Should your ever really need to “recharge your batteries”?

There’s a very common metaphor that I, along with many other it seems, have subscribed to for as long as I can remember— it’s the concept recharging one’s batteries. The theory goes that you work hard over a period of time at which point you kind of burn down the charge in your body’s batteries, thus you need the opportunity to take a break to focus on replenishing your charge back to 100%. It’s often suggested that time off from work — either planned annual leave, or even a career break — is the opportunity to do so.

On the face of it, this seems like a pretty solid and relevant metaphor. We’re so familiar with the need to recharge our plethora of electronic devices, and it’s really quite easy to imagine one’s body following a similar cycle, with a battery indicator similar to what we might see on a mobile phone or laptop.

I feel like I’ve spent years of my life on a continuous cycle between battery recharging and battery depletion. That’s just the way it is, right?

Well, maybe it’s not.

I believe I’m not alone in finding myself tending to focus on my personal wellbeing (mental and/or physical) only at those times in my life when my battery charge is depleted. And then, after a varying period of time during which I focus on things that allow my batteries to recharge, I feel ready to take on the world again. Inevitably, I become distracted from that prior focus on personal wellbeing, throwing myself back into things that deplete my batteries once again, and the cycle continues on and on.

This is a big mistake. I’ve now come to realise that the goal for personal wellbeing is to aim to keep one’s batteries charged at full — or at least near to full — at all times, rather than lurching between extremes of burnout and wellness. A better metaphor is that one should aim to remain plugged into the mains supply at all times, so to never deplete the body’s charge in the first place.

I’ve come to realise that, for me, battery depletion is caused by such things as:

  • Feeling out of control
  • A lack of mastery over my own destiny
  • A lack of autonomy/empowerment
  • Having no outlet for creativity and experimentation

Conversely, I’ve realised that the opposites to these battery depleting phenomena actually have the effect of boosting my charge, keeping me full of energy and motivation regardless of how busy I might be, how hard I might be working. And that’s the point here:

Being busy, in itself, should not deplete your batteries

Whenever I’m blessed with working within an environment where my battery charging phenomena are satisfied, where whatever I put in delivers an equal or even greater amount back in terms of fulfillment, then I need never experience that bouncing back and forth between extremes of depletion and full charge. Hard work is incentivised when such conditions are met; the more you put in, the more you get out.

For me, it’s quite enlightening to acknowledge that life isn’t meant to be about building up levels of resilience just so I can feel capable of taking on challenges that will suck the life out of me, leaving me exhausted and pleading for mercy. What sort of existence is that?! Life should be about the pursuit of experiences that continually reward and energise, not deplete you to the point of burnout. I now believe that if my work/life experiences are running my battery reserves dry, then I must be busy doing the wrong things and something has to change; just taking a holiday to “recharge the batteries” is not the answer in this case.

Acheiving a positive sense of wellbeing is not the time to stop doing the things that got me there. It’s time to understand how I got there, and keep focusing on doing the things that will keep me there.

Life is much better that way.

Software engineering nut. Cyclist. Musician. Dog lover

Software engineering nut. Cyclist. Musician. Dog lover