little girl standing on father's shoulders while he holds her hands

Flying sustains me. When I walk away from my airplane after a flight, I have tremendous energy and feel ready to accomplish anything. Life makes sense and the world seems brighter, its colors more vivid. I’ve tried to prolong this euphoria, attempting to stretch it out over the week as weather or work ground me. But bills pile up, to-dos mount, and its luster always fades.

Over the last few years, I’ve begun to seek other experiences that have similar effects on me, ones that make me feel energized and powerful, the way flying does. What I’ve learned is this: some of the best sources of positive energy come from a select few people in my life. I call them Sustainers. Of course, the opposite types skirt the edges of my life as well: the Drainers. You probably have both types in your life also. What I’m pointing out may seem obvious, but how often do we stop to determine which people are true sustainers and who are soul-sucking drainers, and to what level? I bet many of us haven’t. Yet to be content, to live the lives we’re meant to lead, shouldn’t we have a firm grasp on these influencers who shape our days, weeks and years?

I’d never explored this concept with any depth until spending time separately with two friends on the same day enlightened me. The vast contrast in how I felt after my separate interactions called attention to how much others can affect my well-being.

After coffee with my first friend, I walked away confident in myself, feeling content about what I was trying to accomplish in life. The person sustained me. But after lunch with my second friend, after listening to complaints and negativity for a full hour, I’d been completely drained. I walked out dazed, looking for the license plate number of the eighteen-wheeler truck that had hit me. Something else hit me: the thought of why in the world do I hang around people like that? Did I feel a sense of obligation to this person because we’d known each other for so long? Did I have a subconscious need for drama in my life? No. I’d simply never thought about it long enough to notice this person always left me drained.

From that point on, I began to take responsibility for who I spent time with in my life. When I returned home, I opened my journal and drew a horizontal line with double arrows across the top of the page. I placed the word “Sustain” to the far left of the arrowed line and “Drain” to the far right. In the middle of the paper, I drew a vertical line down the center, my neutral line. For the next hour, I listed all the people I interacted with during my days and weeks, solely judging my experience with them on how I felt when the interaction ended. For someone who left me exhilarated, feeling good about myself, that person went to the far left. Anyone who left me de-energized or downright depressed, went to the far right. Some people fell directly on the neutral line or a hair to the left or right of it, while others landed neatly between the neutral line and the extremes. After that hour, I had a clear image of who sustained me versus who drained me. Guess which group I started spending more time with after that day? Beyond that, I had to figure out how to minimize my interactions with the opposite group.

Obviously, you will have difficulty removing all Drainers from your life or even reducing the amount of time you spend with them. Bosses, co-workers and some family members may come to mind. Here are some thoughts to minimize their impact:

1) The simple fact you recognize them for what they are—a Drainer—will help you deal with them better. You’ll be less likely to let their words sink in unfiltered. You’ll begin to find their negativity tends to bounce off you versus glob onto you for the rest of the day.

2) If your co-workers and bosses completely drain you, this is probably an indication that the place you work is not right for you. Most places have inherent cultures typically set from the top down. Make a goal to find a work environment that better fits, one that leaves you energized after the work day because the culture and people are optimistic and believe in a common goal.

3) As for family, this is a tougher one. The first bullet applies, but I’ve learned over the years that most family members will respect your requests to support and nurture your dreams, if you ask. Many family members don’t realize they may be undermining you because their comments often come from a place where they don’t want to see you hurt or fail. They think they are helping you when saying such things. Once you let them know these types of statements do not help at all, they are more aware and will should earnestly try to support you. But if they don’t respect your request for support? Then seriously examine your relationship with them and whether you want to continue it. Your true family in this world are the people who nurture and support you, whether they are blood or not. Think about it. Of course, this advice may work with some drainer-friends as well. Just don’t spend too much time trying to change them if they are incapable of it. There are too many sustainers in this world who are eager and ready to support you for who you are. You simply need to seek them out. They are your tribe.

Who sustains you in your life? Who drains you? Download my Sustain vs. Drain chart to help you figure it out.

After you know where the people fall in your , vow to spend more time with those who sustain you. As for those who drain you, let them drain someone else. Don’t worry about them because misery loves company. They’ll easily find others to hang around. You, however, will find a weight lifted so you can focus on what really matters: moving toward the life you are meant to live.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

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