A few years ago I woke up to find myself in total crisis:
From the outside, it looked like I had it all. My book, The Agile Project Manager, was doing well, my business was running and successful, and life was good. I was working like a demon (how hard do demons work anyway? Does anyone know for sure?), working out, and keeping fit. But it still didn’t feel enough.
For one, I was exhausted. Really exhausted. No matter how much sleep I got it never seemed enough. Even the lightest workout left me flat out on the floor and I had weird cravings for salt and vinegar chips. And, despite all my hard work, my waistline was expanding.
After eliminating the obvious causes (pregnancy, terminal illness, hypochondria), I turned to my old faithful friend Dr Google. Wherever you are in your own energy journey, it might make you feel better to know that one of the top Google search questions is “Why am I so tired?”
As it turned out I had adrenal fatigue (a term used by natural health professionals to describe the failure of the adrenal glands to produce adequate hormones – mainly due to stress). I had dipped so far into my energy reserves that my adrenals were depleted.
Adrenal fatigue is not like a cold, where you stay home for a weekend with soup and Netflix and are right as rain by Monday (which was my original plan). This kind of fatigue is more having an overdrawn bank account for your health…
Actually it’s more like an overdrawn high interest credit card for your health!
Imagine you have the equivalent of $100k credit and you keep using that for ‘essentials’. You know, like going to work. Exercising. The daily domestic tasks associated with adulthood. Provided you pay the minimum balance (sleep 8 hours and eat fairly well) you don’t get into serious trouble… but then the bank starts charging you interest based on credit. You spend a little too much by sleeping a bit less, working out a bit more, cheese & wine, and ignoring the signs of impending doom. The minimum balance gets bigger until it’s a struggle to pay even that back.
At this point even a largish windfall is not enough to put a dent in your debt as your balance heads well into the negative $90k region. That means even an extra day off, or weekend away is not enough to pay back your energy debt. The more debt you accumulate the more anxiety you feel, not to mention helplessness. I needed to exercise if I wanted to maintain a healthy weight, but after that exercise I was so hungry I would eat heaps… Then I would stay up late… (And then there was more wine)… Then back to pounding the pavement the next day.
The vicious cycle continued. I was taking supplements that I thought would help more, but turns out they only work when you’re putting the effort in lifestyle wise (who would have thunk it!) My vicious cycle became extreme. If it continued any further I was heading into the dangerous world of chronic fatigue (a whole other level of fatigue).
One of my key values is walking my talk, so if I wanted to maintain my business helping people make small changes to continuously improve, I needed to start making some changes. It was time to pull up from the nose dive I found myself in, and take flight with my health, as well as my business. What better place to start than by applying the simple techniques I use in my day-to-day life as an Agility Coach!
This book talks to some of the key Agile techniques I used to regain altitude, create a virtuous cycle of health, and get my energy back. I am so grateful I had this opportunity for reflection, as it provided the impetus for me to not only regain my energy, but evaluate what I do and why. And yes, you can too!
Understanding how to reclaim my energy wasn’t just about increasing my daily energy levels, it was also an opportunity to stop and evaluate what I do and why I do it, something we should all do regularly. And so, I decided to begin the Agile Energy Project.
Whenever we embark on a project of change, we tend to head off optimistically, excited about the possibilities, with many potential outcomes in mind. Eventually one (or more) is achieved, but it may not be the one that you (or others involved) would have chosen as a priority. That is, you get an outcome, but is it the outcome you were looking for?
As humans we have a tendency to set and forget, which can mean that we are using outdated tools, systems, and processes, as we grow and change. As a result, we are spending more time, energy, and attention on moving towards outcomes that no longer align with our goals.
This is the cause of the failure of many major initiatives; from large organisational transformation projects to planning holidays for New Year’s Eve, to meet expectations. Sure, many of these initiatives start with the end in mind (as per Covey’s advice), or work at ‘defining purpose and vision’, but the end is rarely as clearly defined or understood as it could be. And there are often several diverging goals.
When we work in an Agile way, one of the first things we do is identify the ‘Why’, or what I like to call The Most Important Thing. Before I could begin the Agile Energy Project, if I was going to truly walk my talk, I needed to identify MY Most Important Thing.
Finding the Most Important Thing
It’s easy when embarking on a new project, to be distracted by all the shiny potential outcomes. I want to run 5 km without collapsing afterwards! I want to be able to train every day and still be energetic! I want to have the energy to deliver 3 training sessions every week!
The thing was, I was in a place where I didn’t even have enough energy to do the day-to-day things I needed to do to get by. Instead of getting distracted by divergent and multiple outcomes I had to get really clear: What is the one thing, that if I achieved that would provide the foundation for me to achieve everything else?
When I asked myself what is that one thing? What is THE most important thing? It was easy: The Most Important Thing for me was to have the energy to do everything I wanted so I could live a life I loved.