Do you have initiative fatigue?

Initiative fatigue. It’s a thing! Admittedly, in a fit of delusion, I thought there was a chance (emphasis on chance) I may have accidentally coined the term, but thanks to the power of interweb searching, I’ve learned the idea of initiative fatigue has already been defined for education leaders. Seeing as I’m not in academia, I decided to remix the existing definition to better match my own sentiments and life experiences, so here’s my first draft: “emotional and physical fatigue related to a high degree of proactivity”. The proactivity I reference manifests itself in every aspect of life from work to relationships and everything in between. 

What I love most about the notion of proactivity is quite simple: it’s the opposite of being reactive. So, for someone who embodies the trait, they don’t let life just happen to them. While that’s hella empowering, it does have the tendency to create emotional and physical fatigue if not managed well. I find this to be especially true when you’re starting over in life as you’re in a position where you need to rebuild your professional and personal life from the ground up.

It’s not always easy to put yourself out there: applying for new jobs, starting a new business, seeking out new friends, making a physical or mental transformation, and the list goes on. Not to mention, the rejection rate can be high. So, does the possibility of emotional and physical fatigue associated with proactivity warrant stopping being proactive? My humble opinion is no, but we should ask ourselves: how can we maintain a proactive approach to living and lessen the likelihood of initiative fatigue? This is an idea I’d like to explore in this article and I’ll give an example to illuminate my point:

Take a step back and weigh the facts

Say you’ve just moved to a new city and you’re looking to make friends. You connected with a new friend this past year, but over time you notice that said friend consistently bails last minute on scheduled plans and communication is like pulling teeth. 

Instead of getting frustrated, take a step back from initiating plans and just see what happens. While I’m not suggesting creating a rigid system of checks and balances to track who invites whom and how often, it is important to check the facts and get a sense for the work effort going into maintaining the friendship. Here’s what to do next:

Evaluate importance

You’ve taken a step back and looked at the facts noticing that over the past year 99% of the time, the friendship feels quite lopsided and that initiative fatigue has started to kick in. You must now ask yourself a few questions: how important is this relationship to me? How am I benefitting from this relationship and how do I perceive that my friend benefits from our relationship?

This is where context matters. 

In this scenario it’s a new friend that you’ve just met. You can’t clearly articulate how important the relationship is to you, how you benefit and how your friend benefits. 

If you applied this same scenario to a long-standing friend who has had a rough year but otherwise has been a fixture in your life for many moons, is that friendship worth taking a step back from (probably not) or conversely, should you step up? 

Make a decision

You’ve taken a step back and weighed the facts. 

You’ve evaluated the importance of the relationship. 

Now it’s time to take action by making a decision. 

It’s important to note that taking action is a spectrum, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Remember that in this example scenario, this is a new friend you have just met, you can’t clearly articulate how important the relationship is to you, how you benefit and how your friend benefits. That said, is it worth being less proactive (at least temporarily) in an effort to reduce your initiation fatigue? I think that’s a respectable option! Your action items could range from initiating a conversation with your friend about your observations and concerns to simply letting the friendship simmer.

The latter is at odds with a common (but dare I say not helpful) belief that “you must be friends with everyone”. There is a difference between being courteous and respectful vs. being friends, which I believe requires a substantial investment of time and effort. Letting go of a friendship doesn’t have to be harsh, dramatic or cruel. You can still warmly greet this person when you see them, but with the understanding that at that particular point in time, you just didn’t have the bandwidth to continue the friendship if the efforts weren’t mutual. 

And that’s ok!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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