Never confuse motion with action. – Benjamin Franklin
October is Energy Awareness Month. The suggestion is that we should all take the time to contemplate conservation, renewable energy sources, and responsible energy use. We should be aware of our own energy consumption and should find opportunities to get involved in spreading the word about green energy solutions.
For our purposes let’s focus on the energy it takes to live life and do our jobs. We see people around us who range from being full of energy to those who may need to have their pulse checked. There are work-a-holics, and there are those who are probably allergic to work. From frantic to lazy, active to comatose, engaged to out-to-lunch, every one of us needs to learn to conserve, renew, and responsibly use our energy.
Our energy is the most quickly sapped when we fail to deal properly with stress. We overextend ourselves, we work harder than we have to due to inefficiency, and we take longer to recharge. The real trouble is that if we do not learn to be aware of our energy expenditures in the stress department, we may not realize how worked up and worn out we have become and we will eventually burn out if we do not correct our course.
Burnout is preceded by feelings of being out of control, emotional exhaustion, inability to focus, and poor performance. All of these factors drag us down and compound the problem. One leads to another until we feel trapped and can’t seem to find a way out. Vacation doesn’t help, because we know what is waiting for us when we get back. Straining our mental and physical reserves opens us up to being more prone to sickness, which also adds to the stress.
Unmanaged stress quickly spirals out of control. It affects every area of our life. It influences how we respond to the people around us, sets our mood, manipulates our attitude, and takes away our hope for improvement. Often when we try to deal with stress we end up doing things that are destructive, even though we think on the surface that what we are doing helps.
Then we look to one of two extremes. We either relax to the point that we begin to believe that we would feel better if we didn’t care so much and apathy sets in. Or we seek relief in excitement, be it sports, hobbies, or anything that gets the adrenaline flowing. The danger here is that if we do not deal with the root of the stress appropriately then we will need more and more excitement to cope. And that also accelerates burnout.
At times we do need to take a break and step back for a moment so that we can better see what is stressing us. Sometimes there is not much we can do about stress beyond correcting our attitude and deciding to do our best given the situation. But if we know what stresses us, that will help us find ways to deal with it instead of just letting it build up until we can’t handle it any longer.
When looking for the sources of stress, what we miss is that often it is not the work itself that stresses us. The single biggest stressor for most people is people. It is the people we live and work with! Work-a-holics are stressed out by those who work hard at hardly working. The more laid back among us are stressed out by those who need to lighten up and take a break. Managers are stressed by the mistakes of unreliable underlings, and employees would all do a better job if they had better managers. And we all know how to do the job better than the guy next to us. If people would just do it “my way” then everything would be fine.
Here we see the true root of stress. When we focus on ourselves, especially at the expense of others, we set ourselves up to fail. Instead of working as a team, we become a Lone Ranger. While this sounds very American, it actually undermines our attitude and performance. A selfish focus leads us to duplicate effort, complicate procedures, and limits our ability for positive growth. Successful leaders have learned that it is not all up to them. As leaders, they delegate. They surround themselves with a team of people who are good at what they do, and as a cohesive unit, they succeed due in large part to offering proper motivation and encouragement.
For Energy Awareness Month, let’s take the time to examine what it is that saps our energy, stresses us out, and affects our ability to succeed. Then let’s look for positive and constructive ways to correct course and guard against burnout. The truth is, if we burn out, we are not the only person affected. Even if we are a Lone Ranger, someone, somewhere is depending on us to do our job. Let’s not let them down. Let’s not let ourselves down. Let’s conserve, renew, and responsibly use the gifts, talents, and energy we have been given so that together we might all experience success.