The signs of UNsuccess
I was at the Simmons Leadership Conference for Women in Boston about two months ago.
Arianna Huffington was on stage, and she asked a powerful question:
"Can we all agree that if you wake up in a pool of your own blood, that is NOT a sign of success?"
Though I was not sitting in a pool of blood, I was suffering. I had an increasingly painful migraine and felt like a hot poker was stabbing me in the eye.
I realized, while Arianna was speaking, my sign of UNsuccess was happening in that moment. It was the latest in a series of migraines, which were occurring more and more regularly.
What is UNsuccess? Success that comes at the cost of our mental, physical and emotional health.
After driving for two hours in the bright sun, unsure how I got home, the pain continued. More migraines. Lingering headaches. Every day for weeks.
There were endless doctors visits, CAT scans, blood work. You name it and it was poked, prodded, evaluated and dismissed as we tried to figure out what was wrong.
The Human Battery
While all this was going on, I had to be very mindful of where I was spending my time. I had responsibilities to my family, as well as work. Anything discretionary went out the window.
One day, while I was in the office, someone on my team observed that I looked better. She said "Oh, it's back today." What? "Usually I feed off your energy. Last week you didn't have any and I can tell it's back today."
On a good day, I might get a chuckle out of visualizing my team as a horde of energy-sucking vampires. With everything going on, it started me thinking seriously about energy. What comes in and what goes out.
I realized that my team -- and a lot of others in my life- - get a "boost" of energy when they interact with me. If they have a challenge, I help them break it down. If they don't know how to move forward, I help them find a path.
While I get back positive energy from the love, accomplishment, or self-improvement involved in these interactions, family, work and volunteer obligations may take more energy than they give.
The Energy Drain
As an introvert, I can fully recharge my energy by spending time alone. Reading, sleeping, exercising...things that I either don't take enough time for, or are sacrificed when work, family and others come calling.
At least until the headaches started.
When I had no energy to give, I had to focus on building my energy up for myself. To get out of bed. To get to work. To help my son with his homework.
I started creating boundaries and boxing commitments. I have no problems saying "no," but when I say "yes," I'm all in. I had to frame my "yes" responses and stop myself from going too far.
"Yes, I'll help you build a new website" used to mean I'd build you a fully-functional site in a few hours. Now it may mean a conversation and connection with someone that can be hired to do the work.
Managing Our Life Battery
I have been headache-free for a few weeks now. In that time, I have met and talked to many other women who suffer from some physical ailment or other.
What do we all have in common? A tendency to sacrifice time for ourselves in an effort to be there for others. To cancel doctor's appointments, eat poorly and skip exercise in the mad rush for work and family commitments.
We are superwomen. We can be all things to all people. But what's our kryptonite? What can stop us? Injury or illness.
The Voice of Our Subconscious
When we do not take proper care of ourselves, our subconscious will use pain as a way to get our attention. Just as when we do good things, it will reward us with increased energy and vigor.
Our bodies are the housing for our battery, or energy level. While we can pay attention to how much energy we are expending, and do more for ourselves that recharges the battery, we also have to take care of our bodies.
Doctors appointments, the dentist, the mad ache that won't go away but we hope isn't serious...they are more important than the school project or the work deadline. If we run at 200% for too long, and don't allow downtime to take care of ourselves, we will quickly go to 0%. And then there will be no projects and no deadlines.
We could be down for hours. Days. Months. Maybe permanently.
Successful Life Energy
Unlike the rechargeable batteries we buy, we can't get a new body. We have one life and have to be mindful about how we use it. Or abuse it.
UNsuccess is pretty clear. It's waking up in a pool of your own blood. It's a month of headaches that incapacitate you. It's your subconscious fighting for you to give yourself the same attention you give your work and family.
So let's commit to understanding what gives us energy and takes it away, wanting to be on the plus side of that equation. To taking care of the housing - our bodies - that need to be with us on our journeys. To occasionally putting ourselves first, so we can be who we need to be for others.
Have you had experience with energy drain? What advice do you have to stay on the plus side of the energy equation? I'd love if you could share your feedback in the comments to keep the conversation going.