Giving 110%


We hear this phrase all the time, but what does it mean? Is it even possible? As of today, I finally have a definition that makes sense for me.

You see, I should be on stage performing with my Dad as I write this. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, but instead…I’m sick. Why? Because I gave 110%, that’s why.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been the kind of busy that only lets me rest 2-4hrs a day. I’ve been persistently cold without access to external heat to warm myself. I’ve been breathing all the dust and fumes and insulation associated with a remodel, eating mostly fast food, pushing my body’s limits of strength and endurance (and possibly breaking a toe), yet somehow managing to work full time for a client on a fairly stressful and extremely detail-driven consulting project. I’ve also driven a few thousand miles, dealt with some big emotional family stuff, finished recording a new album with The Elements, and a bunch of more modest tasks & projects. I say this not to brag, but to benchmark. I am capable of a great many things, yet efforts such as these are ultimately unsustainable, so getting sick is my body’s main mode of defense. It’s not the first time I’ve given 110%…

The place where I’m doing most of this kind of thing and I don’t get sick? That’s 100% or my fully-engaged, maximum sustainable output. This used to be my ideal. I went quite a few years with a “2-3 weeks on, 1 week off” approach, where on was fully/over engaged, and off was somewhat less than that. This mostly worked, but I don’t want it going forward. I’ve done more, now I want less. 


I now aim for 70-80%.  From here, I can still reliably provide for the needs I can predict, plus have room to handle the surprises that are never far behind. I like having leftover time for loving my partner, for preparing & enjoying food, for making music or maybe watching a movie, for helping a friend, and for writing posts like this. I love having time to savor, time to appreciate, time to take time.

Looking back, I realize I’ve spent relatively little time engaged this little. Huge swaths of my life were well over 100%, but I don’t think I’ve reached 50% or less for more than a day or two in my whole adult life. Being curious about everything as I am, I’m always doing something, and usually more than one thing. Even now, as I’m too sick to sing on stage as planned, here I am trying to catch up on my writing. And there’s another laptop full of learning transcripts that need formatting & migrating which is glowing at me here too…

There’s a certain thrill in being fully engaged that I do enjoy, it’s true. I still enjoy the rush of giving 110%, even though I know what it costs me in health, in relationships, in mistakes, and in recovery time. Giving less than 100% means saying no to things people expect me to do without listing excuses, and not doing stuff I really want to do because I’ve decided being sub-optimally productive is actually more important to me. It’s not easy to hold this line, but it’s easier with practice.

These days I only give 110% when it’s really important AND I see no other creative option. I’d like to say I won’t ever do it again, but for now I’ll settle for doing it less.

Next year, only 1-6 weeks of this craziness (cough, cough)…