I celebrated a milestone yesterday – my 40th birthday. It has been a full week filled with the positive energy that comes from being surrounded by friends, family and doing what I love. Now that I’m “older and wiser,” I often get asked by my students and millennials: “How do you get so much done?” They assume I work all the time. Truthfully, I do spend a lot of energy on work, but I don’t do this all the time. I have thrown out outdated time management advice in favor of intentionally surrounding myself with people, work and experiences that give me positive energy. For the past few years, I have been incredibly intentional about cultivating what I call “energy management.” I work on it every day, every week and spend time every six months intentionally evaluating what is working and what isn’t. Here are some of the habits that have significantly improved my life and which I plan to take into my next 40 years:
Things vs. Experiences – How many of us buy the latest gadget or thing and hope it will make us happy? Research shows that buying things makes you happy for a short period of time, but you quickly return to normal. On the other hand, an experience gives you happiness before, during and after the experience. Every time you reflect on it, your brain lights up. This is my goal every day – to have experiences new and old that make my brain happy and curious. I also give myself longer experiences – like international travel – that change how I think and how I view the world.
Activity vs. Results – How many of us get to the end of the day and, though we felt we were “busy,” realize we didn’t really accomplish anything? We get caught in what I call the “activity trap,” where you can be really busy judging by your calendar, but you aren’t accomplishing what you need or want to achieve. I spend time each week charting out what I need to accomplish personally and professionally, unearth the why behind it, and visualize how I will feel when it is done. I do this so I can resist the temptation of getting off track from my goals for the week.
Busy vs. Fulfilled – To continue with the idea of “busy-ness,” being busy has become a status symbol in our culture. At one of my old jobs, people actually competed over who was busier. Now, busy is my new four-letter word. I just don’t say it anymore. In fact, its meaning has changed from “busy = I have lots of things going on” to “busy = I have lots of things going on and don’t have time for anything/anybody else.” I always have time for something new, especially if it gets results or makes me happy. And, I purposefully carve out “unbusy” creative time to ensure that I get a chance to think, read, plan and just be. Albert Einstein discovered relativity while riding a bike. My best blogs have come to me while being in nature.
Job vs. Vocation – How many people cannot wait to get home from their job? I am lucky that I love what I do, and I devote time and energy toward it. But, that hasn’t always been the case. The picture above is me at 2 years old in my backyard and, for me, this moment is when I discovered who I was – a changemaker. I was horrified at the playful “fighting” between my cat and dog – by the way, no animals were harmed in the taking of this picture. Since that moment, I have fought for the underdog or, in this case, the undercat. I have worked as a social intrapreneur, lobbyist, professor, consultant and now am a practicing social entrepreneur. When you find the nexus among what you love, what you’re great at, what the world needs and what will pay you, you have found your vocation. When you find it, it gives you instant positive energy. I have worked with many people in a fun role I call “meaning counselor” to help them find this energy. Now that I have found it for myself, I want everyone to find it.
My grandmother always loved to tell people that the Smiths were part Cherokee, so I have always loved Native American traditions. One of my favorite proverbs is called “Two Wolves.” In it, a grandfather is talking with his grandson, and he says there are two wolves inside of us that are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf, which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second, then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.” In the same way, I choose to feed my “good wolf” — with people, work and experiences that generate positive energy. The best part is it makes me feel young, vibrant and hopeful. What is better than that at 40? I would love to hear from you about what you have done to create positive energy in your life.