Most of us introverts are conscious of how we have to be careful to allocate our days and people-energy to the people and things that we care about most in our lives. We want to spend time with loved ones and other friends. We need to give our very best to our job, and that may include interactions with coworkers. I’ve always been conscious of making sure I don’t have social events too clumped together on the calendar. It goes without saying that if there’s a wedding I absolutely have to go to on Saturday, then I’ll most likely turn down an invitation from a friend for a Friday night movie or Sunday dinner. I hate having to choose something that I don’t want to do over my real friends or family, but sometimes it’s necessary. I also try to avoid needless errands in order to preserve my time and energy so I’ll be at my best with friends, family, and work.
Although I’ve always made the effort to keep a ratio of at least several open evenings for every one social evening, lately I’ve become more aware that I need to manage my energy on a “micro” level too. A few months ago I went to a family reunion full of people I genuinely wanted to see, but after a couple of hours I was so exhausted I desperately wanted to close my eyes or even take a nap. My department has bimonthly meetings for our whole staff, including lots of training, team meetings, and dinners, and I really like my coworkers but in the August meeting I was totally wiped out by early afternoon. Since I really want to be able to participate in family and office events, I had to consciously make a plan for my energy management – not just planning the other days that week, but managing my energy within the day and event itself.
The first event where I tried my new plan was the October staff meeting. Like the August meeting, this one lasted just about the whole day, including a group lunch at our meeting tables. After the work day was finished, we were all supposed to go dinner together. So when I woke up that morning, I knew I had about 12 solid hours of togetherness ahead of me. And of course I had thought about that 12 hours of togetherness quite often over the several days preceding the meeting too. 🙂 Here’s how I managed to make it all the way through the meeting and dinner without getting exhausted.
- At the August meeting, I had tried to be extra vivacious and talkative, because I had decided that introverts don’t get heard enough at meetings. It went great at first, but then suddenly that afternoon I was exhausted and didn’t really recover from my zombie-like state until I got home that night. For the October meeting, I decided to be more conservative with my energy. I did the group activities and answered questions when they were directed at me, but I was a lot more quiet and relaxed – I was myself. This was really the key to making it through the day. I was like a cell phone on standby – not using energy as fast as when I’d been forcing lots of talking and laughing last time.
- Many of the guys bring their laptops to the meetings and either type notes during the day or respond to emails or …something. I almost did that, but then I realized that during meeting breaks I would have to sit in the meeting area to return emails and browse the web. I decided to leave my laptop at my desk, so every time we had a break, I’d retreat to my desk to return emails or do other things on the laptop. After I ate my lunch with the group, I had the rest of the lunch break to use my laptop at my desk while the others used theirs at the meeting tables we’d been at all morning.
After this meeting was over, we had a two hour break before dinner. An extrovert invited me to go for coffee with him and a new employee, and believe it or not I went! I just stayed relaxed, comfortable as an introvert, and enjoyed talking and laughing a bit before we returned to the office.
The next time I needed to plan out my energy for the day was for Thanksgiving Day. My family and I drove 150 miles to my sister’s house to be with her and her family, including my mom. I love everyone who was in that house, but I was a little concerned that I’d be totally exhausted by the time I tasted the sweet potatoes. (I know the last two occasions when I’ve arrived at her house I was already out of energy and thought it had been the car ride that wiped me out).
- Usually when we make a drive as a family, we all talk to each other all the way to my mom or sister’s house. It’s not really continuous and it’s not intense, but this time I brought a James Patterson thriller and read some while the other three people talked for the two and a half hour drive. No one minded or was offended. We’ve all brought something to do in the car from time to time, depending on what we need to get done that weekend. So by the time we arrived at my sister’s, I felt as if I’d been curled up in my favorite chair with a book – happy, refreshed, and eager to see everyone.
- Of course when we got there I jumped right in to help my sister, and since we get along great and I know where she keeps most stuff, I was able to help – and a lot of the time I wasn’t even talking. I was taking things to the table, going out to the extra fridge for sodas for the kids, or whatever else was needed. That gave my “conversation center” another rest, before I even needed it.
- By the end of the day, my nephew suggested we play a family game – a game of strategy with dominoes. Being able to just enjoy playing the familiar game, talking when appropriate but without the focus being on the talk, let my battery last all the way ’til time to go home.
Of course these were positive occasions with very nice people. What if I were preparing for a full day of less friendly fire, such as intense meetings with an unhappy customer, a day in court, or similar? I realize my poor battery would drain a lot faster due to the stress alone, but at least I am learning to relax and realize I am not a loser when I don’t try to make unnatural chitchat. I’m an introvert – smart, thoughtful, and sometimes quiet.
Photo credit: Sea Frost