Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Do you have an energy crisis?

I don’t know about you, but 2012 has been a long year. I feel like it’s swallowed me whole and then hoiked me up, and I’m lying here like a giant wet hairball with bits of chewed up grass.

The fact that you’re even reading this piece is a miracle, since it’s evidence that for once I actually managed to start something and finish it. It scares me, this gaping chasm between what I think I can do, and what I actually have the energy to get done. How many really good ideas never see the light of day because the person who came up with them was too tired to follow through?

That’s the real energy crisis. Not the fact that we’re running out of oil or we use too much coal — though we do — but the fact that we’re all just too damn tired all the time to get even a fraction of what needs to get done, done.

All of us have different reasons for being tired. I’m single and childless and self-employed, so the demands on my energy are different from the ones that affect most women my age. In my case, it’s the challenges of being alone. As we all know, people can be draining; office politics can sap you of your will to live. But this year I’ve become very aware of just how incredibly tiring it is to work on your own. And not just any work, but the kind that requires lots of creative energy to generate stuff you’re not sure anyone actually needs or wants.

In January, I quit my job to pursue my own interests, as the announcements from HR always put it so tactfully. I can say that no matter how many times I failed this year — and I failed more than I succeeded — at least I did stuff. I didn’t wait for a brief. I went out there and made things happen, and some of it actually did some good.

But I’m tired. Incredibly tired. I don’t have a lot of self-belief in stock at the best of times, and this has required huge amounts of it. Do others who freelance or have their own businesses battle with self-doubt in this way? I am fortunate enough to have friends and family who care and who are on my side — even a CEO who gives me lectures when I need them — but when you work alone, you’re on your own and there’s no getting around that. Nowhere to pass the buck, no substitutes to step in and pick up the pieces, nobody to fail or succeed alongside you.

It’s lonely and exhausting and I’ve lost count of the number of times I came close to burnout. (Bit ironic, yes.)

My projects planned for next year are a mixture of things I’m largely responsible for and ventures that involve working with partners, something I’m both relieved by — finally, it’s not just me — and anxious about. But right now I’m not thinking too much about what’s next, because even contemplating 2013 makes me want to crawl into bed and sleep for a very long time.

We have to keep going, though. So here’s to recharged batteries. Here’s to self-belief. Here’s to solving our energy crisis, and getting the important stuff done.

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  • What to do when everything’s always urgent
  • South Africa 2013
    • Trying to survive

      I am so glad for your honesty and sharing. Half the people I know have had the most appalling years with the most terrible crises of self belief, burnout, anxiety, loneliness, depression, thoughts of the end. You have courage to bare your soul and say it like it is.

    • Karney

      As a self employed woman for 18 years I’ve learnt the hard way that 1)work comes in spurts 2) one has to learn to say no sometimes 3) try structure hours, clients etc according to ” tipping point”( this is different for every one, but I now know exactly how many people / hours in a day I can manage, before I start to unravel. 4)One has to teach oneself to take time off without feeling huge guilt ( which is a female inbuilt trait I think ).

    • less is more

      That’s it

    • Perry Curling-Hope


      Your’e far too young to be experiencing either a physiological energy crisis or ‘burnout’

      I’d be more concerned about the real energy crisis… Eskom and the energy regulator plan to effectively halve our living standards over the next three years by doubling energy ‘asking’ prices.
      That together with etolling, an effective R3.00 per liter energy (fuel) ‘levy’ for every liter burned transporting people and goods on motorways, it’s not a good Christmas present for anyone trying to make it on their own.

      Like you say, we just have to keep going, or else go work for the government. (as a young woman, you still maybe have a chance).

    • Sean

      I believe that most of us struggle continually with self doubt but most have learnt to portray a surface veneer of confidence and capability, which of course contributes to others feeling that they are the odd ones out, who suffer from self doubt.

    • GrahamJ

      Just think, if you had taken another course you could have had a very exciting year.

      But we all make choices…

    • Rory Short

      @sarah I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate your frank sharing. I am a Quaker so I am supported in my understanding that my role in this life, as it is in everybody’s lives I believe, is to manifest the Spiritual in the material. This manifestation is unique to each one of us, it is definitely not according to some recipe dictated by others, by society, or whatever. Our Quaker understanding is that what you are called upon to manifest is shown to you through what your guts, your heart, your inner essence, is calling upon you to work at manifesting and it might be in complete contradiction to what those outside of yourself think you ought to be doing. It is a gentle, still small voice that calls you in this way so we need to develop our ability to hearken to it. We do so by consciously committing ourselves to listening for the calls and then humbly acting on them as best we can. Humbly because we might have heard incorrectly and so we need to be quite open to changing course in response to further calls. Unfortunately this understanding is not common in society at large so people are either lucky enough to fall into doing something that fits them or they spend their lives doing things that really do not satisfy them.

    • PM

      It is possible to do things that create energy…..create flow.

    • john patson

      I have been freelancing, mostly from home (thanks ADSL technology) since 1997.
      The best tip is the hardest — build up savings to see you through at least three months when the work dries up, or clients “forget” to pay.
      Once you have that cushion, you get less tired and your work improves too.
      Do not go on holiday either, unless all your clients are really on holiday and are not going to pay you, even if you do work.
      Holidays are needed by office and factory workers because working with other people is such a strain.
      When you work on you own that, particular strain disappears.
      And remember how lucky you are, no commutes, seeing your loved ones whenever you like, being able to work to suit your day, and not arrange your day around work.

    • nguni

      Get your Hb and thyroid checked, not normal to be so tired at your age.

    • Julie Surycz

      Forget all the other things and finish writing your book! You can do it!