Time & Energy
Two precious resources that once expended, can never be reclaimed. I contend that time and energy are the two most valuable resources that mankind has ever known. Some may argue that mankind’s need for food, water and shelter exceed the value of time and energy to which I would reply, “without consideration of time and energy we cannot prioritize the value of food, water or shelter.”
In life, the clock does not stop. From the moment we are born, tiny grains of sand begin their descent to the lower end of the vase and while seldomly considered, each of us are definitively aware that at some point in the future, the final grain of sand will drop from the glass. The idea may sound morbid but recognizing the finality of our future is necessary to prioritize the time we have in the present.
Similarly, our energy is finite. Unlike time, however, we have the ability to control the depletion of our energy stores. Although the rate at which we expend energy is within our purview, an undeniable reality still remains: our reservoir’s capacity is not infinite. Each of us must take time to recharge and with that, perform a cost calculation. Since each unit of time required to replenish one’s energy stores is a unit of time that cannot be reclaimed or allocated to another area of our life, we must assign value to both. Essentially, we must ask ourselves:
“Are my actions worth my time and energy?”
What I believe to be true is this:
- Our contentedness, in both our personal and professional lives, is directly correlated to the expenditure of our time and energy.
- Knowing the manner best to expend our time and energy can only be recognized through introspective analysis.
- The process of discovery is personal by nature and therefore, a one-size-fits-all solution cannot be prescribed. One must do the work to achieve results.
- The outcomes of our work provide a framework with which to operate and yield a defense mechanism against the complexities of society.
The third point is particularly important to remember. There is no blueprint to life yet far too often we want the answers of the test to be handed to us. What is the recipe for success? Of course, there is a lot of knowledge to be gleaned from those with more experience than ourselves but my concern is that we, including myself, have a tendency to accept the answers from others as the solution to our problem. There is an important distinction between developing an individualized process and accepting someone else’s opinion as fact. We are fortunate to live in a society where we have agency over our beliefs and our actions. Failure to recognize that freedom is detrimental to our well-being.
The ideas presented herein are not revolutionary nor are the proprietary. They are an amalgamation of every success, mistake, observation and application of knowledge that I have gleaned from my experiences – both personally and professionally. The ideas formulate the journey I had to make out of necessity. It is not a prescription; the process intentionally requires individual introspection to ensure that the conclusions you may (or may not) derive from this paper are individually recognized.
What gives you energy?
It’s a challenging question whose wording gave me pause the first time it was posed to me.
In the past I’ve been asked questions like “what makes you happy?” or “what gives you satisfaction?”. While my answer to those questions are worthwhile and not without merit, in my opinion, happiness is a fleeting emotion and satisfaction, while longer in duration is also an emotional state. I found the term “energy” intriguing because in context, the action is “in addition to” versus a temporary change in emotion.
So, what gives me energy?
I spent days, in fact weeks, with this question. The challenge was in the process of separating emotion from energy. I can feel positive emotion from a bounty of activities but that does not necessarily mean that they give me energy. I also found that to fully answer the question, I had to provide answers as they pertained to segments of my life. Examples include: my daily routine, workout regimen, career, personal health, my home, consumer habits, personal finances, interpersonal relationships, intrapersonal habits and the list continued.
The process, although challenging, was enlightening because it forced me to consider my life in a capacity that I had never questioned. I found dissention, contradiction and confusion in my line of thinking. I discovered that too often what I wanted was not what gave me energy and worse yet, what I thought I wanted required more energy than the value I placed on the outcome. The realization of my thought-process forced me to reconsider each of my answers until I could distill my responses into carefully considered packets of relevant information. The biggest a-ha moment; however, was this:
Understanding what gives me energy simultaneously required me to define my values and principles.
Values & Principles.
If I asked you to recite your values and principles you would likely begin compiling a list of adjectives and corporate buzzwords that are admirable personality traits for any individual but in actuality, give very little indication of your personal tenets.
In my previous role at SLATE Real Estate Advisors I was tasked with recruiting new personnel to the brokerage firm. There were many steps that needed to be taken prior to initiating the recruitment process but of paramount importance was the need to understand the values and principles of the incumbent members of the team. Whether the current culture of the team was written or even consciously contemplated, there was most certainly a culture in place and it was my responsibility to understand it. In a letter to each member of the team I asked them to provide their top three non-negotiable values.
Let’s take a quick moment to define terms: your values versus what you value.
