Everything Is Irritating—and You Don’t Know Why? Ask Madeleine

February 4, 2023 Madeleine Homan Blanchard


Dear Madeleine,

I have raised three children while working full time. I am now a senior executive. I love my job and am normally a very even-keeled, cheerful person.

Recently, however, I am feeling out of sorts. What does it mean when everything is irritating and everyone is aggravating? Thought you might have some ideas for me.



Dear Vexed,

These days, of course, my first thought is that you might be coming down with Covid, the flu, RSV, strep throat, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

Once you’ve ruled that out, you have to look at the big life events that, even if positive, can cause massive stress. On the positive list, are you moving your home? Getting married? Planning a wedding for one of your kids? Have you gotten a puppy? (Don’t even get me started on the puppy thing.) All of those events can really knock you off center, even if they are wonderful and fun. And then the not-so-fun biggie: Perhaps you have lost someone you love recently and are still grieving, but are thinking you should be over it by now. I find that grief lasts a lot longer than anyone wants it to . And it can wreak all kinds of havoc.

If you aren’t sure, you can take the assessment on The American Institute of Stress website. There was no mention of global pandemics or significant political unrest, so that page needs to be updated.

If it isn’t big life stuff, it may be that you are tolerating entirely too much.

Tolerations are seemingly inconsequential little things that drain away your energy. Thomas Leonard, a trailblazer in the coaching profession, coined the word to describe all of the small stuff that takes up mental space and distracts us from the task at hand. Tolerations have a way of accumulating, like barnacles on the hull of a ship. A few are not a problem, but layers of them seriously impede the vessel’s speed and seaworthiness. A ship covered in barnacles will require twice the fuel to get to its destination than a ship with none.

It is such a simple construct, the idea of tolerations. These dumb little things, taken by themselves, are not a big deal—but when they add up they can make you feel like you are carrying rocks everywhere you go. Everyone has a critical mass. Some can put up with a lot more than others. The way you know yours has been reached is exactly how you described it: everything is irritating and everyone is aggravating.

Make a list of all the dumb little things you are putting up with around your house, at work, in your relationships. Identify a few you can knock down today or this week. You will be back on an even keel.

Examples might be helpful:

  • You walk five miles a day and your shoes are shot.
  • Your dog keeps scarfing food off the counter whenever you turn your back.
  • The light bulb on your front porch is out and you can’t see well enough to put your key in the lock. And you live someplace really cold.
  • Someone at work keeps scheduling meetings over meetings you have committed to. They can easily see your available time but are somehow not checking.
  • You never wear half of what’s in your closet, and there is no room for new things.
  • You have stuff in your freezer from 2019.
  • Your folder system on your computer is outdated and it takes 6 clicks to get to the stuff you are currently working on.
  • Someone has stolen your phone charger in the kitchen so you can’t plug it in so you can listen to your podcasts while making dinner.
  • You know you are paying for subscriptions you never use but haven’t taken the time to cancel all of them.
  • The person in the household who is supposed to take the trash out has to be asked. Repeatedly.
  • The person who thinks you should be taking the trash out has a different definition of full than you do.
  • You need new windshield wipers, but only remember when it rains.
  • Every time you pick up your mail, you swear to yourself you will move everything to paperless billing, but you keep forgetting.
  • You need a new battery for your TV remote. It still kind of works, but only sporadically. It needs a special battery that you never have on hand.
  • Your favorite plant is doing so well that it needs to be re-potted.
  • You are tired of your book club but worry that quitting will hurt someone’s feelings.
  • You are a serious golfer and hate your putter.
  • Someone in your life does not plan well, and they consistently try to make their perfectly avoidable emergencies your problem.

See? Little things. Dumb. No big deal. But you probably have over 25 right now, which is the upper limit for most people. Get some of them off the list, and you will be back to your cheerful, even-keeled self in no time. I promise.

Tolerations tend to build up over time, and I highly recommend making a list twice a year and creating a plan to address them all. It feels amazing.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.


About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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