The names in this case study have been changed for purposes of anonymity.
This is the story of Julie, a driven academic with entrepreneurial capacity and her story of fatigue, how it affected her in real life and what she started to do about it:
“I always really enjoyed setting challenging intellectual and professional goals. Striving to achieve them became the core of my lifestyle and I liked it that way. From time to time, my drive to perform at my best level drove me to exhaustion so my early life was characterized by cycling through long periods of deep engagement and high achievement followed by periods of disengagement and relative solitude.
My preference has always been toward meeting intellectual and organizational challenges which ultimately turned me into a talking head, meaning I could tackle almost any challenge but I was almost completely detached from the needs of my body.
When my mother became chronically ill in 1999, it fell mostly to me to come through for her, financially, emotionally, and physically. My sister moved home from Boston to help with my mother’s care in our home. It turned out to be an eighteen month, around-the-clock, wouldn’t-have-done it-any-other-way-but-wow-it-was-awful-and-beautiful, time of our lives. At that time, I had just begun my doctoral studies. I made a quick switch from a full-time job to a management consulting practice so that I could be more available for my mother’s home care.
Within the years of her long illness, midlife changes and challenges made it even more difficult to move forward even just one step at a time. Even so, I felt I had to keep the three of us afloat financially and with the additional and extraordinary medical bills, I saw no other choice but to sustain a high level of consulting practice, finish my degree, and take care of my mom all on just a few fitful hours of sleep each night. I was literally running on adrenaline all the while I was performing extremely well in my work, my degree and my family responsibilities; all done by sheer force of will.
I knew I was tired, but what I didn’t realize then was that I was a lot more than just tired; I was deep into energy debt also known as biological or sleep debt) with a body that was breaking down around it. My thoughts were racing all the time so it took a lot of effort to focus them on doing my work. Restorative sleep was a distant memory. Taking time away was out of the question. I began withdrawing from personal relationships; I was just too tired. Any suggestion that I take care of myself or take the time to relax just felt like one more thing I did not have the energy to do. My focus narrowed to what I felt I had to get done. The consequences of my not getting absolutely everything done right, seemed enormous – when only one of my responsibilities (the care of my mother) carried serious consequences if I withdrew from my responsibilities.
I also didn’t realize that the grief over my mother’s approaching death and my refusal to fail in any of my self-imposed responsibilities was masking the fact that I was literally sacrificing my own vitality to sustain performance at this level. As I look back on it now, I realize that it was my valiant efforts to avoid the reality of my own limitations that ultimately did me in – big time – and for a long time.
On one hand, I felt more alive than ever as I walked these final months with my mother and achieved the highest level of academic and professional success I had to that point of my life. On the other hand, I began to wonder more and more if I was going to survive my mother’s terminal illness.
What I now realize is that the first nail in my energy-coffin was that I did not even have the energy it took to disengage from the life-and-death drama that was unfolding right in front of me long enough for me to correct course. I suffered panic attacks during that time. Thankfully I knew enough about panic attacks (I’m also trained as a counselor) to interpret this frightening event as a wake-up call from my neglected body. The message was loud and clear: either I make the choice to stop placing these heavy energy demands on myself and my body or my body-mind and brain would make it impossible for me to move forward in my life and work.
Just after this happened in 2002, I made the decision to start studying both eastern and western systems of energy management in earnest. I selected it as my dissertation topic which enabled me to give this study sustained attention with the writing of my Ph.D. dissertation
In the dissertation, I dove deeply into the workings of our personal energy systems as they relate to work performance. I made it my goal to understand exactly how we bring our energies fully present into our work and into our whole lives and to understand it from as many different perspectives as my mind could grasp. This itself took a great deal of energy.
I decided to use my own worn-down energy system to test the methods and approaches I was learning about in my research and that I was hearing about in the field of energy management. I wanted to viscerally feel the changes and challenges of the energy management systems I was exploring. I entered five years of training in eastern energy practices. I grew in appreciation for our western approaches to health and wellness. I continue to practice the skills I learned from all these systems of energy management daily and often on a moment-by-moment basis using quick check-ins and small, easy adjustments throughout the day. I also continue my research in the areas of personal energy and human performance particularly in the workplace and in leadership.
There are four lessons I bring forward with me from these experiences.
- First, I learned to observe my energy status frequently and to notice energy-debt in myself and take quick action to restore myself back to my energy system’s natural set-point. If that means creating space in my calendar, that’s what it means. If that means just giving myself some time to restore from excess stress, that’s what it means.
- Second, I learned and remain committed to practicing the skill of strategic disengagement. This skill is essential to our ability to cultivate insight, creativity, and innovation in our personal, social and organizational lives, as well as to renewing the body, mind and our spirit. Because this topic is so expansive, John Allen goes in depth into energy debt in part one of Performance Living 101.
- Third, the lesson that led me to see our body as an energy system is that whole-life performance and quality of life are dependent on my having accurate information about my personal energy; and knowing that I have access to an abundance of energy from which to live and work is paramount.
- Fourth, but not final, my research and practice have taught me that information and energy, in fact, form the central core of all that lives. From our genes to our cells, to our organizational systems, to the universe, we find the basic structural formula of I + E = L information and energy equals Life.
It was only after I finished my Ph.D., and met John Allen Mollenhauer that the lessons I had learned from my ten-year study of personal energy management crystallized into one idea ie. Performance Lifestyle.
In the meantime, my academic schedule as a professor has continued to elevate, and as you can imagine I’ve learned not to push it too hard. So, I share this all to let you know how important it is to know how to live a performance lifestyle because essential defines what living in balance… is all about.
Your body is a Powerhouse, even if you don’t feel like it right now. It generates and regenerates energy extremely well under the right conditions and this is the balance point you must master. You need to know about this else all other definitions of balance fail. It’s vital for you to understand how you can harness, maintain and manage your energy.
If you are interested in energy, health and performance and a driven business professional, learn from my hard-earned insights. With what you’ll learn here at Performance Lifestyle, you will soon have that roadmap to start and gauge your success.
John Allen Mollenhauer and a slew of highly credentialed Advisors I’m aware of has in fact put brought together the never-before-assembled formula for optimal energy and performance, lifestyle management. I hope you will take it to heart and put it in play. Not only will it help you avoid the premature downward spiral that starts with exhaustion and fatigue and can get much worse; it will save you decades of time and give rise to a new lifestyle so you can achieve your goals in a way that does not compromise your life, health, and wellbeing.