Before we continue, there is an important distinction that must be made. The purpose of this exercise is not to identify what you value. We are not looking to create a list of the things we value in our life: free-time, family, money, good health, new clothes, crisp Rocky Mountain air or fresh tomatoes from the garden. Instead, we endeavor to identify our values. What principles do you stand on? What values are you unwilling to waiver on?
The objective is to challenge your belief system. What do you really believe in? What, if violated, will you not tolerate? There are many values and principles that we consider to be commendable but should someone infringe upon them we would not walk away on principle. I hope that for each of us, there are a few that are non-negotiable. That’s what I wanted to know from the group. That’s what I wanted to know of myself.
In follow-up correspondence I summarized my beliefs on values and principles that are worth sharing in bullet format as they may be helpful in completing the exercise for yourself. In no particular order:
- Your values are terms you use to describe what you believe are important personality traits in yourself, a peer, a colleague and members of your community.
- Your life (or business) may change as frequently as the seasons but your values do not and will not change, ever. They are your values, they are how you approach your life, both personally and professionally.
- If you don't know what you stand for, then are you sure you're living up to the expectations that you've set for yourself and those around you?
- Your values should guide you in everything you do. If your actions do not fit squarely into the construct of the values you’ve set forth, then you're not operating in congruence with who you are.
- Your values need not be shared with the world. At SLATE they were spoken internally to re-enforce our cultural standards against our current behaviors but they were not intended to be shared with the public. I believe actions speak louder than words.
- Your values are not a punchline. They need not be yelled from the rooftops. Your values are demonstrated through your behavior in EVERYTHING you do.
As I worked through the process of evaluating my own values and principles an unexpected outcome emerged. I found that by identifying my core values and principles I gained clarity for how I wanted to spend my time and energy. The two, unexpectedly but perhaps predictably, went hand-in-hand. Although I had previously taken the time to know how I wanted to spend my time and my energy, I now had a second metric for which to evaluate my decision making. From this process I formulated three questions I ask of myself in nearly every decision I make personally. At SLATE, this metric provided a uniformed approach for how we evaluated each decision we made at the firm:
- Does the expenditure of your time and energy align with your values and principles?
- Does the expenditure of your time and energy assist you in achieving your goals (short, medium, long-term)?
- Does the initiative protect and/or enhance your personal brand?
Here’s a simple real-world example from my personal life:
I enjoy the social aspect and artistic craft of making cocktails. What I know, however, is that despite my love for cocktails, I derive great energy from my early morning workouts. A byproduct of having cocktails in the evening was a decrease in the effectiveness of my workouts the following morning. Was I violating my values and principles by having cocktails in the evening? Of course not. Was I expending time and energy on cocktails which took me further away from my short, medium and long-term fitness goals? Absolutely. Since I placed a greater value on fitness it was necessary for me to reallocate my time and energy during evening happy hour.
The process does not require an arduous evaluation. In fact, if you have clarity around how you wish to spend your time and energy and you’re resolute in your values and principles the answers to these questions will likely be reconciled in the background of your consciousness.
By creating a firm construct of who we are and what we want we naturally begin to build a defense mechanism that insulates us from outside noise that is omnipresent in each of our lives.
In the developed world we are tempted on a daily basis to act upon desires or opportunities that at our core, mean very little to us. Perhaps the temptation is to buy a new handbag, a divine cologne, a new condominium or car, or tickets to an upcoming show. In part, our desires are influenced by our peer group or the mass media that prescribe solutions to our lives based on their own motivations or understanding of our world as they see it through their lens. If you do X, then you’ll get Y.
The danger of noise is that its persuasive and predatory. Furthermore, is impersonal. Noise challenges every value and principle we stand for. Noise encourages us to disregard our time and energy in exchange for a promise of excitement and a better version of who we are. When empowered to make educated decisions for ourselves, there is no one better to tell us what’s best for us then us as individuals.
For those who are not steadfast in their understanding of how they want to spend their time and energy and what their values and principles are, they are easily persuaded from their post. From an outsider’s perspective, its disheartening. For the individual, its detrimental.
Remember, time and energy are finite resources that cannot be regained once expended. We must learn to filter noise from our lives. We must be able to stand on our feet and weather the bombardment of (mis)information, demands, advertisements and blanket proclamations that are so nebulous that they could be 100% true or 100% false depending on the context. It takes a warrior to defend ourselves and yet, if we understand what is important to us, that task becomes exponentially easier. The clouds begin to break, the fog begins to lift and the chaos that is noise becomes white noise in the background. When we are clear about what we want and what we stand for we can operate with confidence. There is no question of ourselves because we’ve taken the time to do the work.
