Spoon theory – conceived by a woman suffering from Lupus explaining the concept of limited energy to a friend while eating at a diner – is the idea that you start each day with a certain number of spoons in hand. Each spoon indicates a level of intention, effort, energy, and focus. Throughout the day, as you do different things, you “spend” your spoons. When all your spoons are spent, you are mentally, emotionally, and physically done for the day. If your health is compromised and/or if you are under duress, you may start the day with fewer spoons. The idea is to use your spoons wisely. 

When you decide to carve an intentional path through your career, it takes spoons. If all your spoons are used up already, you don’t have any to devote to international careering. You need to free up some spoons for that purpose. You do that by shoring yourself up.

A client, Robin, and I were talking about how she really wanted to land a new job. However, her current life was full, including:

  • A demanding job that took 12 hours per day to just stay afloat 
  • A family she wanted to spend time with, with teenagers
  • A commitment to keeping herself physically fit

Another client, John, told a similar story. In addition to his demanding job, he commuted over an hour each way to work; further, he suffered from moderate depression. He experienced a lack of energy and low self-confidence as a result. 

Although both leaders professed a desire to land new, fulfilling roles that truly worked for them, the reality is that they were out of spoons. A successful outcome, given their current dispersion of time and energy, was a long shot. Shoring themselves up would need to happen first.

Shoring yourself up involves stepping back to view the situation at the meta level, seeing the various interwoven parts that make up your life, and then prioritizing and resourcing where it will make the most difference for you against your priorities. 

You start by inventorying the various components at play for you, perhaps in a spreadsheet. Here’s a possible list to start from:

  • Energy management 
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Confidence
  • Community support
  • Intimacy and connection
  • Spirit
  • Fun and adventure
  • Home beautification 
  • Creativity 
  • Networking / new job

After compiling your list, you can assess each one and how they interplay with each other, including:

  • Specific elements of each component. For example, physical health may have three elements for you, including exercise, healthy eating, and sleep
  • What success looks like for you in each area
  • Current status
  • Desired status
  • Next steps
  • Level of effort to tackle
  • Level of willingness to tackle

With this inventory made, you can step back and decide where you want – and need – to spend your spoons first. John could see that he needed to prioritize his mental health before mounting a job search. After seeking support for moderate depression, he found his energy buoyed and his sense of optimism improved for both making his current job work more effectively as well seeking a new role.

To enjoy a fulfilling, impactful and vibrant career, you must devote time and energy to big picture thinking and intentional activity. To accomplish this, consider inventorying how you spend your time now, at work and at home. With that information in hand, you can decide which areas you want to spend more time in, and which less, identifying opportunities to allocate your precious time to higher leverage activities. 

You can’t squeeze blood from a stone. Gaining traction against your desired outcomes requires discernment of how you spend your time and resources, in which order. Keeping the metaphor of spending your spoons top of mind is a useful place to start.

This article originally appeared on the Merideth Mehlberg Group website.