During the past year I’ve undertaken a number of large-scale projects related to my photography and teaching. Much of the work is new to me; I’m on unfamiliar ground a lot of the time and have often struggled with the various processes involved.

As a result, I’ve intermittently been feeling overwhelmed, stressed-out, anxious… whatever label you give it, feeling like this sucks. I sometimes wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, and begin to doubt my ability to succeed in reaching my goals.

Fortunately, thanks to my very strong support system of friends and family (and some great books), I’ve been able to repeatedly bring myself back down to earth and into a calmer state of mind, which in turn allows me to refocus, get back on track and keep working effectively on my projects.

Sometimes, when I can’t sleep at night, I find my mind running endlessly over my to-do lists – which seem to be ever-growing! When this happens, one of the new habits I’ve developed to counter it is to let my mind work over the following list I created to ease my anxiety. I figure if I’m going to obsess on something, it should be more like zen meditation, and I’ve found this has a very calming effect. In fact, sometimes it’s helped me get a good night’s sleep when nothing else worked!

Nat’s Keys to Happiness

1. Don’t take myself too seriously
Remember that I’ve made my own choices and that life (and work) are supposed to be fun!

2. Remain in the present moment
Don’t fret about past mistakes or worry about things to come. Stay focused on what I need to get done only right now.

3. Don’t compare myself to others, especially professionally
I’m on my own path and I’m creating my own unique life. I am not in a race or competition with anyone else. And there is no finish line, anyway!

4. Have faith
Retain my confidence and a positive attitude that everything’s going to work out OK.

5. Don’t fear failure
If I’m thorough and persistent, failure isn’t very likely. And when a real failure does occur, it’s the best kind of learning opportunity.

6. Be grateful
Never forget or take for granted all the wonderful people and things in my life.

7. Contribute
Give freely to others whenever and however I can… without predetermined limitations or ulterior motives.

8. Be aware of possibilities
Stay open to unexpected circumstances and remain flexible enough to know when it’s time to try something new.

9. Be patient
Nothing great happens overnight, least of all a career in photography. I’m in this for life and there is no need to speed up the timeline.

10. Exercise my body
It’s amazing what mental benefits a good workout or getting outside for a hike can produce… especially after hours sitting in front of the computer.

I’m sharing this in the hope that other people who are experiencing similar situations might find some inspiration and hope. In these times of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, email, text messaging and cell phones, at times it can all be too much. Sometimes I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

My advice to all you chronic overachievers (and to myself!) is to keep perspective on it all and don’t let the hype get the best of you. Consider making your own to-do list that’s all about you and your happiness, not what you have to accomplish in the outside world. Never forget that happiness and success are not the same thing.

I’m sure your own list will have some different points; I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject; feel free to leave a comment.

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