Fuelling our Fire

Achieving more is less about having more time, and more about having more energy. You can’t add hours to the day, but you can add more energy to your tank, says Emma Johnson…

When I was in therapy for post-natal depression after my second child was born, my therapist one day got me to write a list of things that depleted me
on one side of a piece of A4. It was a long list. And looking at it horrified me. My life was impossible.

Then she had me draw a line down the middle of the page, and on the opposite side, she asked me to write down a list of the things that filled me up. ‘Think of yourself as a petrol tank. The lefthand list is all the journeys you take and what empties your tank. The right-hand column are the things that help to replace the petrol, to refill your tank.’

The problem, she explained, is that for most of us – especially women – the left- and right-hand columns don’t balance out. The left-hand one is almost always longer than the right-hand one. It’s a hopeless false economy. We expect to travel 200 miles in a day, but we only put 150 miles of petrol in our tank. And we never stop to refuel. And so, we breakdown, grinding to a halt, on our knees in a hopeless collapse, our engines damaged, burnt out.

More work, less time
In a study by the American Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American worked 1811 hours a year in 2015; by 2019
it was over 2000 hours a year. That’s the equivalent of around two and a half extra weeks of work a year. Where these extra weeks are being found is anyone’s guess – but it’s likely that they come at the cost of evenings, weekends and holidays.

And, despite corporate wellbeing spending reaching $50 bn annually, burnout is only on the rise. In a study from March 2021, 52 per cent of people were burnout, up from 43 per cent the year before. While the word ‘ burnout’ is thrown around with an alarming nonchalance, the reality of it is worrying.

Typified by physical and mental exhaustion, a loss of identity, the sense that we are not accomplishing anything, irritability, trouble sleeping, headaches and a lack of energy, burnout is at best problematic, at worst debilitating.

While burnout affects both men and women, the reality for women is even more concerning. In 2021, the Women in the Workplace study surveyed 423 companies in America, speaking to 65,000 people. It showed that not only did 42 per cent of women report being burned out, but that the figure was higher than the year before (32 per cent in 2020) and significantly higher than men’s burnout (26 per cent in 2021). And the burnout gender gap has more than doubled since 2019.

In trying to have it all, to be exposed to the same career opportunities, to run homes and businesses, we have ended up killing ourselves all on our own.
‘Women’s empowerment has been hijacked by the patriarchal over-culture and become about giving a woman the “opportunity” to burn herself out by working harder and doing more while playing by the patriarchal rules. They used to burn us at the stake – now they just hand us the torches,’ cites Valerie Rein in her ground-breaking book Patriarchy Stress Disorder:
The Invisible Inner Barrier to Women’s Happiness and Fulfillment.

It’s not that we’re doing too much, it’s that we’re not doing it on our terms, and we aren’t giving ourselves enough energy to do it. We can achieve all the things in a day that we want to, but only if we recognise that we need to fuel the tank with enough energy to do it.

Wellsprings of Energy
Managing a busy life isn’t about lists and power hours and getting up at 3am and doing ten Zooms by 9am. It’s about learning to balance the road miles with plenty of stops at a petrol station. The more you fill up your energy tank, the more you can get done.

‘Time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story,’ says Tony Schwartz, the CEO of The Energy Project and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.

The Energy Project has worked with thousands of leaders and managers to change the way their organisations view energy and productivity, educating people about what they call the four main ‘wellsprings in human beings’ – the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. ‘In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals – behaviours that are intentionally practised and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible.’
We need to understand how to meet the needs of our all energies, and fuel ourselves to create and participate in life and work the way we want to. »

Find out how to work with your body’s energy, your mental energy, your emotional energy and your spiritual energy in our other features. 

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