Charging the batteries

“Are you a battery type of person, or a generator type of person?” he asked me, with that typical grin on his face. It’s the grin that always shows up when he asks me cryptic questions like this one. He likes to confuse me sometimes, I think. I told my therapist I often feel exhausted, not just at the end of the day, but often even when I get out of bed. This question was his answer.

“I’m not sure I completely follow,” I respond to him. My face must have been the question mark that it always turns into when I don’t understand what someone is trying to tell me. My facial expression doesn’t lie. And just for the record, neither do I.

“Do you burn all your fuel, until you need to cut yourself off from work to recharge,” he continued, “or do you build in activities that ensure a continuous supply of energy?”

How could I forget the battery-generator analogy? He must have asked me at least two or three times before. “I’m definitely a battery guy,” I reply, relieved that I did understand the question after receiving the first hint.

“I definitely need my weekends,” I continue, “but perhaps even more than that, I need my holidays.”

“Why?”

What does he mean, ‘why?’ It’s who I am. That’s why. My face turns question mark again, an annoyed question mark this time. I just told him I’m a battery guy, that I need to recharge. I need weekends and holidays to recharge. How does he not get the obvious answers to his own questions?

“I need them…” I hesitate, I better get this right, “because the activities that would make me function like a generator are not well-suited for the work day.” God, that sounded horrible. He must think I’m some pervert that wants to watch porn all day. Why did I phrase it like that?

“You know,” I add unconvincingly, “spending time with family, cooking, hiking, drawing, whatever… It doesn’t really work during work, now does it?”

He does seem happy I added that part. Or is he just acting to make me feel better?

“When I worked in a hospital after my PhD,” he said, “life at work was very stressful indeed. In a very unsustainable manner. After a certain while I realized that I needed to build in activities that would keep the engine running. I needed a generator.”

“So what did you do?” I asked, genuinely curious, “Not so many options there, it seems?”

“I read a book,” he answered with a friendly smile. “Just ten minutes of quiet and a couple of pages of fiction would be enough to be completely out of it and recharge my energy levels.”

This conversation happened a few weeks ago. Reading can and does recharge me. Especially with fiction, I snap out of reality in no-time. It was great advice! But, you know what is the worst? I haven’t tried it out, for one simple reason. I feel so goddamn guilty all the time for not spending enough time on work, that I cannot get myself to read a fiction novel for ten minutes during work time. What’s even worse is that I’m pretty sure that my boss wouldn’t give a damn. It is all in my mind…

Now I would be really curious to hear from other academics (or people from any high-stress work environment). Battery or generator? How do you recharge?

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of one but almost two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

4 thoughts on “Charging the batteries

  1. Whichever that best describes an introvert, so a battery, probably, lol. And I’m serious too. It’s not ‘in my mind’, because I get physically ill if I’m around people too much.

    Or maybe I’m just being a tad too dramatic. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stuart, Thanks for your comment! Yes, that makes a lot of sense! I totally get your point on introversion and don’t think you’re dramatic. I’m probably also leaning to introversion, but most people might not notice this. I don’t ‘mind’ having conversations one on one, but larger groups and meetings or parties wear me out. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t do them or always sit quietly in a corner per se. I have opinions and things to say. I subconsciously have this urge to compensate for introversion. Which means I can talk a lot. But nevertheless my brain feels totally fried after, and it takes me days to recover… I love team work, but also greatly enjoy alone time in my office.

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  2. Trouble for me with his example is that ten minutes doesn’t cut it – I need a whole book, several books, and days if time, to feel refreshed. And it’s currently 7 days a week to keep things out of complete crisis mode in academia so no wonder I’m cracking!

    Intraverted & I get physically ill under prolonged stress, & the counsellor I was seeing before all of this kicked off didn’t really get it either…

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    1. Dear Jane,

      Thanks for sharing your point of view. I am sorry to hear that this pandemic has hit you this hard. I agree with you 100%. Ten minutes often doesn’t cut it. I think his point was that you should take all the time you need to be kind to yourself – and that this can include time in the ‘official’ 9-to-5. For him, ten minutes did the trick. Good for him. However, I think the overall deeper message was that if you need time, take time. It is in everyone’s best interest, including superiors, that ‘we’ do not burn out.

      I have the feeling that even counsellors, coaches and therapists struggle what to make out of this one. No one alive has ever experienced such a strange global phenomenon, that seems somehow completely out of our hands… I would also like to know how they charge the batteries…

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