Should I Stay Or Should I Go (Out)?

Energy management is as simple as a jar of rocks.

Posted Sep 18, 2018

Robert Brown Stock/Shutterstock
Source: Robert Brown Stock/Shutterstock

Should I stay, or should I go?

Life for many introverts is a perpetual push-pull between FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and HAHA (Happily at Home Alone).

I like being around people. Sometimes.

I like being where things are happening. Sometimes.

I like being out on the town. Sometimes.

And, of course, I also like my living room. Often.

I realize that for some introverts, staying at home is always the default. That’s cool. As long as your life feels fulfilling, you’re doing it right. But I’ve had long stretches of not much going on in the past, and my life started feeling dry and joyless. It’s not right for me.

On the other hand, I’ve had a stretch of people-intensive activity the past couple of weeks, and when I got home early this afternoon with several hours of solitude stretching before me, I wanted to throw myself on the couch and weep with relief. (I didn’t; I threw myself on the couch and napped instead.)

Too much alone time is depressing. Too much people time is draining.

Hence I expend a lot of brain energy calibrating the going out versus the staying in.

How do you make your choices?

A good analogy for staying versus going out is the jar of rocks. Or the rocks, pebbles, and sand analogy for time management. Only instead of time management, we’ll use social-energy management.

You have a large jar. That is a week or a month’s worth of social energy. You are going to fill the jar (use your social energy) in a way that reflects your priorities. Rocks, pebbles, sand.

The first things you’ll put in the jar are rocks. Those are the essential interactions, either for practical reasons (job) or personal (family and important friends). And yes, I know a lot of introverts would say solitude is a rock, and I get that, but hang with me here.

This exercise forces you to think about who your rocks are. Which people in your life are worth pushing through a workday’s worth of energy drain for an evening out? Friendship requires maintenance, which means time and energy. I schedule time with important friends, even knowing that when the moment comes, I might drag my feet. But notice the word “schedule.” For me, spontaneity is difficult to pull off. I schedule time with the rocks in my life and force myself to go, whether I feel like it or not. More often than not, I’m reenergized by the visit.

The worst stay-or-go struggles for me are the pebbles, which go into the jar next. Things that matter, but aren’t crucial. Parties, art openings, live music. Things that, ideally, enrich my life. These pebbles are of infinite colors, shapes, and patterns. You want only the finest pebbles in your jar, so you have to look at each one carefully to decide. Is this pebble something that would be particularly meaningful to someone I care about? Is it something that will benefit me in some way? Is it a pebble so compelling that I would regret not putting it into the jar?

Unfortunately, the distinctions aren’t always clear. And it’s pretty easy to change your mind at the last minute about what appeared to be a compelling pebble at first glance. (It’s like clicking Interested on a Facebook event. Interested, but usually not interested enough to go when the time comes.)

This is when I start weighing things like potential regrets if I don’t go against potential regrets if I do. How much effort is required? Do I have to put on makeup? Will I run into people I know? Is that a pro or a con? Sometimes I’m happy to see people; other times, I’m happy to avoid conversation. What, realistically, are the odds that I will enjoy myself once I’m there? And if everything goes swimmingly, how much might I enjoy myself? Full-out fun, or just not torture? How good would it feel to give myself permission to stay home?

The pebbles are always a crap shoot. Maybe you’ll have a surprisingly great time, maybe you’ll wonder within minutes why you bothered. When the latter happens, I remind myself that a) I can go home any time, and b) in the big picture, it was just an infinitesimal sliver of my life and no big deal. Also, sometimes events I don’t actually enjoy turn out to have been enriching in some way (I realize in retrospect when I’m safely back on my couch).

And finally, rocks and pebbles in place, you will fill all the remaining spaces in the jar with sand. That is alone time. Picture the way sand looks amidst rocks and pebbles; that little sliver of sand slipping in the cracks might be 20 minutes alone in the car between appointments, or a blissfully solo walk in the middle of a busy day. Bigger deposits could be an evening or (joy!) day alone. The important thing to realize is that the amount of sand in your jar depends on the number of rocks and pebbles.

This is where the choices come in. While the rocks will probably remain constant, the pebbles are all negotiable. If you toss in pebbles willy-nilly, you’ll be able to fit in only the smallest trickle of sand and end up drained. At that point, you might realize there’s not a pebble in the world worth more than a couple of big fistfuls of sand, and you’ll dump out your jar and start over: Rocks, fewer pebbles, lots of sand. If an irresistible pebble falls in your path, empty out just enough sand and toss it in.

As a jar only holds so much, your energy, too, is finite. When you start viewing it as a resource to be managed, the stay-or-go decisions start getting easier. So save room for your rocks, don’t bury yourself in pebbles, and dig your toes in the sand whenever you can.