This week, J Thorn and Crys Cain talk about how to engage in and support your writing community when you have low energy or you are in need of support yourself without overextending?


Crys: Hello and welcome to the TASM podcast. My name is Crys Cain and I’m here with my cohost J Thorn. How’s it going today, J? 

J: Hey, how  you doing Crys? 

Crys: Doing all right. Tripping over ourselves here. Oh, I have been getting back in the flow of things. We’re in week two of my kiddo being gone, and it’s been a really productive and, but it’s always interesting learning a new flow.

J: So what is your day looking like? That’s a big responsibility on your shoulders right now. 

Crys: Yeah. This week I’m on vacation the way that, I don’t really go on vacation, but I still vacate. So it’s been going back to my normal system of having my done-it list slash to-do list, and the day before or the morning of saying, “okay, what is it that has deadlines today, or has deadlines upcoming? What movement do I need to make forward?” putting that on my list as a priority, and then checking it off. 

There was a really interesting email in Becca Symes’ Patreon group. One of the questions was, ” how do I plan for things ahead of time when I don’t have the Futuristic strength?” And Futuristics are very good at seeing what’s before. 

And Becca went a little deeper. And she’s like, “Hey, here’s three, a time-based strengths,” meaning that you are very aware of what’s happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. And they were Futuristic, Context, and Adaptability.

These people are really good at being aware of the passage of time and how to manage their time. 

I have none of them in high demand, which made a lot of sense because I always have to reevaluate in the day what it is, the specific tasks that I have done. 

It’s been interesting because you are very, very aware of the time you have the amount of stuff you have to fill it. And you stick to your schedule more or less consistently week in, week out.  

I am very much not that person. And it was really interesting to see that in Strengths language to see why I am not that person. 

J: Yeah. 

Crys: How about you? How was your week been? 

J: Pretty good. I had a stupid Vella idea, and I am saying stupid as in good, but like… really stupid.

And I’m like, I have to write this. I’m not ready to share anything yet, but I will soon. Here’s why I’m mentioning. It is  a completely different thing for me. Like nothing I’ve ever written before. And I’m like, this seems like the perfect place to play. 

For a few thousand words, I can experiment with this and there’s really not much at stake and there’s not really much to invest.

I think I’m going to try it, but it’s so silly. Like I almost, it’s almost embarrassingly silly, but I think I’m going to do it anyways. 

Crys: Oh, but that means it’s joyful. Are you going to put it under your name or something else to just keep the joyfulness and the anonymity? 

J: Yeah, part of the stupidity of it is the pen name that I came up with for it.  I won’t hide the pen name, so I’ll let people know it’s me. But the, yeah, the pen name, I think… off air I’ll share the idea with you and you’ll… yeah, you’ll get it. 

Crys: Excellent. Excellent. This week we had a message from one of our members who wanted to be anonymous. And we’ve distilled their question in to this: and that is how do I participate in community, support others, when I kind of feel drained already. Like I’m starting at a point of like negative, low energy or negative energy, or I have high needs myself how do I manage my place within the community, giving the support I want while not overextending myself so I can do the things I need? 

We’ll have a much more succinct title as we talk through this and dig it out. 

J: Yeah,  I’ve a very unsatisfying answer. So I’m almost wondering if you would like to take a crack at that first. 

Crys: I have to think a lot about energy expenditure because I do not have a lot of it. And actually I think this is really good thing for us to talk about in tandem, because that was one of my concerns when you said, “Hey, what do you think about maybe stepping into take over TASM?”

At the time you were thinking about handing it over a kind of more in its entirety. And I said, let me think about it. I came back to you and said, “the thing I am worried about is keeping up the community conversation because that is a high energy drain for me. I know I can produce content. I know that I can help people, but I don’t know that I will always have consistent energy for the community aspect.” 

Which I think is, and has proven to be the most important, like the core of our community. And I think that the consistency of support is what people come to us for.

I was like, I don’t know if I have that. I have the heart for it. I don’t know if I have the consistency for it because my energy fluctuates so much. 

J: Yes. That is it’s great that you have that level of self-awareness because I think if you don’t, that’s when you run into problems like the easy response is not everyone is cut out to run a community, nor should they. There are certain things I know I shouldn’t be doing. And I don’t.  I think it’s a danger…. this is… 

Wow. This is really hard to navigate around. This is part of the problem of the idea of equality and I’m not, I know I’m not going to phrase this properly, but we’re not all the same. We’re just not. 

