The holidays are over. Covid continues to loom. Life is still wonky. And I’m in hibernation mode. I rebel against societal pressure to create resolutions based on the turning of a page on a calendar, but I do want to reflect on how I want to spend my time this year.
I call this process “follow the energy breadcrumbs.” It started years ago and has served me well in my transition to my 3rd Act. Its purpose is to identify things that give me energy and then find ways to create more of them. I know that sounds simple but there were a lot of assumptions I needed to clear before I could gain insight.
Energy Peaks & Valleys
There was a period of time when I would come home from work and just lay on the floor. Between the commute, the long hours, the 24/7 demands and trying to keep our household running, I was spent. Now because I’m human and needed to make up stories to explain my lethargy, I did just that. Lots of them! One story involved the walls of the office building containing an energy zapping spore that was sucking the life out of me. But the most common, and slightly more rational, story was this: If I just do a really good job, I’ll be happy. If I deliver the deliverable, I’ll be fine.
If that had been true, I should have been energized and happy because overall I delivered and did a pretty good job. Seriously, I assumed it was just the work that was a drain. I assumed my bumps in energy should be related to writing an email announcement, executive blog or earnings script. Or, honest to God, I thought putting together a PowerPoint deck that didn’t suck was supposed to give me sustained energy.
But some days weren’t like that. Some days, I was bubbling with energy and felt great. Some days, the work did energize me. I couldn’t figure out the pattern and the randomness of my energy peaks and valleys drove me crazy.
So, I started an energy log. Every day, I’d answer the following questions. I avoided the temptation to make assumptions and simply recorded events for two weeks, trusting the process would produce something of interest.
- Did I have a “bump” in energy today? If so, I’d describe everything about it.
- Where was I? (Including place, sounds, smells, etc.)
- What was I doing?
- Who was I with?
- Where did I feel it in my body?
- How long did it last?
- Conversely, if I felt drained, I’d describe the circumstances with the same specificity.
I was surprised to see patterns emerge that had less to do with work output and more about environment, people, experiences and values. Some examples:
Environment: Given my theater background, I wasn’t too surprised to find I had energy around live events like sales conferences, leadership summits, and keynote presentations. I was surprised to find I had huge bumps in energy when a whiteboard was involved. No joke. Whiteboards are fertile ground for bringing people together in creative ways and I love that environment. The first thing I did when I remodeled my home office was hang a huge whiteboard that now captures all sorts of ideas. I also gained energy from the ocean, the warmth of the sun, the smell of lavender and jasmine along with a good, meditative yoga class.
People: I had bumps in energy when I was with certain people. Even if the work was painstakingly dull, when I was with one or more of those folks, I felt energized. My energy posse included theatre gypsies (folks trained in theater but gravitated to the steady paycheck of the corporate environment) and millennials, whose enthusiasm, curiosity and social engagement taught me new perspectives. There was also a list of “Chi Suckers,” those energy vampires who needed to be avoided or taken in small doses.
I got energy from hugging, laughing, dancing, hearing other people’s stories – in fact, so much energy came from people that my vision of being a solitary writer in my 3rd Act wasn’t going to work. Identifying that energy pattern eventually led me to coaching and a whole new career.
Experiences that Honor Values: I discovered energy around values that I hold dear; travel, compassionate world views, curiosity, and humor were just a few. When I left the corporate world, I went in search of experiences and people that honored those values. Beginning my 3rd Act travel blog, volunteering at the Commonwealth Club, entering a coaching and leadership program, joining a writer’s club, all gave me energy because I knew they honored one or more of my core values.
Follow the Energy Breadcrumbs
I viewed these insights as breadcrumbs. I began piecing together more and more experiences, environments and people that could fill my energy bucket. It continues to be a strategy that works well when I’m feeling drained, stuck or uninspired. It’s a continual process of evaluation and exploration.
So instead of new year resolutions, I’ll sit and ask myself, where did I get energy last year and where will my energy breadcrumbs lead me this year?