Wasted Energy


My wife and I refurbished a historical 1894 Victorian home 15 years ago. It was a dream home … although it was not when we bought it. In fact, it was barely livable. Our families were divided between “you are both so brave and cool for doing this” and “you are both nuts and are headed for disaster.”

The house had great bones, was mechanically sound and just needed what we called “deep cosmetic work.” Turns out they were all right … we were both cool and crazy to do it. It was a project we thought we were prepared for – but if you want a lesson in wasted energy, buy an old home that needs a lot of repairs!

Evidently one of the previous owners was an energy miser. He used silicone caulk on operating parts of every window – meaning he basically glued all windows shut so there was no chance of drafts. He stuffed insulation where insulation didn’t belong, and he sealed every crack and crevice with expandable polyurethane foam.

Every moment we spent ungluing windows, I reflected on where I was wasting my emotional and mental energies in my work and leadership. At the time, I was the HR director of a medium-sized manufacturing company. My work was demanding, and my energy was needed for that work, a young family and a huge house project … I really couldn’t afford to waste any of it.

Here’s a shortlist of what I came up with while reflecting in and on those glued-up windows. I’d love to hear if any of this resonates with you:

Ruminating over emails:

I would ruminate over every email I sent that went unanswered for more than 24 hours. My rumination would usually start with, “Did I write that clearly and well?” My self-talk would then devolve to, “Was I too blunt or rude, or did I upset that person somehow!?” ultimately ending up with, “Well, I guess they are just blowing me off again, which makes them the problem, not me!” Almost never was that string of thinking accurate, called for, or helpful.

Over preparation:

More pre-work equals better outcomes … which, it turns out, is another assumption that isn’t all that helpful. There’s a sweet spot between “the right amount of pre-work” and allowing yourself to show up with confidence and presence for that moment. I’m quite proud of my current practice in this regard, but there was a day when I was remaining over-active in “preparing” to protect myself from worrying about the job or task ahead.

Owning other people’s emotions:

This one is still an odd addiction for me. It’s like an old friend who’s bad for you; you allow a visit here and there and regret it every time. For me, it’s become a practice in detached involvement where we are involved with other people, but we detach ourselves from their outcomes. It’s a healthy boundary for many leaders to practice so that the people they are leading can exercise their empowerment, accountability and natural gifts and talents.

I’ve done a lot of repair work on myself because of that old house, and while we no longer reside there, the “deep cosmetic work” of those days will stay with me, helping me use my energy more efficiently and positively. If you feel like you could use a makeover in that area, email me at bill@emergent.com.

I’ve got the tools you’ll need.


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