A few weeks ago I reached out for a Harvard Business Review’s book “On Managing Yourself”. You know, a type of a book you buy after a year in a great business school, when consuming tons of a high quality content on self development becomes a habit. The school is over, you don’t want to lose the habit (and an addicting feeling that life is full of great things, and most lie ahead), and so you get books which you never read, because life does not slow down after school. On the contrary: life, real life with a new job and its ambitions, new projects and their bills, new friends and the old loved ones, just begins. One of the senior executives in the company I work for calls that a constant quest for balancing act, and I kind of sympathize with this life view (hence the tag). Because now, once MBA is over, life’s setup becomes sort of fixed. And somehow self development goes on a shelf, right next to the book.
Nevertheless, I have reached out to this book. Why? I was feeling pretty much dead. I live in the city I was dreaming to live in since I first stepped on its streets ten years ago. In my personal life, I am happy to the extent that I don’t want to write about it not to jinx it. After my studies, I got a job exactly in the type of company I wanted to be – and in 1,5 years managed to get to do there exactly what I wanted to do. And yet, I was feeling pretty much dead.
So I reached out for the book.
I was not looking for anything particular in it. I was down with a flu, like many times before this year, and many times a year before. Working day was long over. Because of the flu (and because I was pretty much dead, remember?) I did not plan any work trips that week. Staying home during the week is not typical for me, and I had no idea what to do with all the time home alone that I suddenly had in my hands. So I fell back on my instincts – before the swirling circle of simultaneous work, study and discovering the world, I used to LOVE reading.
Life has its own wisdom and often stashes answers in unexpected places. I found mine in the article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. Just opened the book on it.
One of the challenges of my life is its speed. I live through great experiences almost every day. I travel to beautiful places, meet amazing people, take tons of breathtaking (or so I prefer to think) pictures, see how technology is changing the world, read articles like this one. What I usually can not do is to stop to think about all that, to process, to keep the best beats with me. Because life doesn’t slow down unless we do, and new places, people and impressions are coming my way. The article in the HBR book touched something in me, and I decided to capture its key points – and share them with you. You know, in case you feel pretty dead one day.
The key idea of the article is that unlike time, which is confined in 24 hours a day (and there is not much we can do about it, besides reconsidering how to spend them, on which numerous books have been written), our energy has four sources: the body, emotions, mind and spirit. In each of these sources, energy can be recharged if we systematically do what’s good for our body, emotions, body and spirit. The authors call it rituals, I would call it basic things we often forget to do.
None of that is breaking science, if you think about it. However, when was the last time you thought about it? For me, the key word here is “systematically”. And the fact that energy depends as much on mind and spirit as it does on body and emotions. If you travel almost every week, as I do, you learn very fast about the importance of physical energy. So you try to sleep more, drink less, eat healthy, exercise and take regular breaks, sure.(Emphasis on “try” here.) Emotional energy is a big topic, and the article recommends regularly appreciating others and adopting a whole set of useful lenses to go through every day life (“reverse”, for another person’s point of view, “long”, for a long term perspective, and “wide”, to learn how to grow from a situation). Useful as it is, even though my own emotional energy mainly comes from love and people that make up my world.
One ritual for stocking up on mental energy is blocking important activities from the vices of emails and phone calls and starting the day from the most challenging tasks (instead of, again, the vice of e-mails). Fun fact here is that a temporary shift of attention from one task to another (like checking Whatsapp when writing an e-mail *fine, there should be a time to finally write it!*) makes this e-mail writing 25% longer. Another ritual (which I personally find more realistic than giving up in Whatsapp) is to end every day with identifying the most important challenge for the next day. (I am no super hero, and instead make a list of 3 key things to do tomorrow.)
But the bomb of the article (for me, so a very subjective bomb) is human spirit as a source of energy. People get energy (A LOT of energy, if you think about it) when what they do every day is consistent with their values, with what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. That’s what the article says. In my world, that means that you get energy from living your dreams. And from chasing your dreams, sometimes even more. I realized – bummm! – that for the last several years the thing I mainly chased was work. MBA charges you up to conquer the world (and, to a large extent, to get ROI on your financial and emotional investment), and off you go. As important as work is, it is only a part of life, but how often do we remember that? And what else is there when we do? Now, looking at my life, I see much more than that. I see all my adventures of discovering new places, I see my beloved Paris, GBs of my unedited attempts of taking great pictures, barely started French grammar books and all my ideas of blog posts and stories, carefully parked at the back of my mind. HBR is an American read, so no big surprise that all the executives in the article have suddenly realized the value of family time. Fine. I don’t need an article to remind me about that: people I love are my backbone in life, this I always knew. (At least that.)
And suddenly I feel very much alive. Of course, a simple article read did not do it on its own. I took a use of May holidays in the countries I work for and went to WFH (work from home, for those of you far from corporations) in South Korea to spend time with my parents. I slept a lot (my working day here starts at 4 p.m., a reason to consider a permanent move) and watched a season of a new great series. I hunted down some great stuff in online shops. (I did some grammar exercise as well, mainly to balance all this goodness.) For three weeks, I did not travel for work and could catch up on vices (e-mails) and tasks. And I started this blog, so that I can take account of how lucky I am to be able to write this last passage.
So much for the balancing act.
P.S. The picture of this post – a guy in turquoise briefs running with his two dogs on the beach of Rio – is one of the pictures from my travels. From my best travel of this year (so far…), to be more precise. Louveteau was the one who took it. Not that it fits here extremely well, but as one of my friends well said, a guy in briefs is always a sign of luck. 😀