I’m trying to write a blog post a day during the month of October. Today’s topic? Energy. Specifically, what gives us energy, what exhausts us, and what to do about it.
I spent the day at a work event that required me to solve problems, perform tasks, be friendly, keep the people working for me happy, and make sure that we met all of our objectives. I was also required to do this without a real break. By noon I was drained; by about 4:30 I was ready to crawl under the table. I need time to myself to do my best work – it’s how I’ve always been. I need the space to puzzle things over in my head and not be around people while that’s happening. I don’t thrive in fast-paced situations; I get through them and I get the work done well, but I hate pretty much every moment of it.
At the end of today’s exercise, one of my employees stopped to talk with me before heading home. She’d had just as long of a day, and did some really great work. She pointed out that this type of situation really shows the differences in people. She said she hadn’t felt that energized at the end of a work day in a really long time, and commented that days when she’s mostly working at her desk she leaves feeling drained. Meanwhile, I was at the end of my rope but knew that after about 20 minutes of being completely alone I would start to feel like myself again. I wondered what it must be like to get that kind of energy from these situations.
I am an introvert. I need time and space. I get a lot of energy from being alone, or being with just one other person, and in those moments I feel like I can do awesome things. When I don’t get the time to process things, or the space away from a whole lot of external stimulation … I do slightly less awesome things, and my stress levels are ridiculously high. In those moments I have to turn myself into someone I’m not to fit into what’s expected, which further drains whatever energy I had stored up. It sucks.
The issues introverts face are getting more play recently. I read a book about it earlier this year, and saw that this article talks more specifically about workplace introverts. Another one also offers a few comments about introverts in general (and the myths about us). So much of society assumes that the work is done by the extroverts, because they can thrive very publicly, while the third of us who get energy from within are seen as too slow to keep up with the pace of the modern workplace. I think that’s bull, but I also see it reinforced in everything from the way offices are set up (cubicles are the least productive spaces for me – I need a door to close and a way to keep the noise out) to the desire to hold networking events at cocktail hour with dozens of people at the end of an already long work day.
In some ways I’m lucky. I can usually find a way to fit myself into a space where I’m not entirely comfortable. I’m outgoing, and I’ve learned to provide employers what they want even if its not how I would go about doing it. You want me to respond to a question without having time to think about it? I’ll get you an answer. It won’t be as good as the one I’d have if I had five minutes to think about it, but it will be sufficient. I also have the benefit of (often) controlling my environment. I send meeting agendas and materials out a week in advance so fellow introverts won’t be surprised by the subjects. I do as much preparation as I can so that if I am faced with surprises I am ready to address them. However, if you know me and know the field I work in, you know that at literally any moment of any day I could be called into work and be faced with the exact environment that leads to stress headaches and the consumption of half of a box of chewy chips ahoy at the end of the day. It’s like I’m always just a little bit on edge, and that can’t be healthy.
Tomorrow we’ll continue this exercise, but it will end early, and I’ll have an hour or two at the end of the day to regroup, reflect, and do some good work. We’ll talk about what a stressful situation it was, but many people will talk about how great it was to work in teams to solve these problems. And I’ll nod along, because the people I work with really are great – it’s just the environment that gets to me. And in the back of my mind I’ll be wondering when the next situation will arise that will drain me as much as the one we faced today.