Has “exhausting myself” with work become the norm? That’s the case for many introverts until we’re ready to face the challenge of prioritizing our self-care and managing our energy. That requires commitment and perhaps some digging beneath the surface.
This week I’m inspired by a wish that a Wise Introvert newsletter subscriber shared. While the specific situation may be different, I know that many of you will relate to her underlying frustration of feeling exhausted at the end of the day.
I wish I could spend a day at a workshop without exhausting myself – giving everything away. I can be thoroughly enjoying the day and then poof I get home and everything is gone.
I could easily relate when I read her comment. Earlier in my career, I facilitated workshops to help people make more authentic career decisions. Each group program included between ten to 20 participants and would last from three weeks to six months in duration.
While I genuinely enjoyed and was challenged by the work, felt in flow during sessions, and received consistently positive feedback from clients, I too would come home exhausted.
Then at night, instead of taking care of myself, I would do research to support individual clients as follow-up and then prep for the next day’s workshops, adapting the content to meet the needs of each group.
In my heart and mind, that’s what professionalism and quality called for ~ to give everything within me that I had to offer. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was giving more than I had in terms of energy.
I think “crossing the line” creeps up on us sometimes because we’re so invested in excellence. We believe that our clients deserve the best and we want to do everything possible to deliver a high quality experience. We’re also grateful that they chose to work with us and want them to feel like they’re in good hands.
When we’re in the moment, in the flow, focused on meeting others’ needs and running on adrenaline, we can easily lose touch with what we need. For many of us, that’s the daily acceptable choice that we make to earn a living and create a positive impact in the world: perhaps at a deeper level, to prove our value.
Eventually we start to realize that it’s no longer acceptable to have limited energy left for the non-work activities that also matter to us. We accept that it cannot be sustainable to continue to “be on” for such extended periods of time, exhausting ourselves without a break.
We can enjoy what we do. We can be great at it. We can provide real value. And it can still feel exhausting. When our work feels so right on so many levels, how can it also somehow feel wrong?
Even when we are doing meaningful work, it is not the best fit for us if it isn’t sustainable due to our energy needs as introverts. In that situation, we must find another way to do what we want to do.
That doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. Depending on your situation, making minor adjustments can be as powerful as deciding on more significant changes. You know best what’s right for you now.
In the short-term, new habits can help ease the way and reduce the energy drain that leads to exhaustion. That includes:
- committing to taking several short and private breaks throughout the day to clear your mind, have a drink of water & a healthy snack, and get some air (not to think about work, socialize or interact with clients) – it also means actually taking a lunch break (not working through lunch)
- scheduling blocks of “no people” time between the days that require high interaction – you will have a sense of how much time in-between you need to recover and replenish
- saying NO to some of the people & activities that use your energy – the stuff that is ideal to do but not required (let perfectionism go)
- delegate where possible (especially the required tasks that drain you)
- streamline routine tasks at home and work to avoid having to think and process information unnecessarily
Even if you don’t notice your energy lagging when you’re focused on your work in the moment, knowing after-the-fact that you tend to over-extend yourself allows you to plan ahead to create a supportive structure for the next time.
In the longer term, if you don’t get proactive about planning sustainable change, your body will force you to. That’s because eventually, you will burn out.
“The long-term cost is that toxins build up inside us. We can only push so hard for so long without breaking down and burning out.”
~ Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal
Here are some questions to consider in terms of more lasting change:
- When I give all my energy away to others (or to the job), what am I really trying to prove?
- What is it that my clients really want at the end of the day?
- What is it that I really want at the end of the day?
- How can I offer the same value in a different way that is more consistent with my energy needs?
- What is it specifically that drains me? What is it specifically that energizes me?
- What am I willing to let go of as I experiment with finding a better fit?
In reality, some days will be exhausting. I think, as introverts, we have to accept that. We’re unlikely to find the perfect balance 100% of the time.
But we get to choose how far we’re willing to let our energy drain go. If you are the type of person who has a hard time not giving all your energy away without investing equally in your renewal, begin to think of yourself as a role model.
Model excellence through proactive and self-nurturing energy management so that others can be inspired in wisdom to do the same. That way, “exhausting myself” can become the exception rather than the norm. Wouldn’t that be freeing?
One step at a time. Be Brave. Be Seen. Be True.