I have noticed that when individuals, including myself, are not acting in accordance with their values and principles or act in a manner that is contrary to how they wish to spend their time and energy they often develop anxiety, frustration and/or depression.
Noise cancellation is one tactic we may leverage in our quest to simplify the ever-increasing complexity of our lives. Stabilizing expectations is another.
The act of stabilizing expectations is to foster calmness in situations (and life) that are dynamic and evolving. Of course, we can set expectations, but the expectations may change. We can manage expectations, but they may remain volatile. We can temper expectations but that does not account for changes that may move in the opposite direction.
In stabilizing expectations, we place ourselves in a position of power against the oscillations in our personal and professional lives by establishing a baseline for our emotions. Our world is filled with noise and we must learn to filter the noise in order to capture what is most valuable. The same holds true when stabilizing expectations. We have expectations of ourselves as do our clients, friends, family members and even strangers who do not know us. Many of these expectations evolve from pragmatic and logical ideals. Too often however, expectations are formed from noise.
The key is to remember that we are leaders: leaders in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. As leaders, we need to be the ones who are willing to initiate the difficult conversations, listen to the other’s position, understand their expectations of us and provide guidance, clarification or revision to those expectations based on our experience, our values, and our goals.
The objective in stabilizing expectations is to create a benchmark for our own success. We must be introspective and confident in ourselves to know, understand and anticipate the pitfalls of lofty or unrealistic expectations. There are too many variables in life that we cannot account for and thus, we cannot place ourselves in a position where we over-promise and under-deliver. Instead, we need to foster an environment of clear communication where our ideas, thoughts, fears and concerns are known not only for the benefit of ourselves but for those who are party to the decision-making process.
Ultimately, we cannot control the outcomes of our situation, but we can control the process. Again, this is the point of the exercise. We are not searching for a silver bullet or the magic solution but instead, creating a framework for how we filter the world around us. Ensuring that we have stabilized expectations to protect against emotional (re. irrational) oscillations will help us build trust in the relationships we have but also create affirmations to our belief system regarding the expenditure of time and energy.
Be the Leader.
There have been thousands of books written on leadership and yet leadership is an element that many of us struggle with in our personal and professional lives. A response I frequently hear when asked about an individual’s status as a leader is “I never asked to be a leader”. Unfortunately, for those individuals, leadership roles are not requested, they are selected. Seldom do we get to choose whether or not we are leaders. Generally, its those who look to us for wisdom, direction and confidence that decide our fate as leader. This is important because it shifts the responsibility back to us. This is also why stabilizing expectations are so critical. We cannot allow people to make decisions about our position in society. Ironically, though, we must be leaders in our personal lives to stand-up for ourselves and know what is best for us. How do we calculate what is best for us? By knowing how we wish to spend to our time and energy and what our values and principles are.
When we accept the responsibility for being a leader in our personal lives our mindset automatically shifts to operating in a position of abundance versus a position of depravation. We are no longer waiting for someone else to take control of our lives and make decisions for us, we are able to evaluate the world around us and make decisions that are best for us. We create independence instead of being dependent.
Accepting the role of leadership in our lives provides us the opportunity to anticipate the pitfalls that are sure to rob us of our time and energy. Visualizing possible permutations and outcomes means that we're less distracted by noise in any given moment because we’ve had the forethought to think ahead.
Today’s society is more complex than it ever has been and its complexity is evolving by the moment. Opportunities, demands and obligations pull us in contrasting directions daily. The delineation between our personal and professional lives becomes more obscure with each passing day. The frenzied, inter-connected, multi-faceted lives that we live today leaves little time for careful contemplation by the casual participant. As a result, many of us lead lives that faintly resemble our core values. We make tiny concessions each morning and before we know it, the path with which we walk is a complete deviation from our truest selves. It is true, sacrifices must be made in life but opportunity cost is real and if the sacrifices we make are without intention then we run the risk of losing sight of our actual goals.
We must be inquisitive and we must remain active participants in our lives. We must cherish the fact that we live in a country where we have agency over our decisions. We have the opportunity to decide what is best for ourselves and our family. We do not have to look to someone else to make those decisions for us nor should we ever become so complacent in our lives that we believe another person or entity knows what’s best for us.
This action requires courage and it requires deep introspection to gain self-awareness on how you wish you spend the finite amount of time and energy you have available to you during your lifetime. If you are unwavering in your values and principles then I contend you will never faulter in the allocation of your time and energy.