This book fell into my life in the midst of a tough week. I gave it a very skeptical look.
“You have a weird sort of title,” I told it. “Like exactly the kind of book I don’t read.”
The book was unfazed. It wore a modest little superhero suit, possibly invisible to most people, but as I squinted, I could see it. Across its chest were the words you can trust me.
“I’m kind of a mess right now,” I told it.
It sat next to me in its cape and boots. It took my hand and said, “What is actually going wrong?” It had a calm, practical voice.
I gulped a bit. “Well, I’m pretty stressed. It’s been a hard year. There have been a lot of mini-disasters at home… nothing tragic, but just a lot of crazy things. Like bedbugs. Random injuries. Just stuff. You know.”
The book nodded reassuringly.
“Also, I’m a writer. I’m working on several writing projects, and everyone’s asking how it’s going. I don’t know how to say, Mostly not awesome, because I’m in this tailspin, but on the plus side, I’ve caught up with a lot of TV shows I don’t care about, and I’ve knitted a lot.”
The book patted my hand. “Let’s keep talking,” it said. “We can fix all that.”
The book explained that my life was made up of four parts: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual. “You’re working too hard and too constantly in some areas, and too little in others,” it said. “And you keep treating each day like it can hold three full days of work.”
Okay, that was true. I want to write like a genius, cook like Julia Child (except vegan…), and have deep relationships with my family and friends. I want to be focused, dependable, brilliant, and good.
Which is exactly why I was watching TV shows and knitting til 3 a.m. Who can deal with all that pressure, on top of the mini-disasters that came all year long?
The book nodded. “It’s a balance thing,” it said. “You can learn that.”
Encouraged, I explained to the book that I work from home. But I’ve never honestly figured out how to do that. Even though I should totally have it down by now.
Friends even ask me for tips: “I’m working from home, part time. You know how, right?” they say hopefully. “Anything you want to pass along…”
“Ack,” I say. “Are there any dumb TV shows you’ve been missing? Probably you’ll want to get the first three seasons. At minimum. This is my strategy.”
Okay, it wasn’t that bad, and yet it felt every bit that bad. My “flexible schedule” meant no schedule. My work ethic had two settings: Full tilt, or full retreat. I would cram my days full, then burn out and do nothing. And feel wretched.
The book nodded sagely through all this. “You need to learn something very important,” it said. “It’s not about how much time you have, but about how much energy you have.” Its superhero cape fluttered a bit, to underscore its point.
“I don’t have any energy,” I pointed out mournfully.
It smiled at me. “That can be changed. Energy is flexible, even though time isn’t. You can have a lot more energy than you have now. And more emotional stamina, more mental sharpness, and more of what gives you joy.”
The book had my attention.
I read the whole thing, underlining madly, rereading parts to whoever was within earshot. I memorized examples and statistics and recited them at dinner.
And then I answered all the book’s questions. It wanted to know what I actually wanted to be doing, what I cared about. “I really do like writing,” I said. “I’ve been burned out lately, but I know I actually love it.”
The book taught me how to make strong, keepable promises to myself. It calmly showed me how to replace the junk in my days with renewed excitement. “You can actually love what you’re doing again,” it said. “You really, really can.”
It was right.
And getting more done in less time? That’s a nice bonus.
So go find this little book. It’s wearing an invisible superhero cape and boots. Take it off the shelf. Confide in it, and answer its questions.
The book is: The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
And Tony Schwartz wrote another called Be Excellent at Anything. Haven’t read that one yet, but it’s sitting on my bookshelf, smiling at me.
Jenn Langefeld graduated from Calvin in 2006 and charged into a life of full-time novel writing. She is currently working on an exuberant, adventurous trilogy for middle grade readers. She writes under her great-grandmother’s name, Lucy Flint, and blogs about making a lionhearted writing life at lucyflint.com.