Thriving: The Sweet Spot

February 27, 2014

By: Jenny Simonson

Have you ever come home from a day of work and just felt completely exhausted? I mean, you’ve spent the ENTIRE day sitting at a desk, yet you come home feeling as if you just ran a marathon wearing cement blocks for shoes? I remember this feeling while working on a project at my job last year. I had spent the week working tirelessly, mostly at my desk and in the office, yet I came home SO tired that I barely had the energy to walk across the street to pick up take out dinner from my favorite Thai place. I didn’t understand how the project could take so much out of me.

On the flip side, do you ever get so enveloped in a project that you leave meetings feeling struck by a sense of creativity, energy, and inspiration that you continue working through lunch? You look at the clock at 3pm and you suddenly realized you haven’t eaten all day. You feel like the work is bringing out the best, optimistic, diligent part of you. I remember this feeling after working with a teammate on defining a new product strategy, and diving head first into the brainstorming and action planning. I was so excited to communicate the strategy to our manager, that I sat intensely concentrated, focused, and cheerful through the afternoon working on the powerpoint. I worked much later than my typical 5:30 shut down time, and felt the energy carry into my car ride home. I called a friend on my commute home (wearing a handsfree headset, don’t worry mom) and noticed my positive energy carrying into my tone and the conversation.

Amy and I at work

My coworker, Amy, was my positive energizer in the workplace.

My coworker, Amy, was my positive energizer in the workplace.

My coworker, Amy, was my positive energizer in the workplace.

Recently, I heard Gretchen Spreitzer speak about the concepts of thriving and energy management, and it brought me back to my experience of feeling burnt out on my project last year and also to those moments where I’ve felt so alive and inspired by my work. Gretchen defines thriving as the intersection between learning and vitality, where people are energized by their work while also growing and learning. Not only is this more personally satisfying, but research shows that thriving people perform better at work, report less burnout, and are more innovative.

Before the meeting with Gretchen, she asked us to keep an Energy Audit for a few days. To me, this first sounded like a magazine-suggested food diary, exercise log, or weight tracker. However, I found the experience to be incredibly enlightening. The log helped me understand how at certain times of the day I start to feel more tired or how certain activities spark my energy. I always considered myself an introvert, but I found that brief interactions with friends, say a half hour lunch or coffee, gave me incredible boosts that carried through hours later. It helped me see food, activity, interactions, and types of work as either energy draining or energy providing. I can use it to understand what makes me thrive and how I can better nourish myself through the natural troughs of low energy.

For example, while studying I crave candy and junk food, and I usually try to stay away from it because I know it’s unhealthy. However, after taking the energy audit, I saw how these indulgences would sometimes weigh me down afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, a rationed piece of chocolate can do wonders, but seeing these treats as energy producing or energy draining helps me make better decisions.

On the other side, I noticed that quality connections with friends, or with creative people with similar interests help bring my energy up dramatically. They help me think more broadly and see outside the limitations that I unconsciously set for myself sometimes. When applying for internships, I noticed that I was getting stuck. I’d search for internships through our career center resources or through online databases, but feel overwhelmed, lost, or all over the place. But, having even brief conversations with people in industries I am interested in helped me break over this application slump and helped me start developing a strategy for my summer internship search. Importantly, it helped me feel more confident and fueled my drive to keep searching for the right opportunities.

Thriving is the sweet spot where I want to live and work. As an MBA student seeking a career switch, I am hunting for a career, a job, an organization, and a team where I can thrive, be energized by my work, while also helping create a culture of thriving around me. I continue to explore what will enliven me to thrive, and this week I have taken note to write down when I feel that I am thriving. I have noted when I feel engrossed in my work and the creative, agile, and contagious feeling that it brings me. This awareness will help guide me to choose a career and organization that will continue to fuel my long term success. It also helps me more practically pinpoint when I am at my best self so that I can keep recreating this throughout my life and career.

I don’t think thriving is the end point we reach once we get to nirvana. However, I think it is the place we should challenge ourselves to live in more as we strive to be our best selves. Some days I’m not sure what my best self even IS. But now I notice when I feel most energized and alive, and pieces of that artwork, of my best self, that were once hidden in the shadows now have a spotlight shining brightly on them.

What does your best self look like? If you’re not sure, try the energy audit and maybe pieces of your grand artwork will start to appear too.