The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it – Henry David Thoreau
We all have only so much time, so much life. Most other things can be expanded (more or less) – money, energy, effort. Only time itself can not be replaced.
But then, what is our life?
It’s partly the time spent (how many minutes, how many hours), but it’s also what we do with that time. How much thought we’ve dedicated to any given subject or person. How much energy. How much effort.
In this context, relationships are the easiest place for some big wins.
In any healthy relationship, both parties are putting in roughly the same amount of effort.
Now, there are always exceptions. We all go through rough patches where we may be struggling to even get out of bed. People in chronic pain or with life long illnesses are necessarily limited in how much they can contribute. This isn’t through lack of desire on their part though, they just can’t. Kids, of course, are a huge mess.
Those extremes aside though, when you find yourself endlessly making efforts to connect with someone (either physically or verbally) only to receive minimal reciprocation? If you’re the one always reaching out, or you’re fully engaged while they’re staring at their phone? Something is out of whack.
Spending time thinking about people when there’s this level of imbalance is only adding to it. That’s your life, wasting away, when you could be thinking about, well, something better.
You’re pouring your energy into a sinkhole. You’re pouring your life down a sinkhole.
Now, with some people it’s obvious there’s a massive imbalance. You put tons of effort in; they put none (or near none).
It’s like a firehose of energy from you to them, with the occasional drip in the other direction.
Similarly, people may ask for help – which you willingly give, only to realise (after you’ve spent the time and effort) that really, they’re not interested in it at all.
With some people it’s even more dire. You come away from them feeling actively worse.
Why do we waste our energy on these people? Mostly because we don’t stop and think, reassess, and ask ourselves “Is this really good for me?” or just as importantly “Is this still good for me?”
I had a brief email chat with someone the other day. I went back and looked at it, and of the two emails they sent me, every single sentence (that wasn’t about them) was some form of criticism or attack. I’m sure they’re capable of having healthy relationships with others, but for whatever reason, things between us? Toxic. We shouldn’t be wasting our energy on people like this.
With another person, I’d say roughly 40% of the time we interact, I come away feeling significantly worse (of course, this is my responsibility to heal/manage, but still).
Someone else I know, after months of “Yes, let’s hang out, but not right now, I’m busy”, when we finally got together, they spent the time subtly probing if I wouldn’t mind if they went and hung out with someone else instead.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
I think sometimes it’s just old relationships. People we attracted into our lives when we were in very different places. E.g. unconsciously much less self-loving, thus attracting people who would fulfil that belief and harm us.
Workplace relationships can be similarly hard to manage – although really, if the whole company is that toxic (as is often the case if the boss is bad news), even no job can be a healthier choice. Trust me, I’ve been there.
There are lots of other ways to waste energy, of course.
A common one (for me) is watching TV (or movies) where really, I’m gaining nothing from it. They’re not inspiring me; I’m not learning anything; they’re not lifting my mood. It’s super important to chuck these things from our lives. Otherwise all we’re really doing is killing time until we die. “Five more seasons to go, and then I’ll be free!” Even having a nap would be more beneficial.
Now, if your mood is lifted, you’re inspired, encouraged, supported – then sure, go ahead, watch that TV (usual caveats apply). But if you’re not? There are plenty of other activities out there.
Ditto books you’re not enjoying, learning from or being stimulated by – why bother?
See also the myriad of mundane little tasks we mindlessly fill our days with. How much of our life is spent doing things that don’t need to be done, or could be better done by others?
Really though, our relationships are the key area where we can get unbelievably dragged down, pour untold time and effort into something with neutral or negative return, and potentially massively negatively impact our life.
It’s worth taking a little time, just every so often, to keep a gentle eye and make sure things are in balance.
Oh, and the most important part of the equation? Spend more time with those who lift our spirits. Those who make us feel better about ourselves. Who make our hearts sing. Who inspire us. Who make us believe anything is possible. Who make us believe in ourselves.
I know a few people like that. You’re where I want to invest my life.