting people over for dinner, something hadn’t done in… well, since grad school. I took long hikes. I went to yoga whenever I felt like it.

When the end of 2011 rolled around, and I started thinking about 2012, I did what I always do: I created a plan and a mindmap/visionboard. (See the screenshot on the left.)

Part of my inspiration came from Susan Falcone, who described her year-long experiment in self compassion on her blog. She writes, “I deserve to love myself. I do love myself. I’m happy to treat myself with respect and value. Doing what is good for me feels good. I can now feel as good for helping and caring for myself as I can for doing those things for someone else. I do not need the praise or validation of others to know that what I am doing is good and worthy. I trust my heart knows best when it comes to self-care and I honor it instead of rejecting it.”

Using her list as a guide, I created a list of my own (it’s part of this mindmap). Then, I asked Susan if she’d talk to me about her journey. And she did– listen here.
I began seriously practicing Completion Centric Planning and implemented my 40-hours -a-week-and-that’s-it right after the New Year.


A couple of days ago, in conversation with my friend Augusto, he told me how different I am now.

“You were running on the rat’s wheel,” he said and suddenly, I knew why my ears had started ringing, and why the ringing stopped– it must have been from the squeaking from the spinning wheel that was drowning out the sound of my life.

I can’t say I’ve totally learned my lesson. When I felt stressed this morning, about a project, I found myself thinking, “Well, I could work on it over the weekend. It wouldn’t kill me.” And then I caught myself. “Really, Tara, who cares? Besides you?”

Anybody want a rat’s wheel? I’ve got one I want to get rid of.


  1. Karen Griffis says

    Great article. I can sooo relate. Thanks for sharing. And glad you’re getting rid of the wheel. I’m going to do my best not to buy it from you. 😉

  2. says

    First of all, you’re not a rat so you don’t need the wheel! Time to upcycle that thing. You won’t regret this your commitment to yourself, and the fact that others are noticing the change as well means it’s real. I hope you are finding it to get easier, even though it’s only been a few weeks. I have truly stuck to this commitment for over a year now, Yes, I’m forced to partially because of my health situation, but the saying “mind over matter” is true and it can go either way–positive or negative. We can push past the physical pain to finish something, and “pay” for it later or we can choose to see all things in light of the big picture, which about living a fulfilled and happy life. If you were going to die tomorrow, I bet the last thing you would regret was not finishing that project in record time. In the long run, it’s taught me so much about myself, and what really matters to me. Keep up the good work! And, thank you for sharing your journey with us 😉

    • says

      Hi Susan,

      Thank you! Your story has been such a huge inspiration to me! I am deeply grateful for your guidance and your example. Our conversation encouraged me and I hope that others will receive the same kind of support and motivation from your wisdom as I have.

      With love,

  3. says

    Hey Tara,

    I don’t quite know what to say to you because, well, I don’t know you (although you recently reached out to me on Twitter and I followed you back :D) but because there’s sadness here and at the same time, hope, and change, and I’m happy about that for you.

    What’s funny is in reading all the things you were doing a part of me felt guilty that I am NOT pumping out content or doing as much. Funny how even in all that you said I still found a way to say “why aren’t I doing more?”

    I’m glad you reminded me about Scott’s Completion Centric Planning – I had read it a while back and thought it was an excellent system – but never implemented it. I’ll give it a shot.

    You’re going to be working less – but I hope it turns out to be what you feel is your best year yet – whatever that ends up being for you.

    • says

      Hi Claudine,

      It’s so great to hear from you! I’m delighted that we’ve connect here and on Twitter. 🙂 When I read your comment, I think, “Wow, that’s like the backlash of productivity!” I tend to get really hooked into accomplishment as a way to feel good about myself and get stuck thinking that my worth is from what I produce not who I am. This is a huge place of struggle for me. And mine is mixed with jealousy–looking at what others do and feeling envious of their success instead of joyful for them. It’s a work in progress but one that I am grateful to be taking on. And “Yay!” for working less and enjoying more!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I look forward to more conversations with you!

