Countering Exhaustion with Insight

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 14:45

“We’ve been at this for ten years and made great strides,” the project leader said. “But I’m exhausted and don’t want to spend the next ten years feeling this way.”


That’s an honorable feeling to notice and an essential one to tackle head on, with gentle self-understanding and time off. There’s nothing crazy or shameful about realizing you’re tired. It’s normal, even useful, in every venture to weary of the daily grind. I was pleased that the project leader talking to me had the insight to notice it was time to redirect the worry driving exhaustion into retrieving a modicum of perspective.

Short breaks or more extended vacations can have salutary effects. I know. Last year was a rough one what with a car collision, major injuries requiring surgery and an extended period of recovery. Add on the two deaths in the last quarter of the year – that of my mother and of a close professional colleague – and I was ready to hibernate.

I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange time off, spending much needed time with my family, time at the beach, with little more to decide each day then what to have for lunch. Concentrating from the perch of a comfortable canvas chair on the slow traverse of whales across the ocean horizon – breaching, fluking, splashing – slowed down time itself. A few days into this routine, I realized that I was experiencing a fugue of creative thoughts, what I once heard referred to as “sparks,” inspired by random musings over work, life and love for the close company I was keeping with my sons and wife. I returned to work refreshed, my brain’s neurons and the thoughts they package stretched and exercised as vigorously as my body when I’d swim in the surf.

I shared this experience with the project leader. She wasn’t ready to pack off for an extended break, but she was ready and primed to redesign reality for herself. Her body language mirrored a refreshed perk and spirit. She wasn’t exactly in a comfortable place yet, but, she confessed, “I feel better already just talking about these things.”

She had drawn one thing from the well of resources at Community Partners that we have in strong supply: “open mind time” to talk through challenges, noodle interesting opportunities, gauge success and formulate clearer notions about a project’s road ahead.  

By conversation’s end, we had identified precisely the person to enlist in shaping a perspective on future possibilities informed by real project achievements – in this case a planning consultant steeped in the culture and character of Los Angeles.

Distilling a bit of practical advice from this conversation, I’d offer the following to anyone seeking relief from the weariness that all of us who presume to lead will face at one time or another:

  • Change locations. Get physically away from what consumes you daily with immediacy and urgency. We live close to a damn fine stretch of sand running all around Santa Monica Bay and it’s ready to receive your toes.
  • Draw energy and seek counsel from the people who know you as a partner in both success and in failure. The empathy for your work and struggle will be genuine.
  • Own your power and direct it to fueling your greatest ambitions for the greatest good. Let go of controlling what others can do more ably than you and focus on applying the skills that keep you at the peak of performing well.

When you’re leading, you’re out in front, visible and in possession of various kinds of power. I’ve grasped with time that good leadership starts with knowing and taking care of oneself. If, as I heard someone say recently, “power is the ability to design reality for others,” then that makes it doubly advisable to look thoroughly at what you intend. How your designs will influence for the better the lives of others will be the measure of your efforts.



"beach of guam" by lazy fri13th is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0