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“I’m very cautious about who has access to me lately. And it’s not out of arrogance. It’s out of the need to protect my space and energy as I continue to do the work to elevate myself. This chapter requires me to be a little less accessible.”

I wish could attribute that quote to the proper creator, but alas, I only saw it as a meme shared on Facebook. (Readers, if you can identify the original author, please let me know.) Wherever it came from, it really speaks to my heart right now. As I charge into my forties with newfound energy and curiosity and continue to recover from a rough year of being too available to too many people, I also feel the desire to guard more closely how I spend my time and energy.

I’ve been going through draft posts I’ve “jotted down” as we say in Texas over the last few years that I have been writing my blog. It seems I keep kicking around the idea of protecting one’s time, contributing without wearing yourself out, avoiding spreading yourself too thin, being useful without being used. I’ve been very protective of myself at work and in the dojang.

I want to contribute…but I don’t want to be beholden to anybody. Giving all my heart and soul away without retaining a sense of balance or self-care has only resulted in exhaustion and heartache.

I sense a theme…

I wouldn’t call myself a “giving” person since I don’t think I’m that nice, but I do give a lot of my time and energy in the service (or the expectations of) of other people. My job calls for it, as does my role as a black belt. In the past I haven’t been great about balancing what I give freely and what I allow others to take.

I’ve often jumped to say “yes” to a request or project because I think that’s how I’m supposed to do a good job. Sometimes I take on a new project to help establish a new relationship, which is very important in my line of work. I even lied to my college advisor when she asked if dance (my major for a bit) was something I wanted to do for myself or something I wanted to share with others. I said I wanted to “share it with others.” She was really asking if I wanted to study dance for my own training or if I wanted to learn how to teach it, but my dumb 19-year-old ass interpreted it as a trick question that would either let me into or bar me from the program. I really just wanted to learn how to do it and practice it, but I thought I had to say what I thought she wanted to hear.

I think we can share our talents and passions with the world while protecting our work-life balance, our boundaries, and our energy. We just have to be a little smarter about it.

I also have realized that I’m a bit over-sensitive and incredibly defensive about how I am “used.” I’m leery of vague requests about my time and get angry when projects or requests are dropped into my lap without much explanation or what I perceive to be a lack of planning on the other person’s part. I take it personally and consider it disrespectful…so I’ll probably have to grow a thicker skin around some things. Last minute stuff is going to come up, and not everyone I interact with is as obsessed with planning as I am.

But I think I can still find ways to preserve how and where I give my time and energy.

I think this is an uphill battle in American work culture. We hear all the platitudes about “giving 110%” and damnit, your job IS going to be meaningful. At a recent work event for leadership I heard a speaker say, “To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

Well, sometimes I don’t feel like sharing that gift with others. Sometimes I feel taken advantage of for being quick to deliver. Sometimes when I hear someone say, “Oh but Melanie, you’re so good at XYZ…You’d be the best person for this [project, meeting, class, take your pick]!” I feel annoyed and drained. Is this the introvert’s plight, or is this a secret we all carry while we’re trying to prove ourselves in life and in the workplace? What would happen if we were more honest about what we were willing to share?

I still have to do my very nice job that pays me for being a go-to person and I still have to pitch in with black belt stuff. I do enjoy it when I don’t overdo it….but I still feel the need to proceed with caution and not hand myself over entirely. 2018 is over. I have a different outlook and different advocates now.

So what can we give? Part of that comes from awareness of what drives us and what drains us. My best comes from a me that is quiet, protected, strategic, and planned. My best comes from when I am learning and growing and gaining insight. I need space and distance. I need information and context. That’s when I can be a stellar employee and a thoughtful black belt instructor.

The other part comes from being able to communicate those needs and those competing demands to well-meaning people who only see our talents and not our struggles. We don’t have to be all things to all people.

And realistically, we have to throw in some compromise. Sometimes we have to do things on someone else’s timeline or do things we don’t enjoy as much as others. And that’s okay. That’s life. If we focus solely on that we become bitter, resentful, and turn ourselves into victims of circumstance instead of looking for opportunity, a way to reframe the situation, and a way to use these talents everyone likes so much to your advantage.

You can give. But you don’t have to give away what you need to feel valued and to continue your own growth. It’s okay to put yourself first. Take back what you need so you have the energy to give what you know will help others.

 

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