The antidote to 3am Monday morning panic

close up of insomniac unable to sleep in bed

I like to think that I am not the only person who wakes up at 3am with panic in my chest as I realize that there are huge amounts of work to do in a finite time frame.

 I have never been afraid of hard work; in fact, I thrive on it. I love the feeling of getting things done, of bringing ideas to life, of spending 8 hours in an all-day session with a client and walking away knowing I left it all on the mat (this just happened on Thursday — it felt so good!).

 Creating strategy is a blast. I can spend days marking up flip charts and generating hundreds of post it notes and inspirational quotes.

 I can talk to others about it. And do interviews about it. And write about it.

 Then comes that moment when I actually have to take a concrete, scary, uncomfortable step toward my new goal:

  • Write the book proposal
  • Contact sponsors and ask for money
  • Create website content
  • Step on the big stage in front of an important audience
  • Have a tough conversation with a partner

All the enthusiasm of a clear strategy goes out the window. All I feel is shallow breath and a low level of anxiety.

It is at these moments, most often at 3am for some frustrating reason, that I have learned to trust the antidote to panic:

Name why I am doing the work.

In Body of Work I call this your Roots. It answers the questions (among others): Why am I doing this? And whom am I doing it for?

Simon Sinek famously made the case for why in his record-breaking TED talk.

The context for the talk is how leaders can inspire great work in their organizations.

But it is equally as important for each of us in our individual work lives as we prepare to accomplish the hard things on our to do list.

Short Exercise:

Since it is Monday, let’s use a real example that we can apply today, to get our week off to a great start.

1. Take a task you know you need to accomplish this week, that is giving you some stress or creating fear

Name of task: _____________.


  • Send an email to friends and family announcing your new business.
  • Submit a proposal to do a talk at a conference.
  • Create your first blog post.
  • Write an email to your current customers explaining your upcoming price increase.

2. Write down who would ultimately benefit if you accomplish this task: _____________.


  • If I send an email to friends and family announcing my new business, I will be able to reach my desired clients who are young entrepreneurs of color who want to get featured in the mainstream media to build their businesses.
  • If I submit a proposal to do a talk at a conference, I will be able to help computer programmers by sharing my knowledge of programming methods that reduce bugs and save time.
  • If I create my first blog post about recovering after bankruptcy, I will help people who are stuck in a spiral of fear and shame. I will give them hope, and a clear path to rebuilding their finances.
  • If I write an email to my current customers explaining my upcoming price increase, I will prepare those who cannot afford the increase to look for a better solution. And I will help the customers who can afford the new prices by providing better, more reliable and stronger service now that I don’t have to be juggling so many customers at the same time.

3. Name what you want for the person you are doing your task for: _________

Some examples:

  • I want them to feel pride in their work and the fact that their message is reaching the right audience.
  • I want them to feel the joy that comes from an efficient work flow and bug-free code.
  • I want them to feel peace of mind and confidence in their ability to get back on track financially.
  • I want them to feel strongly supported by me, and able to accomplish their biggest goals now that I am providing the right level of service.

4. Summarize your thoughts in a clear sentence

When I take this <insert action>, <people I care about serving> will be one step closer to achieving their goal. This makes me so happy because when they feel <insert their feelings>, then I feel like my work is making a real difference in the world.


When I write this first blog post about recovering after bankruptcy, professionals over 50 who lost their jobs and went into financial crisis will feel peace of mind knowing they are not alone. When they hear my story and others of people like themselves who reimagined their careers and financial lives, they will feel renewed hope and energy for the future. This will make me feel like my work is making a real difference in the world.

We all experience crises of confidence. What unites us is belief in the reason why our work matters.

As I embark on some big scary tasks this week, know that I am feeling supported because you are walking beside me, taking on your own scary tasks.

Your why will unlock your will to act. And when we act together, positive change happens on a big scale.

Your work matters.

(If you care to share your scary task and reason why you need to do it, share in the comments. If it helps you to express it to someone else, I would love to hear it!)

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