And I think we over-correct sometimes too, to deal with past social injustices and saying we’re all absolutely 100% identical.  We’re not.  There are certain things certain people are better at and others aren’t. And being a caregiver is one of those things that I think not everyone is good at.

Sometimes you have to do it especially in your personal life. You might have the role of caregiver thrust upon you out of circumstance and you just do it, maybe you have to take care of a child or a pet or a parent. And so you just step into that role. And then there are other times where you can elect that role.

If being a caregiver and caring for others taxes you so much that it starts to hurt, maybe that’s a role you need to minimize where you can. So on one level there’s that part of it in that yeah, not everyone should be running a community and that might sound overly obvious, but that’s how I feel.

The second part of it is, and this is weird, I experienced this as a classroom teacher. A lot of times in my situation, in my experience, the more I’ve given, the more energy I’ve gotten back. And it sounds counterintuitive, but being really emotionally invested in my students’ lives and like the problems that they had was very taxing.

At the same time, taking those on really energized me and wanted me to help. I wanted to help more kids that way. The problem that I have, and I don’t have a solution to this, but I feel like we only have so much gas in the tank. 

I reached the point, my teaching career, where I was so emotionally tapped from working with my students. I didn’t have anything left for myself, for my family.  I think that was the point where I was starting to think, ” Maybe I need to walk away from this. Yes, this brings me satisfaction. Yes. I’m good at it. Yes. I’m helping other people. But now it’s starting to wear me down to the point where I’m not helping anyone.”

I think that was the beginning of the end for me in that particular phase of my life. So much of it is about self-awareness and sometimes you’re, maybe you’re just not the person to take care of other people at that point in your life. 

Crys: I have so many thoughts and I am quickly jotting down my notes so that I can try to capture them.

And the first of it goes off the last thing you’ve said, with as much energy as you’ve given out, you’ve gotten more back. I’m sure you’ve at some point run into what I call energy vampires. How have you dealt with those situations? Or when did you learn to deal with them? 

J: Oh, I still am.

I’m better at it. I think when I was younger, I tended to tolerate more. And and I tolerate much less now and I don’t, I’m not a jerk about it. But I’m surgical in removing energy vampires from my life. I know the first question people ask when I talk about this as what if the energy vampire is like your mom or your spouse or your brother.

Those are more complicated, but I still think there are ways you can really minimize the energy drain in those situations. 

For me, it’s just being ruthless. It’s being polite, but being ruthless and it might be flat out saying you know what, we’re not a good mix for this project or, we’re not working well together. We should probably, go our own ways. 

But just being really honest, upfront, and kind about it is what I’ve learned. It doesn’t always work. Some energy vampires will get really upset, no matter how nicely you put it. There’s nothing you can do about that. It’s being very decisive, being very specific when you are in that situation, it’s going south and not letting it linger.

Crys: I would very strongly agree with that. I find that the more I learn about establishing healthy boundaries in personal and professional life, the more able I am to do that, but also the more able I am to accept when people don’t have healthy boundaries and they tend to be the people who get very upset when you establish them and just, being able to put up in the even firmer boundary between the emotions they have about you setting the boundary and the boundary you have.

I am going to do my best to describe the next part without sounding very snooty. And this is where I really like to lean on the Clifton Strengths language. 

J: Crys you never sound snooty, by the way. So I’m not sure that’s something you have to be worried about. 

Crys: When I talk about how I manage my friendships, I… I have gotten a lot of negative feedback from people who are not like me. And people who have been very close to me have gotten extremely offended by how I manage my friendships. 

That’s that I’m extremely protective of my inner circle. And I am very aware of what circles people are in. How close to me they are. And therefore how much energy I’m willing to give them.

And… this is the part that sounds snooty. People have to earn their way into the inner circles. And the way I try and describe this in the least snooty boy possible is, for instance, everyone starts at a negative with me. Everyone has negative points. Yeah, the snooty part. But the points are made up and they don’t really matter, ala Whose Line is it Anyways?

So like, you get points and you move closer to ” Hey, like we might be able to have a conversation” just by being a writer. Having weird hair. The points don’t matter. Like they’re just a lot of signal points that give you points in my eyes that say, “Hey, we might actually be able to have a decent conversation that wouldn’t drain me.”

