You know when you hear the same theme over and over again in a short period of time, it’s probably something worth blogging about.

Let me give you three different vignettes into this issue:

Vignette 1: I set out certain goals for my department at the beginning of the year and, while I haven’t been able to hire the staff to accomplish the goals, I am still holding myself accountable to accomplishing them.

Vignette 2: I’ve had a family emergency that requires a significant amount of my attention but I don’t want my personal issue to impact the work my organization is expecting of me.

Vignette 3: We’ve just had this tremendous opportunity presented to us and I’ve been tasked with leading it for the organization. The problem is, I was already overextended before this.

Why do we have such a hard time asking for help?

As I spoke with each of these individuals about their situation, what consistently came up was some version of fear: Fear that they will be seen as less competent. Fear that they won’t be given opportunities in the future. Fear that a peer will outshine them.

The reality, in each of these cases, is that it’s simply not possible for them to effectively attend to everything they believe they are tasked with given their current constraints. In the rare instance where the individual is able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and deliver on all fronts, there tends to be a significant toll on them, their team, and their family. Realistically, I see a few ways that this situation will play out — either they drop from the sheer exhaustion of trying to keep each plate spinning or plates begin to drop as they are no longer able to keep up the pace — or both. None of these outcomes does anything to allay the fears that sit at the heart of this issue.

Is there a better, healthier way to approach this? YES! It begins with being realistic with yourself. What is it that you will be able to do, and do well, given the current situation? Once you are clear about this, you can begin to have conversations with key stakeholders to discuss options and determine the best course of action. This may include putting some projects on the back burner, asking team members to take on some key pieces of work, handing over a project to a peer, renegotiating the scope of work being expected, and so on. And, while these examples are directed toward the workplace, the same dialogues can be happening on the homefront.

We do little to set the organization, never mind ourselves, up for success when we fail to be realistic about what can be done well. I’m not a big fan of the adage, “underpromise and overdeliver.” Rather, I think it is important that you be honest about the promises you make as those you keep. That positions you as credible, reliable, and thoughtful.