This past week, I was in a four-day-long training session on Zoom. Each day, I spent around six or seven hours on a group Zoom call on which my colleagues and I were learning from experts on a topic, mostly listening while staring at our screen.
By the end of the four days, I was exhausted in a deep, overpowering way. I could have predicted it, because Zoom fatigue is real, but moreover because I am an extreme extrovert, and I am most energized when I’m interacting with other people.
Like many people, I once thought that being an “extrovert” had to do with my social and outgoing personality. And, while it does to some extent, I’ve learned that extraversion and introversion are so much more about what charges your batteries, and what drains them. And, to that end, there’s more to that story than just social interaction. I also need a lot of variety in my day to feel energized, so when I’m working on one big project for a long stretch of time, that also can feel draining after a couple of days.
Having some self-awareness around the way I’m wired, I intentionally scheduled some opportunities for social interaction on my calendar around the long training sessions. I had lunch with a friend one day and I used my breaks to have quick conversations with people. And, though the weather ended up getting in the way, I also put some evening social plans on our calendar with the hope of filling my cup after work.
In contrast, my spouse and many close friends are introverts who are most energized by alone time and would prefer to work at a steadier pace. The very things that drain me are the things that fuel them.
Doubtlessly, there were some people in that same Zoom training who ended the week on a high, inspired and energized. All to say, we’re not all wired the same way, and we need different things.
Being confronted with this makes me think about the expectations we place on children in schools and employees in the workplace. An easy recipe for burnout, as I can see it, is one where your energy is being drained by the very thing you’re being asked to do day in and day out. Someone might be very skilled at a profession but exhausted by the social expectation, or lack thereof, in the day-to-day work of that role.
Ideally, each person would have some self-awareness about what their needs are in their day-to-day as well as some control over how to manage those needs. Obviously, sometimes our hands are tied for a time or in certain situations, but the more we can take steps into taking care of what we need to manage our own energy well, the more sustainable everything is.
Some simple steps in the right direction for an introvert might include protecting the days following a large social event with blank space to recover. Or, instead of eating lunch at work with a group each day, taking the hour to quietly eat on your own. A quiet solo walk in the evenings is another opportunity for an introvert to have a little bit of recovery time.
An extrovert, in contrast, may want to schedule lunch or dinner with a friend or a group of friends in order to recover from a long stretch of solo time. An extrovert may want to balance their day with a healthy mix of focused work and interactive meetings in order to keep their energy and ultimately their productivity high. And both types will want to seek jobs that are naturally inclined towards their needs in this area.
Self-awareness around what fuels you and what drains you is the starting point, but then taking intentional action to give yourself opportunities to recharge your batteries will only lead to a life that makes you feel better and happier, allowing you to pour into the world around you.