If we don’t like the work we’re doing, or if we have problems interacting with the people with whom we work, we can feel drained. That drained feeling can negatively impact other areas of our lives. A bad day at the office can lead to depleted patience and a shorter fuse when we interact with our family and friends whom we cherish and hold dear. They deserve better than to be greeted by that displaced frustration—or as one of my favorite bosses would call it, “smoke from a different fire.”
How do we mitigate that feeling of being drained, and, just as important, how do we increase our feeling of being energized? On the surface, it’s simple: do more of what energizes you and less of what drains you.
How can such a simple idea be so revolutionary? It's because we're taught from a very young age that we need to pour significant time and energy into our weaknesses. We're taught that we ought to be proficient and skillful in all areas. That is not realistic. It doesn't leave sufficient time for us to shine in the areas that energize us and where we have a natural ability to excel.
For example, a child brings home a report card with five As and one C. Where do most parents immediately focus their attention? On the C. They say, “Gee, Honey, these grades are great—but what can you do to bring up that C?” Maybe the child is now required to go to a tutor twice a week or spend an extra hour each evening reading or doing worksheets for the C subject. At the expense of other subjects she enjoys, the child might—just might—get that grade up. But is the frustration and extra time and energy worth it?
As adults, a similar thing happens at work with performance reviews—not much different from a child’s report card. Our boss meets with us to discuss our performance, and this is typically how is goes: “You are a great employee, and you’re exceeding our expectations in all areas except for one. Let’s talk about ideas on how you can improve in that one area.”
Perhaps the boss requires that employee to attend a training class, or establishes some metrics to gauge improvement. All of this, of course, means that the employee is now spending more time focusing on the area that is a weakness (drainer). And since there are a finite number of hours in the day, everything else suffers a bit. Instead of walking out of the performance review feeling like an appreciated, valuable member of the team, this stellar employee now feels dejected because the focus of the meeting was on the one area that she doesn’t like, or in which she doesn’t have natural talent—or both. Now, she will be pulled away from areas of strength and enjoyment to focus on drudgery.
If those parents focused on subjects in which their child exceeded and by which their child felt energized... If that boss delegated the one area where the employee under-performs to another employee who excels in it... Not only would everyone be more successful, they’d be happier and more fulfilled.
So the question is this: how do you properly identify your energizers and drainers, otherwise known as your strengths and weaknesses? There are assessments that coaches use to help their clients objectively identify these qualities. Some assessments include reviews by friends, family, and/or coworkers to show you how you're perceived by others. (I use Strengthscope with my clients and love that it is detailed and customized.)
If you're unable to have an assessment done right away, a less thorough but still helpful exercise is to keep a log. Draw two columns on a sheet of paper: an Energized column and a Drained column. When you notice yourself feeling energized, take a second to jot down what you are doing, and do the same when you feel drained. Then look for patterns.
Some of us are uncomfortable admitting that we don't need to be (and can't be) rock stars at everything. Indeed, trying to become an expert at everything will come at the price of never fully realizing our potential in areas for which we have a truly natural talent and interest. If Babe Ruth had been forced to spend more time practicing his pitching, would he have set the record for home runs? If Bill Gates had been told to go outside and play rather than sit at a computer all afternoon, would we have Microsoft? If Julia Child had been told to focus on artwork or sewing, would she have had enough time and energy to learn how to be an amazing chef? Babe Ruth, Bill Gates, and Julia Child focused on their strengths—on what energized them. And we should do the same.
Once you're armed with special insight about your energizers and drainers, you'll find that you make better career choices, better academic choices, and better relationship choices because you know exactly how and where to devote your precious time and energy. A special benefit to managers and owners of companies who align their employees’ duties with their energizers is the astronomical increase in productivity, employee retention, and work quality—and this will happen without needing to hire additional staff or buy new equipment or software!