And then once we have that conversation, then you just earn more points as far as whether I think that we should move closer or farther away as far as  humans who match up in energy. 

I told you, it sounds snooty when I describe it. And it’s not that I’m weighing whether people have value. I’m weighing whether we are a good match to build a relationship. Minor, major, whatever.

It’s all subconscious. I’ve only learned to put it into words in the last couple of years. It’s something I’ve always done, but it’s something I’ve put into words the last couple of years. 

I think for people who liked me interacting with other humans takes a lot of energy. Even those who are dear to us who give energy back to us, there is still this negative social drain. And when we hit rock bottom, like we gotta go, we gotta go do our own thing. 

Just being aware that you don’t have to give everyone the same amount of energy, and that’s allowed! That was very important to me in sometimes I just don’t have energy to give, and I have to recognize that. Because you got to put on your own gas mask first.

Maybe not gas mask, oxygen mask! 

J: Depending on where you are, you might need a gas mask. I don’t know. 

Crys: You hit that dentist and you hit the mask! 

That was one of my thoughts, hopefully like I didn’t come across as snooty. We shall see. 

The other thing that you said about being a teacher and then it just didn’t fit for you. That kind of goes along for me with when you have energy and when you don’t. 

No cycle of our life lasts forever. So you were a teacher in a school for a cycle of your life. And that was what that cycle of life was meant to be. 

I think the same happens for being part of a community. And I think we need to roll back from discussing necessarily like whether someone should lead a community to just how you be a member of a community and contribute and support other members.

It’s okay to be a member of community and not be giving a hundred percent. That’s okay. You’re not going to be giving a hundred percent all the time. If you have the energy to give a hundred percent and you want to, go for it. But the community has to earn your trust and energy. And the individual members are going to have unique relationships with you, and they’re each going to earn trust with you.

It’s rough waters, but you’re going to navigate it individually and with the group as a whole. 

J: Yeah, it’s a good point. It’s realizing that being in a community is being a leader and a follower, and taking different roles at different times based on different circumstances. 

 There, there are times in our slack channel where I’m really active and there are other posts where I don’t really say much because I’m like, I don’t really know, or I want to learn, or I don’t feel qualified to address that.

And I that’s. Okay. Like you said, it’s, you’re not expected to be at a hundred percent of the time. And And I think that’s, we often joke that we were calling it a community. We like to joke it’s more like a family. And that’s what being part of a family is about.

Everyone doesn’t pull equal weight all the time in a family. At least not in mine. There are certain people who will do inordinately more work on certain things than others. And that’s okay. Because the unit as a whole functions. The unit as a whole is healthy. And there’s love there.

And yeah, to your point, like it’s not about maximizing every second that you’re in there. It’s more about recognizing the times when you can and should step up and other times where you allow yourself to be led. 

Crys: One of the things that I really want to give permission to our listeners is you don’t have to interact in that public forum more than you interact one-on-one. 

If you are more comfortable, someone asks a question and rather than enjoining in the group conversation, particular for our group, some groups don’t have this rule, but you should feel safe messaging that person directly and saying, “Hey, I didn’t like really have the energy to engage with this publicly, but if you want my thoughts, here’s what this is.” 

Because a lot of times I will have much more energy for a one-on-one conversation than I will a group conversation. 

J: Yes. Yup. Totally agree with that. Yeah. 

Crys: Any further thoughts? We’ve covered a giant map of related tangents on this idea of being a member of a community of a family and contributing and accepting assistance.

J: It’s a very lofty topic. Hopefully we didn’t stray too far from the essence of the question. 

Crys: One of the questions that pops up to my mind that I think we can ask our listeners, because one of the ways we differentiate ourselves is that we are not a Facebook group, and it is a smaller group and it is a focused group. 

I know that a lot of people just feel like they can’t find the group that fits them, that supports them in… whatever. For us, particularly, it’s writing and publishing, but whatever journey they’re on. And I would be really curious for our listeners why it’s hard for them to find a group.

I don’t have any ulterior motive in this, but I feel like digging into what we’re looking for in a group and what we’re not finding really helps us as individuals figure out what it is we do want to look for. 

J: Great question. 

Crys: All right, friends, thank you for joining us once again.

If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what the author success mastermind is all about. And as always, we will have a link for you to leave your comments in the show notes.