In this series, I tell you about recent conversations with friends and acquaintances whose tales of the wave might ring true for you, too.
My friend (let's call her Jane Craig) and I were talking on the phone, coordinating carpool for an event we planned to attend together.
"I know I really should go to this," Jane said. "I don't want to let [PARTYTHROWER] down. But I am so, so worried and anxious. I just don't know what to do with myself."
We talked about what had been going on in her life. As an accomplished producer in her 40s, Jane kept herself busy at work. She liked to take on one project while the other was still going. The Jane Craig motto of life: "I like the chaos."
I asked Jane what she would do the with extra free time if she missed the event. "How would you feel right now if you said no right now?" I asked.
"Amazing. I'd have to push myself to get this other work done. But if I did it, I'd feel incredible." She paused. "On the other hand, I tend to have a lot of energy in the morning. Perhaps I should just use that energy to get the work done and go to the event as well."
Something her tired voice struck me with a lightening bolt realization. This wasn't just about this Jane Craig and this one event. This was about me, burnout, and all of the Jane Craigs in the world. This was behavior I had seen us all indulging in for way too long.
"I hate to break it to you Jane, but you are in serious debt right now. And on top of that you're a spendthrift. You're in ENERGY debt. Every time you get the slightest bit of energy in your hands, you run to spend it. It's time to pay back some of your debts. You don't really have a choice about this. We're talking about debt here."
Jane decided to send her regrets to the event. I told her that the only way she could truly justify missing this event is if she started to take responsibility for her own energy maintenance. She couldn't keep taking on projects as if she didn't have anxiety. The energy debt was real, and demanded accountability.
Since then, Jane has been a bit more mindful of her energy debts. I got this text from her earlier today. She was probably sitting there debating about whether to throw someone a party or bake them a cake. Perhaps she was feeling anticipatory guilt.
I'm glad this metaphor came into her mind and helped sway her in a more thrifty direction. She needs an era of severe energy thrift. Not forever.
Just for now.