I unabashedly love therapy. I would dare to call it my favorite pastime. A therapist’s office is a sacred refuge for my most complicated emotions and home for the parts of myself I’ve deemed unlovable — which yes, is a topic I unpack in her office. I have been going to therapy for the last decade, and over the years, I’ve worked on various themes ranging from self-love, self-acceptance, healing childhood wounds, and living in America as a Black woman.
About a year ago, I arrived at a truth that had always been within my reach. I told my therapist, “You know what I realized? I’ve been giving other people’s opinions too much currency — too much value. And I give my energy away too freely, like a tossed donation. Only you can be the guardian of your energy.” She scribbled some words in her notebook. I sunk, worrying that I had said something damaging. I held my breath and dunked my head in the silence, only allowing myself to come up for air once she said something. “That is powerful. I’m going to use this phrase with my other patients. Keep going,” she offered.
(Before we continue, is there a bonus prize for impressing your therapist? Because there should be.)
We rarely entertain the idea that more abstract concepts — time, emotions, boundaries, mental health — can be given the same attention and value as money. But these concepts can also be considered a form of currency, something which you should deem valuable and exchange wisely.
When we hear the word “currency,” most of us think back to the last Econ class we took or our most recent international vacation. It all feels so matter-of-fact, pre-determined, and set. And because of those associations, we rarely entertain the idea that more abstract concepts — time, emotions, boundaries, mental health — can be given the same attention and value as money. But these concepts can also be considered a form of currency, something which you should deem valuable and exchange wisely.
Currency is useful because of its beneficial exchange. And to obtain cash, we need to have the energy to trade, work, produce, etc. It’s empowering to consider your self-worth, energy, and mental health as long-term investments or equity in the same way.
Ultimately, our work and artistry are rooted in our ideas, but our grit and dedication to bring those ideas to life are ruled by our physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental energy. Without it, we can’t be our best selves or produce our best work. If we treat our energy and mental health as a currency as precious as gold, in return, we will have the stamina to live a more prosperous life.
While the above theory sounds good, it’s nothing but a flimsy, wine-fueled thought without a proper action plan and useful guide. So I’ve created one. I will be referencing The Financial Diet’s video on “9 Investing Terms You Should Know” in parts of my “manual.”
1. Make a list of any existing “debts” — habits that are destroying your mental health
We’re all familiar with the concept of debt, financially and otherwise. When we neglect our mental health and deplete ourselves emotionally, the lasting effects of burnout begin.
I have experienced the dark side of burnout and have written about it. It can trigger life-threatening habits, including disordered eating, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. According to Psychology Today, “Because the body is continuously on fight-or-flight mode, emotional burn-out can change eating habits, change in sleeping patterns, digestion problems, weight loss or weight gain, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and headaches. Emotional burnout may also result in failure to interact well with loved ones and coworkers.“
Burnout is akin to filing bankruptcy or depleting your savings and not having enough to pay the bills. At the height of my anxiety, I had to leave a steady paycheck because I was in a field of work that was triggering for me. I saw the red flags in the beginning. Not valuing my intuition cost me inner peace, which is a price that is always too steep to pay. By surveying these “debts,” you can explore where you need to invest in yourself.
Fortunately, investing back into yourself can be a “debt-repayment” plan of sorts. Some options include seeking professional help from a therapist or doctor, prioritizing your goals, and setting boundaries. But first, you need to take stock of the habits, obligations, activities, and commitments that are bankrupting your emotional and mental health.
2. Take inventory of the resources and people adding value to your life.
Financially speaking, “capital” refers to the resources at your disposal, including cash, human resources, and any items that can contribute to your bottom line. I would argue your “energy capital” is the existing emotional bandwidth you possess as well as resources and routines you are intentional about as it relates to restoring your energy.
If you were to take inventory of your current capital, what would it include? It could consist of a skincare routine you relish, a virtual pilates class you refuse to miss, or a weekly session with your therapist. (And a friendly reminder that self-medicating and self-care are not the same things, *pours wine.*)
By acquiring more “energy capital,” you’re also collecting much more than self-love (which in and of itself is a win). The cultivation of friendships and expanding your network through clubs or a sports league could lead to a new job prospect. Your discovered love of handmade bar soaps could lead to a side hustle or a money-saving DIY hobby.
If you’re looking to “invest in capital,” you have options. Low-cost (and free!) resources might include scheduling tech fasts in your calendar, a reoccurring ritual or hobby you indulge in, such as painting or dance, or uninterrupted quality time alone or with a loved one. If you’re building up your “energy capital,” your creativity and mental health diminish.
3. Think about the ROI of your time, effort, & energy.
Despite the imposter syndrome and self-doubt many of us possess, we do decide the value of our time and energy. We also dictate (with some exceptions) who and what is worthy of said time and energy. As with our disposable income, we must budget and ration the number of f*cks we give.
Although a bit more arbitrary, one tactic I’ve developed is thinking about the ROI or the outcome I’m looking to covet. In the world of money, you invest in stock to see financial gain. In leadership, you invest in your team to see professional development and positive metrics. Identifying “what you’re after” will highlight areas where an energy investment is sound.
A good example is my marriage — like every couple, we have our share of our disagreements. Earlier in our relationship, I would pour so much energy into each exchange, every argument in defense of “passion! I’m yelling because I care!” I found myself more drained than I felt I needed to be, especially over the topic of household chores.
Instead, I approach our everyday conversations with the same level of tact and consideration I would in a meeting with a colleague. I stay focused on the call-to-action, next steps, and ensuring all parties are clear on expectations. It’s not as sexy as the alternative, but my God, I have so much more energy for the other parts of marriage that are fun. And the leftover energy I do have is spent working on the outlined expectations to ensure our relationship continues to flourish. Winning an argument and having a healthy marriage get two different budgets.
By budgeting my energy, I can preserve my creativity and critical thinking for more commanding projects, assignments, and personal goals.
4. Diversify the f*cks you want to give.
Diversification is more nuanced than “not putting all your eggs in one basket.” It is thinking about the cause-and-effect of your investments.
All of your energy and happiness cannot be put towards one person or area of your life. This includes your children, your partner, your job, and yourself. Ensure you’re creating space for the various inner worlds that are important to you. This cultivation of variety could include reaching out to one old friend every month, scheduling a weekly date night with yourself, or joining a running club.
A few years ago, I put nearly all of my self-worth, time, and soul into my workplace. Because of this, my emotions and life-satisfaction ran parallel to the status of my job. If the company was seeing dips, so did my happiness. And my work would suffer. If things were grand, I could sleep at night and have the energy to ~* gRiNd *~ the next day. As one could imagine, this lack of diversification was unhealthy, soul-sucking, and most of all, my other areas of life suffered greatly. When the company had a layoff, I began to spiral into a dark place. I had no identity or friends outside of that job. Thankfully, that was a hard lesson I’ve taken to new employers, making every difference in my life.
By diversifying your f*cks, you leave room for life to happen. The alternative could beg too much of your mental health or lead you to make poor financial decisions (what’s up, emotional spending) should you be thrown a curveball. But it’s life, and you will always be thrown a curveball.
As with any new habit, financial milestone, or resolution for a lifestyle change, it begins with a goal. Regardless if you’re hoping to find more balance, gunning for a promotion, or hoping to save enough money for a downpayment, you’re going to need the energy to get there.
Jazmine Reed-Clark is a true crime and self-improvement junkie working in HR, and a millennial who (finally) knows the difference between a stock and a bond. She thinks.
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