I used to be an avid reader. I read everywhere - when I was brushing my teeth, at the breakfast table, right after school, in bed, so long that I only got a couple of hours of sleep. Then I started studying. My first year of uni, I barely touched a book except for text books. My second year, I didn’t finish one single novel. Over the course of five years of studying, I probably read 10 books that were not in the curriculum. Maybe even less.
At the end of 2014, after having worked a couple of years, I looked back and realized this hadn’t gotten any better. Sure, I read more, but not consistently. And I hadn’t felt that pull into the book, the drive to just keep on reading one more page, for a long, long time. And I got really, really sad. How could I have lost something that brought me so much joy during my childhood and teenage years? Something that provided an escape, an alternative, worlds that I could lose myself in and emerge whole and healed and happy?
So I challenged myself. I would read 52 books in 2015. One book per week. The challenge would not be to be able to read that fast - I can tear through 500 pages in two days - but to make space for it. To deliberately choose to read instead of watching another Netflix series. To sit down and allow myself to get lost again and not be pulled towards my phone or cleaning the kitchen or meeting friends for dinner. To explore what that would do to me.
So I read. I read on the subway, I read in bed, I made coffee and spent Saturdays on the couch reading. I read in trains, I read at the kitchen table, I read in our campervan in Iceland. At first, it felt … odd. The first Saturdays I spent reading felt wrong. As if I should be doing something else, something productive, instead. Checking my Instagram maybe, or writing another blog post, or going out and seeing someone for coffee.
But then, I started to enjoy it more and more. And during the course of the year, taking this time to read helped me realize something: I recharge when I’m alone. When I’m with my books or with my knitting or with my cup of coffee at the breakfast table, all by myself. Don’t get me wrong - I love spending time with people. But truly recharging my energy - that happens when I’m alone.
I started to think about what that meant for me and for how I live my life. I started to realize that I needed this time alone, and that I was the only one protecting it. I was the one responsible for getting me what I needed to recharge, for carving this out of my busy, busy life, no one else.
I realized that if I go out more than three nights during my five day work week, I start to crack. I also realized that I felt I was letting people down when I cancelled - and that I was not being honest about why. “I’m sick”, “There’s so much going on at work - can we postpone for a week?”, “I’m so sorry, but there’s this urgent meeting…”. Excuses. And if you heard something like this from me last year and you suspected that that was not the whole truth, you were probably right. And I am really, really sorry. You deserve better than that.
I struggled with all of this, a long time. Until a wise woman who has become a very good friend of mine in this last year told me that the best friends are the ones with whom you can sit on the sofa in your PJs and say nothing. She showed me that you can say “I’m sorry, but I need some time to myself” with grace and that it actually means so much more if someone trusts you enough to tell you that.
Spending time with my books showed me that I need time alone to recharge. That I can only be the best person I can be if I take this time for myself. That I can only be the best friend, the best partner, the best listener, the best creator if I take this time. And that I have to be honest about this. To myself and to others.
So in 2016, I will try to be more mindful about this. About how I spend my time. About how much energy I have.
I hope this post makes you reflect on how you recharge. Everyone is different - it’s just important to be conscious about what you need to be at your best. You could try something similar to my “52 books” project in 2016 to figure this out for yourself. Or you might find a bit of yourself in my description above and decide to allow yourself a bit of time alone this year. Give yourself permission to do whatever it takes for you to recharge.