When I was growing up, I remember my mother going through very busy seasons. She worked a full-time job, had various volunteer commitments at church, went to exercise classes twice per week, and was part of a singing group that traveled around our area giving concerts at churches (with mid-week rehearsals). I remember her being very happy during this time. I don’t know how old I was when she stopped doing all the different activities, or if they all stopped at once, but I do remember that we went from having plans every weekend to just staying in all the time. Mom describes these as “high energy” and “low energy” times in her life, and she’s had these swings a couple of different times that I remember. I started to unconsciously equate high energy/activity with “happy” and low energy/activity with “sad.”
Since I’m the type of daughter who benchmarks her own life based on what she’s observed in her mother, I adopted this same idea. Busy = happy and fulfilled. Not busy = unhappy and lacking. And even though I know better now, I still fight the tendency to think an empty calendar means I have an empty life.
Every fall it seems I have to reevaluate my busy-ness and make impossible choices. Because I really want to be able to do everything, keep doing those things, and add in new things. But there just aren’t enough hours in the week for me to do that and recharge. A full calendar leaves me with depleted energy.
Over the last 3 or 4 years I’ve been embracing what it means to be an introvert. The internet has so many articles on this and I won’t try to repeat what the experts have already written. I will emphasize that being an introvert or an extrovert has everything to do with how you make and spend energy, and nothing to do with your preferences for being around people or wanting to take naps. I make energy when I’m on my own and/or being creative. I spend it when I’m in large groups (especially in a noisy or crowded space) or forced into idle conversations that have little meaning. I make my own energy and I spend it in the presence of other people – and some people and situations are more expensive than others.
My preference is to spend quality time in small groups and get to know people on a deep level. It’s why I teach Bible study and try to say yes to one-on-one lunches or dinners. I really cherish the process of building trust and relationships.
The truth is, for me a too-full calendar means that no one is getting me at my best. And I’m not taking time to invest in anyone because I’m fitting appointments into whatever empty space I can find. I can’t always avoid this, but I’m learning to take some steps to leave some white space in my calendar and reserve some emotional energy for the relationships that matter:
- Set up priorities. I talked about this a little bit earlier this year – I set a theme for the year and try to revisit it frequently. It helps me choose my priorities. 2018’s theme is Simplify because I need it.
- Say no to things that are no longer priorities. There are some things in my life that used to be super important to me, but they just aren’t anymore. Am I keeping them on the calendar because I’m accustomed to having something filling that spot? Is that a good enough reason to keep them there?
- Say yes to new things or people that matter to you – slowly. When someone says they want to get together with me, or invites me to be part of a project, I don’t say things like “let me check my schedule and get back to you” because we all know that phrases like that really just mean “no.” So I try to tell them I’m interested and ask what time they were thinking (or if it’s an ongoing volunteer opportunity or project I ask about the overall time commitment per week/month/whatever). If I can’t give an answer right away, I let them know. But I’ve at least said yes. And if there is more than one new person trying to schedule with me, I set them up on different weeks so that I have a little space.
- Plan ahead. I have to sit down with my schedule and see which days are busiest. If I see that I’m booked for 3 or 4 nights in a row after work, I know that my drive time will be really important for me. I will plan to bring some music in the car so I can sing out loud without commercials interrupting me. I will find a quiet space at lunch and bring a book, or go for a walk. I know the things that help me recharge or charge up. And somehow, knowing in advance and planning for large energy expenditures helps me to manage a little bit better.
I can’t control how busy my calendar is, but I can be intentional about how I approach it. I can leave out some things (not all) that steal my energy. And I can delight in the opportunities to get to know new people that God has brought into my life.
Any other introverts out there? Have you had the same struggle with managing the busy AND the emotional energy? What would you add to my list of tips?