It refers to that small thing that just tips the load over the edge from heavy but manageable, to crushing. Too heavy. Too much to carry.
We are the camel.
Many things are the straw.
We are all carrying what’s known as an Allostatic Load, which is the cumulative load of things that cause us stress. Physical things, mental things, emotional things. Fun things, painful things. Personal things and professional things. Family things. Me-time things. All add up to the load every person has to carry, deal with and discharge.
There’s a stress that comes from being unfit and poorly nourished too, by the way. Too much sitting and too much sugar, not enough movement and not enough quality food = one stressed body.
It’s dead easy to let that load get too heavy. You have to be alert to things that add to it, especially as they won’t always be what you think. It’s not just the obvious stressful experiences, like negative emotions and being around difficult people, that add to the allostatic load. It’s also things that are pleasurable, but tiring. Things which are exciting, but draining. Interacting with new or important-to-you people. Learning new things, even when you really want to.
For instance, the straw that broke me was a day exhibiting at a business expo. On its own, no big deal. But added to a run of early mornings, a full week of coaching, some fairly heavy training, going all out at the expo itself and talking to as many people as humanly possible, used up all my spare energy and the cumulative load snapped me like a twig (metaphorically, obvs). By the time I finished working on Saturday, I was on the sofa: head pounding, throat full of knives, buried under a pile of tissues.
I see this happening all over. Push yourself too hard, without taking your foot off the gas to give your body and brain a break, and you will be forced to rest by something you can’t ignore.
It’s a respect thing, I guess. You have to respect your body’s limits. To an extent, we can’t help but respect the limits of our brain - if you can’t read anymore, or your head has gone all fuggy, you can’t push past that. But bodies are a different story - they will carry on till the point of falling down and we know that, so…we push on. We can be the ultimate slave-drivers when it comes to ourselves. Imagine asking another creature, a dog or a donkey, to keep working when it’s clearly exhausted. It’s cruel, right? Yet when you do that to yourself, it’s what? Good business sense?
Expected of you?
To be able to relax as hard as you live - not work, but live, as everything you do in your life adds to this load, whether for pleasure or profit - takes not only a shift of behaviour, but of mindset. You have to understand that you are allowed to rest. Resting is not weakness. Resting is not laziness.
Neither is it the path to failure.
True, there is a cultural expectation that links success with busy-ness. Being busy is held up as THE measurable that equates to “doing well”. Challenge that misnomer. Busy-ness is NOT as good as balance. Busy-ness often leads to burn-out. Balance, on the other hand, is the road to happiness, health and, almost always, better quality work.
I remember when I was a new PT, working in a big-box gym with targets and bosses and league-tables, my objective was to be the busiest PT in the club. I quickly hit that sweet spot, where I was busy enough to ensure a good wage, but able to still provide an excellent quality of service and watch Countdown of an afternoon with my family. I should have stopped there, but I was young and hadn’t worked it out yet, so I carried on growing my client base. I went past the sweet spot, into the choppy waters of too-busy, and then into the fast-flowing current of WAY-too-busy, which caused a decline in service, health, happiness, family time, etc as I began to burn out. Without an eye on balance, everything suffers. You may be able to hold the inevitable off for a while, but eventually, it’ll catch you up and it’ll make you pay.
Now, part of my definition of success is:
am I’m making space for everything that’s important to me?
am I managing to schedule enough down-time to counteract all the “up”-time?
Look to create balance in all areas of your life.
- If you train hard, also train easy.If you stay up late, sleep late.
- If you get up early, go to bed early.
- If you work a weekend, take a couple of days off in the week.
- If you eat some rubbish food, eat some good food.
- If you have a go-go-go day, have a quiet day.
With that kind of emphasis on trying to keep things even, you’ll be able to keep going for as long as you want. Without it, you’re a sitting duck - or a standing camel - open to being struck down by whatever final straw happens to float your way.