There’s a running joke around the LAX Coastal Chamber office that our success is strongly due to the fact that each staff member is an incredibly different person. Even as recent as last night, Chamberlain, our handsomely charismatic socialite in charge of getting strangers excited about our organization (also known as our Vice President of Membership and his year’s recipient of the Chairman’s Award) was laughing while exclaiming, “I couldn’t do Kirby’s job, and Kirby really doesn’t want to do mine.”
And that is completely, 100% true.
The strength inside this Chamber office is due not only to the passion each staffer exudes on a daily basis, but also to the differences within our personalities. Chamberlain is a loquacious social butterfly, Judith is a dedicated morning person, Christina is a proud community leader you can’t say no to, and I am a creative and perfectionistic workaholic. By our powers combined, we are Captain Planet. Well, the LAX Coastal Chamber, at least.
But there’s a specific reason that I don’t want to do Chamberlain’s job, and it’s not just because he’s better at it than I am—I get tired.
I don’t mean lack of sleep tired (although I am that, too), I mean talking to people tired. Smiling and handing out business cards tired. Handshake and nod tired. I mean social fatigue.
In my family we believe in the idea of a “sociability quotient.” That is, the amount of time you can spend being social before you need to recharge. There are a variety of rules to how this sociability quotient works; from differing sociability levels that each of us have (my mother and I have the smallest) to who drains it fastest (strangers) to slowest (immediate family has no effect). It means we plan our schedules according to our respective sociability stage, making sure we have at least one day lounging on the couch with a book per three days out on the town. Even when you’re having fun with close friends your levels can still drop to zero, so what do you do when your profession requires you to stay social in order to succeed?
For years the Chamber has been touting the benefits of face-to-face networking, giving you statistics and first-hand accounts and proselytizing, but what happens when your sociability quotient has run out? How do you keep going once social fatigue has set in?
No, seriously, you don’t. You stop. You take a break. You take care of yourself first and your business second. You remind yourself that if you’re exhausted you aren’t going to network very successfully anyway, so why not take the evening off and sit down in silence with a hot cup of tea? Why not sleep in and skip that networking breakfast? Why not take a lunch break by yourself? Once social fatigue has its hold on you there’s nothing you can do except take a little time off to recharge your batteries. For extroverts that might mean taking an afternoon off. For introverts, maybe an entire weekend. Find out what you need and give it to yourself, because trust me, it’s always better to work smarter not harder, and a luxury car running on empty is never smart.
I know there are some of you out there saying that you don’t have the time to unwind and take a break. Your work schedule is too important to deviate from, or you have meetings planned until the apocalypse, but that’s where you’re wrong. There is always a gap to take advantage of. Always at least one meeting you can postpone, one event you really don’t need to attend. But you’re still shaking your head and I get it, really. For those unable (cough, unwilling…) to give your sociability quotient a chance to reset, you must use defensive tactics.
According to SaraKay Smullens in her article What I Wish I Had Known: Burnout and Self-Care in Our Social Work Profession, “By engaging in self-care, we can assert our right to be well and reintroduce our own needs into the equation. Hearing this call may be a difficult first step, as social workers might feel guilt about needing to take care of ourselves.” Understandably, not all of my readers are in a social work profession, but I feel this advice is applicable across the board. When running your own business you feel the deepest sense of responsibility. The business is yours and the success of said business relies on you. Smullen continues to say, “although we are surrounded by people all day long, there is not a balanced give and take. Concentration is on clients, not ourselves.” Sound familiar?
So for anyone so dedicated to success that the idea of taking time off seems preposterous, protect yourself. Schedule self-care into your work day however possible. Never book an appointment for Monday mornings. Don’t accept a meeting that will extend your workday. Leave at least one afternoon free of obligations. You don’t have to cancel plans due to social fatigue if you only make enough plans that you can handle. It’s when you go above and beyond, convincing yourself that of course you can handle a 60-hour work week for the fourth week in a row that you start to suffer.
Once you are aware of your limits you never have to hit their bottom.