You are not an octopus

I am not an octopus

I ran into a lovely mum at the kids’ athletics carnival last week. On our walk to get a coffee, she commented how she felt as though she was failing at everything. She felt that she was trying to do so many things and she wasn’t doing any of them very well.

I responded with “you are not an octopus. You don’t have eight arms and legs.”

Want something done?

It’s such a common feeling. That we feel as though we just keep adding more and more to our list of things to do. It’s rare that anything get subtracted.

And of course, there’s the adage: “want something done, give it to a busy person.”

White Space

Because we are trying to do so much, things are packed in back to back. Leaving no time for traffic jams, or appointments that run late, or any of the myriad of things that happen in daily life. Things that can have a cumulative impact on the day running smoothly.

Kelly Exeter has written about this, and believes that we should build “white space” into our days for exactly this reason.


Some of what we do is non negotiable. But much of it is as a result of our own expectations of ourselves.

I have a friend who would put herself under enormous pressure by making birthday cakes for her nearest and dearest. It was true that she loved baking – but the expectation that she put on herself started to detract from that love and make it more of a chore. I was so delighted to turn up for cake for her daughter’s recent birthday to find she had bought it. Progress!

Then there are the expectations we have around the house, around our relationships, around work and career.

These expectations can pile up, one on top of another until it feels as though you’re suffocating.

As Peta Slocombe says: we are just not designed to live in fifth gear all the time.

But what to do?

If any of this feels like it resonates, it might be time to take action. We know that prolonged stress has a negative effect on health – mental and physical. It can also become extremely debilitating long term.

One place to start is to write all the roles that you have on a page. The first ones will be easy and obvious ones, but if you keep going, you’ll probably see that there are many more than you first saw.

Then look at which of those roles is giving you pleasure, and which come with negative expectations or overtones. Of course, some may be both.

Finally, which of these expectations are other people’s and which are yours. And are those expectations reasonable?

Some of this may take some challenging, as it can be hard to see what is real when we’ve been stuck in it for some time.

But, just like my baking friend – there are usually small changes we can start with, whilst we work our ways up to addressing the biggest culprits.

And, as Kelly Exeter suggests, we can take the immediate pressure off by adding in white space to our day.


  • It may seem counter intuitive to spend time on this when feel as though you don’t have time, but it’s always a useful exercise to see where you’re spending your time and energy (actual and emotional).
  • Are you getting good bang for your buck with that investment?
  • What small things could you introduce from today that would make a difference?
  • How can you introduce white space from today?
  • What roles are not serving you well? Which of those can you drop or reduce?
  • Repeat after me.. I am not an octopus. I don’t have eight arms and legs. I am not an octopus!


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See you next week,


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