      With love,

  4. says

    Oh Tara! I hate to sound “typical”, but your post SO resonates with me. While I don’t have the ringing ears, I am very caught up in the validation from others. And, I too, STILL wake up with my entire body clenched. I have to purposely think to relax…and yet, it comes back only a few minutes later. And again, I have to actually THINK about relaxing…AGAIN. You are totally right, we need to show compassion for ourself in the same way as we do for others. I fully realize that I am the one who created my own “monster”…and it is up to me to lay it to rest. But, I also know it will be a difficult road. It is so much easier to always be as we have been, rather than to be as what we want and hope. Thank you so much for sharing. I love you!

    • says

      Hi Dear Kelly,

      Isn’t it crazy, this clenching the body thing? I’m baffled by it! I guess it’s from the years and years of tension; my body formed a strong habit (and perhaps yours did, too). And I can’t tell you how it makes my heart sing that you read my post and took the time to comment. I have so much love and respect for you! You really are my sis in so many ways. 🙂 This self-compassion path is a really interested and rich one–I am grateful to share my journey with you.

      Lotsa love,

  5. says

    Ah, what perfect timing to read this! (Thanks to Susan Falcone for the link.) Susan has inspired me to try my own Year of Self-Compassion. I started January with The Great Bedtime Experiment — I committed to getting to bed by 11pm, which is a HUGE shift from my previous m.o. of 2am (or however late I needed to stay up to “finish stuff”).

    I still have a long way to go, and the fact that I love to work hard *and* love to juggle lots of stuff can make it tricky to draw the line, but I’m making progress.

    The truth is, I want a *humane* life, and the only way I can create/maintain one is to take the bull by the horns and make it happen myself.

    Sometimes that means saying no to things I really REALLY want to do, because I know it will cause overload. That’s the hardest part. But I’m worth the effort. 🙂

    • says

      Hi Melissa,

      Yay for perfect timing!! And many thanks to Susan for introducing us to each other. 🙂 Hey, are you in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big class this time around? I took it last year and LOVED it. One of my close friends is taking it this year. It is a truly awesome experience and a great environment for growth.

      Congrats on your Great Bedtime Experiment. You go, girl! I can really relate to loving to work hard and loving to juggle lots of stuff. It’s fun! But it can be really exhausting–especially when I start juggling large objects that don’t really belong to me, like other people’s problems. And you are so worth it!! The world needs your gifts and your very best you so that when you’re on the big stage, you’re shining and joyful instead of worn out.

      Looking forward to getting to know you better!

      With love,

      • says

        YES, I’m so excited to be in Playing Big, Tara! It’s just a week in, and already things are shifting for me in truly magical ways. Amazing.

        I love your image of “juggling large objects that don’t really belong to me, like other people’s problems.” Amen, girl.

        Looking forward to getting to know you better, too! (And thanks for subscribing to my blog! :))


        • says

          Hi again!

          So thrilled that you’re Playing Big in 2012. It’s a wonderful, amazing, energizing journey! Looking forward to celebrating your many milestones, ah-hahs, and big wow’s!

          Lotsa love,

  6. Johné Parker says


    Here’s another thank you for a[nother] most timely post. As I read, I said ‘aha’ (out loud) and felt my shoulders pull down from my ears. I am inspired to not only get off the wheel every now and then, but to *stay* off the crazy-squeaky-going-nowhere-ever-faster-wheel this year! Will also post this just to the left of my monitor in my office and will set an alarm on my calendar to leave by 6:15 *at the latest* and will wean myself from 1) (habitually) taking work home and 2) staying up [far] too late to finish it.

    I so appreciate you!
    Big hugs and much love,

  7. Barbara Bailey says

    Wonderful post, Tara…you have me thinking (as you so often do). You are such an inspiration to so many of us!

    And that rat on the wheel? Screw ’em!

  8. Ryan says

    Tara – thanks, once again, for sharing, being such an inspiration and such a mentor – you are the BEST. Love always – RYAN

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