The Energy Dilemma

I believe that energy is one of the most valuable things we have to offer the world.

Where, how, and on who we choose to spend it is what makes us all different.

I like to think of energy expenditure like a meal at a wedding. I can invite 200 people and serve them party pies or I can invite 50 people and serve filet mignon.

Similarly, I can try to spend a little bit of energy here and there, share it around with everyone, but chances are there’ll be a cost to quality. Or, I can pick and choose carefully and concentrate on just a few. Whilst the second seems like the more logical choice, it means accepting a couple of tough truths:

1/ I can’t please everybody.

(Incidentally, this week on Facebook I came across this message: ‘You cannot make everybody happy. You’re not a Nutella jar.’ Deep. Apt.)

Perhaps that means saying no to lunch with someone I ‘should’ connect with, or hitting pause on a long term writing relationship, or accepting that having 8 students on my dance card is the maximum I can handle. None of these things are easy for me.

And supposing I do manage to accept this first condition, then I face the next dilemma.

2/ On who, and what DO I spend my energy?

The self-help section answer is: ‘Look after number one!’ or maybe, ‘Choose YOU!’ or better yet, my least favourite aeroplane analogy ‘Fit your own oxygen masks before helping others.’

And yet, annoying and kitsch as it sounds, it’s kind of true.

In recent weeks I’ve been very loose and fancy free with my energy, spending it lavishly and indiscriminately on anything and everyone but me.

I figured I’d just have whatever was left. Like when you bring dessert to a friend’s place and then watch on tenterhooks as the chocolate profiterole, lemon tart and millefeuille are chosen, leaving you with the strawberry mousse-slash-sponge-mushpile. And lately, I feel like it’s been nothing but strawberry-flavoured disappointment for me.

But that ends here.

So first there’s me.

Then my family.

Now as my family live 17 000 km away, they aren’t too big of a demand on my energy. A few texts or emails, a fortnightly Skype and remembering the important birthdays. And yet it is so easy to push them to the bottom of the pile. And then there’s my husband, the most low-maintenance, loveable man on the planet, who demands little but deserves lots of my energy.

Then there are The Things That Make Me A Better Person, and this is where the rest of my energy goes. These things are:

– Running: because it makes me a clearer thinker, a fitter person and creates more energy than it drains.

– My ‘sweat pants and dirty hair’ friends: the ones who don’t call first, who don’t mind if you re-do your pedicure at the dinner table and with whom catching up means picking up the thread of the world’s longest continuing conversation.

– People who need my help: from Lorenzo, the man who lives on my street corner to students with a burning desire to work hard and improve their English, to a friend having a tough time: these people deserve my energy.

BUT, this requires me to make a difference between the people I can and should help, and the so-called ‘lost causes’ I seem to find so irresistible. A Tough Call.

– People who inspire me: like the colleague who turns running into magic, to the friend back home who ‘gets’ the writing thing to one of my ex-students who is the strong, confident and capable woman I hope to become. These ones are an easy choice, I get more than I give in these relationships.

And that’s it.

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