A few years ago, I was a part of a cool start-up boutique leadership development group. We were having a lot of fun and success. Our launch had gone well. We were gaining momentum over the course of a year. But as the success of the organization grew, I became antsy.
I wanted to do more.
I wanted to accomplish more.
There were books I wanted to write.
There were goals I wanted to achieve.
I had this feeling there was just more out there.
Now, this was a weird feeling given the fact that the leadership organization was my idea. Not to mention the fact that I loved what we were doing—and I loved what I was doing.
But still I was antsy.
Has this ever happened to you?
This was nothing new for me. I had been antsy before. But what was weird was, I was antsy while doing something I loved. It’s understandable to be antsy at a job you hate, but that wasn’t the case.
A few years before that I was working in a sales job for a Fortune 500 company, making pretty good money, when I realized one morning that I needed something else in my life. There were dreams I had that if my current circumstances stayed the same, would never see the light of day. After months of feeling like this, my wife knew I needed a change.
(This is a great place to mention how important it is to have people in our lives that know us, love us, and want the best for us. My wife could see I was antsy and was supportive of my quest to figure out what to do next.)
I took a few days off from work and went to a conference down in Atlanta. It was just what the doctor ordered! A few days of great vision casting from one of my favorite teachers. I left reminded of life’s bigger purposes and the role I could play in that.
I returned home and nothing changed, yet everything changed. Looking back on those few days, I consider them a hinge moment in my life. From then on, I knew I would have to work on fulfilling dreams no matter what job I had. A year later, I convinced my brother and a good friend to return to the same conference. Seeds were sown in a conversation there that ultimately led us to start our 501c3 non-profit organization, which led to the leadership development organization, which led to writing books, which led to speaking engagements, which led us to DC and IJM, and continues to other ideas like this site today.
It’s amazing how a few days can be instrumental in changing the trajectory of your life.
Being antsy is natural
It’s human. It shows you don’t just want to exists— you want to thrive. I think we all have an internal state of restlessness that is constantly searching for fulfillment. Our desire to create, build, and make meaning is an appetite. And appetites are never fully satisfied. It’s like our appetite for food. We can eat the most incredible meal, but then hours later, we’re hungry again.
We were created to create. When we go through seasons of creative drought, our souls cry out. Getting antsy is similar to your stomach growling. It’s a warning that your soul is hungry.
This doesn’t mean you should quit your job, end the relationship, or any number of other rash decisions.
What to do when you are antsy:
1- Get out of town
Creating separation between your day-to-day is crucial to finding out what is going on and what steps you could take. When you are surrounded by the same stimuli over and over, it makes it difficult to see anything differently. And this is the key: find space to see things differently.
Often when I’m antsy about a writing project I’m working on, simply going some place new to write makes a huge difference. Giving our senses new inputs does wonder to our creativity and ideas.
This was why that conference was so huge for me. I didn’t have the typical emails and phone calls coming in. I had two days of uninterrupted space to be refreshed, be inspired, to pray, just space to think. Getting out of the daily routine is so important to find the time to think. Taking a half a day to go drive up the interstate or go hiking. Here is DC, I love to walk around the monuments downtown. The key is to get away to get space.
When can you take a minimum of a half a day off?
2- Try and narrow down the category
What areas of life make you most antsy? Is it at work? Is it where you live? Is it in your relationships? There is not a clean science to this. You’re not going to be able to fit it all into one bucket, but the more you can identify about it, the better your chances of taking the best action steps.
Often what can seem like antsyness in one area of life, is really grounded in another area. This is why pursuing dreams part-time is so important! If you feel antsy at work, it may be because you’re not being as creative as you want to be. Come home at night and pursue a creative dream (write, draw, design, build a website, paint). Look for outlets in other areas of life as sometimes making major change is not possible or the best option for you.
3- Build Something
Take time to build something, create something, or start something. When you are antsy it means you’ve got creative desires not being fulfilled. Don’t quit your job and buy an art studio in the city (but there could be a time for that later). Come home from your job at night and on the weekend and use your time to build something. I’m writing this right now on a Saturday night. My kids are in bed, my wife is editing some photos for a client and I’m waiting for a football game to start. So, I’m using these extra 20 minutes before kickoff to work on this article. I’ll finish it up after another session tomorrow.
I’ve found those times when I’m most antsy is when I feel like three months has gone bye and I don’t have much to show for it. It’s amazing to me how having something to show for your extra time over the course of a few months can change drastically how you feel. If you’re feeling antsy, but not currently working on something, then take a few hours each week and keep working on the dream.
What is something you could start this week and complete with in the next month?
4- Phone a friend
Depending on your level of antsyness, it may or may not be obvious to those around you. Having a conversation with someone who knows can be a big help in times like this. Often its difficult to give an honest assessment of why we’re feeling the way we are. We are too close and can’t see from all the angles we need to. This is why a friend is so crucial. They can see what we so often can’t see.
I’ve found it helpful when discussing with friends or my wife times when I am antsy to allow them to ask serious questions and the promise to answer honestly. Are you antsy because you don’t feel you’re living your purpose or because you’re not making as much money as you want? Questions like that are difficult to answer, but necessary in the pursuit of finding the right actions to take.
Who is a friend you can talk with this week to get their input?
5- Finish something. Anything
Many times I get antsy when I’m in the middle of a lot projects and there’s no end in site. For example, currently in my “Working On” blog post folder, I have 22 different posts that I am in the middle of writing. Some of that is my personality and how my creativity works. I will be in the middle of writing something and an idea will pop up, so I’ll write it down. It helps keep a lot of fresh ideas coming. Of course, it can also be overwhelming at times knowing that I’ve got a bunch of half-finished posts with nothing ready to publish this week. If this is you, then finish something. Put everything else aside and push one project or idea over the finish line.
Even if the project is small, finishing it will give you momentum to keep going. This is why Dave Ramsey encourages people with a lot of debt to pay off the smallest debt they have first, even if it has a lower interest rate. The reason is, he knows our emotions have a a huge impact on our willingness to keep going. People say that’s terrible logic to pay a lower interest bill off first. But Ramsey knows in times like that, more often than not, if we don’t think it’s possible, we’re not going to try. Finishing gets us excited. It shows that we can win. And winning in contagious. So, get a small win, keep going, and get another one.
What is one step you can finish this week?
6- Keep going
Sometimes my antsyness comes from hitting the uphill moment in an idea. We’ve all been there when the excitement of the idea has worn off. Reality has set in like it does for everyone—bringing a dream to life is going to take work. It’s not going to happen overnight.
The temptation is to slowly back away from the work because it’s not quite as easy. But this is a mistake. This is when its so important to press in and keep going. Heed the advice from above and finish something. Whatever you do, keep going.
One way that helps me is to zoom in on the project and execute on something small that I can accomplish today. It could be focusing on a story in a book I’m writing or just editing one blog post. Figure out something you can do today and get it done. Then come back tomorrow.
Being antsy is a symptom, it’s not a problem.
1- Yes or No, are you antsy?
2- If yes, pick one or more of the above options to complete this week.
3- If no, take time this week to evaluate if you are creating at your optimum level.
4- If no, then pick number 3 this week.