Let’s talk about energy for a moment. Your energy to be specific; this isn’t a conversation many of us have, but it is an important one. As an example, we all have that one friend who seems to do it all (leads a big work project, volunteers during the week, is on the parent council for their kids’ school, serves on a board, etc.)…and does it effortlessly with an endless supply of energy. That one friend who also shows up with baking or soup when your household is sick…all homemade. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of energy reliably present in your life? I know I want it. So how do we get it? What gets in our way of having this reliable abundance of energy? I mistaken believed when I stepped out of working for a corporation and started my own business that my energy levels would be higher; working for myself has many advantages, but I learned something important. Energy leakage in your day that exists in one format will find ways to repeat itself in others. Put another way, it was I, not my working life that siphoned off energy and left me depleted. A rude awakening to be sure, and I’ll be honest, I was not fully prepared to own that one, it took me a long time to come around, but when I did I learned a few things about energy that I want to share with you.
One source of energy drain is not being able to let go of our expectations of others (our need to “steer” them). In working for myself I no longer had to navigate someone else’s expectations of me, but that wasn’t taking away as much energy as I assumed it did. It was my expectations of others (spoken and unspoken) that sucked the life out of me. According to David Richo, author of How To Be An Adult In Relationships, “Every unit of energy we invest in changing others is subtracted doubly from our own lively energy” (page 144). He goes on to explain that it may not be because we are control freaks, but more likely because we are trying to prevent ourselves from having to feel emotions we’d just rather not. Avoiding certain feelings, like vulnerability, shame, anger, disappointment, etc. rather than dealing with those feelings does take an extraordinary amount of energy, it’s like you are running a perpetual “firewall” in your brain that uses more than half your waking energy to keep in place, protecting you from feeling unwanted emotions. Once I understood I was freaking out about being an entrepreneur (whether I was letting myself “feel” it our not), I looked at my working life with more objectivity and realism and was better able to plan for the things that scared me the most. Voila, more energy. What are you trying not to feel?
The other energy bandit we have in our working lives is not using our voice when we need to; we should always be ready to ask for what we need 100% of the time, which includes saying “yes” to yourself more often then you say “no”. This sounds easy to do, but in practice it’s a slippery one because it requires you to confront your internal critic. It also requires leveraging what you learn about “letting go” and applying it to your expectations of self. Saying yes to yourself means when your mind says “OMG I am so tired today” instead of sucking it up and playing through, you give yourself permission to take a break, a nap or go to bed early. It means dealing with your internal critic in a new way, like when your brain says, “Why did you do that? That was really stupid!” (internal critics not being known for their subtlety) you re-phrase it for yourself saying “That may not have been my best move, but this is what I learned __________.” If you can do that for yourself more often you will be better able to do it with others, like letting your boss know you can’t work late on Wednesday because you have a prior commitment, and then exploring other ways to meet the deadline. This is a nerve racking, but empowering, conversation and you can physically feel the energy flooding your system when you politely stand for what you need while collaborating with someone who has their own needs. Ask for what you need of both yourself and others and watch your energy levels soar.
Another source of energy is expressing yourself through your unique talents and abilities, being creative and able to immerse yourself in doing something you love. Hopefully you are able to express this through your work, being able to enjoy the fruits of your own labour in a heartfelt way. This can be done at home too through activities you love, which may include volunteering, being on a board or a beloved hobby. Nothing is off-limits here if it allows you to use your abilities constructively and gives you more energy than it takes. That is the key, receiving energy. Sometimes something that would give us a great deal of energy is lost because we look at it through the eyes of someone else who doesn’t value it the same way…and then we stop valuing it too. A good example (in my case) is this blog, countless well-meaning colleagues have expressed surprise at the time and energy I put into it and the lack of financial return-on-investment (blogs in this day and age are expected to pay for themselves if you are doing it “right”). For me, my blog is not a place to seek advertising revenue or be a commercial transaction, it’s a place to share what I learn with others and that gives me energy as long as I have the freedom to be myself with it. Could it do both? Probably, but it would diminish my motivation to write it, becoming yet one more “deadline” in my week (and adding to energy drain, rather than contributing to my energy). This can also be explained when people who have a hobby they love decide to do it for a living…and then sadly find out it takes all the joy out of it. Receive the joy in what you do, but also know what about it gives you this energy and nurture it.
There are other energy thieves out there, but these are the “big 3” most of us encounter in our working life. Getting back to the wisdom of Mr. Richo and his informative book, “Drop every ‘yes, but’ that comes to mind as you read this list.”. Doesn’t that feel empowering?
This blog was inspired by David Richo’s book How To Be An Adult In Relationships, specifically the section on “Protecting Energy” on page 144. It’s a great book, highly beneficial to anyone who reads it.