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You are Essential

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You are Essential.

I’ve been thinking a lot about energy since I returned from a month-long RV trip that my husband and I coined #AhlQuest. 

Away from my computer, far from Los Angeles, each day was a blank page instead of an always full to-do list. 

I’m writing to you, attempting not to sound too “woo-woo” or out of touch with just how privileged it was to take time away. My love and empathy go out to the caregivers, parents, and life circumstances where time and space are not fully your own. 

I wasn’t planning on writing about energy today. The next round of the Digital Community Building Cohort is now enrolling, and I have so much to share about rebuilding for the fall semester. 

But then I shared on Instagram what I learned after giving myself time and space; the discovery of how much havoc constant stress does/can do to my mind, body, and spirit. And I wanted to share those lessons with you. 

I learned: Do not drink the stress Kool-aid. 

Throughout the years, I’ve told myself plenty of things (lies) justifying stress. I love to be busy. I need the money. I want to impact more people. I don’t want to be bored. I’m good at multitasking. I work best under pressure. I enjoy working on the weekends. I need to be of service. 

Over the years, there were also plenty of things my body has been trying to tell me – and I was ignoring. 

Until I wasn’t.  

In that same post on IG, I opened up about what has happened to my mind and body during and since the trip. I’m still adding to that list, and it’s a good kind of list. Because I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to go back. 

I’m not claiming that I’m a new person just because of a vacation. RVing/camping is a lot of hard work. 

This is not a sales pitch for self-care. Or to pick up a Peloton, and all your anxieties will melt away (as you know from a previous letter, I sure do love my Peloton though).

This letter is about energy. Who and what we give it to and why. 

Within the first week of the RV trip, I read a book. I realize reading is a pretty common thing, but I could not finish a full book during the entire pandemic. So anyway – yeah, I finally got back to reading! I’ve shared this challenge with others – I’ve found others out there who experienced this too. 

Looking back, this book, in particular, was the spark that got me thinking differently and consciously about energy. Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown was gifted to me by my business coach, along with a couple of other books. While not assigned nor expected, after working together for five months – she obviously observed a growth area. Or maybe this is really her intervention 😉 

McKewon describes this practice: “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

Now – I’m not preaching a philosophy or a one-theory approach to life. But this gift came into my life right when I needed it – and maybe you do too. 

Because we’ve been through so much. Because we are tired. Because, especially in higher education, the build-up to and delivery of a fall semester already takes so much when things are “normal.” 

And people are leaving the field. Good people. 

The field is filled with doers. With producers. With do-whatever-it-takes-ers. And the doing just keeps piling on. Our bodies are breaking. Our spirits are suffering. Some of us cannot carry on.

But many continue on for the mission. For our students. For whatever other reason makes you rationalize the stress is sustainable or worth it. 

Let me ask a question. 

Are you worth it?

There have been waves throughout my life that stress has escalated into very rough waters. I was trying to prove that I was smart enough. Experienced enough. Even a doctorate wasn’t always enough. Producing and doing more, I thought, was proving my worth. 

It did pay off – until it didn’t. This trip made me realize the effects of stress, how I needed to see myself as essential. That I am worthy – I always was. And you are too. 

“The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that, I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.” ― Greg McKeown.

At a college campus or higher ed organization – the same rings true. Produce, Do, Whatever it Takes. The stress Kool-aid pours freely from the ceiling.

Higher Education rewards the ‘good work’ of doing more – with being given more work to do. 

McKeown in Essentialism writes, “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead, we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”

As we inch (or fly) toward the fall semester, I’d like to remix three concepts and quotes from the book to help us all reframe – especially related to digital communications. Because social media, without purpose, can deplete our teams (and our students) of energy. 

1. Social media strategies (or lack thereof) can be wildly stressful. 

“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” ― Greg McKeown

Leaders – we need you to work with these professionals to create and uphold a clear vision, guidelines, and priorities. It can go either way. I’ve seen a complete lack of strategy and some that are absolutely unrealistic. There is no recipe card to follow, but in this case, I want you to have an honest reflection on what you and your team can accomplish. Those tasked with social media management are overwhelmed with requests and opinions for how to do their jobs, for what to post, for another department that “needs” an account. 

2. Have FOMO about connecting with your people, not FOMO about platforms.

“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” ― Greg McKeown

Always debating the bright shiny objects that tech can tease us with is in itself distracting and takes up energy. At least for today, make a clear decision about the tools you will and will not use, from your to-do list, project management, to social media. I also want you to think about and know where your people are already. Let your clear yes or no be what influences you. Then the one, two, or three tools you are saying yes to – keep your focus on the relationship-building strategies on those tools. 

3. Track the Return on Relationships, not just Investment 

“Instead of trying to accomplish it all – and all at once – and flaring out, the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress. Instead of going for the big, flashy wins that don’t really matter, the Essentialist pursues small and simple wins in areas that are essential.” ― Greg McKeown

If you are running all your own social media, you can not take on all the platforms and strategies for yourself or your organization. It is okay to be and stay small. Don’t let the quest for big numbers distract you. What will make your presence truly powerful is prioritizing the individual relationships, conversations, and connections? Have you ever tracked your comments, your DMs, or the number of times someone has come up to talk to you or emailed you because of what you posted online? That is an ROI beyond likes of any kind.

What does living by design look like, rather than running on default?

A tool like TikTok uses an algorithm (whether you want it or not) to feed you future content. Whenever we get a new piece of technology or platform, that tool is set to the factory default. Over time we customized and adjusted it, based on our own preferences and usage. But many users don’t realize you can also customize those settings.

What are behaviors, strategies, and mindsets you have continued to run on just because that’s what you’ve always done – or that is what seems to be expected by your organization, clients, family, or yourself? Is that by design or default? 

Is the stress Kool-aid the most convenient drink nearby, that helps you get the job done, get the raise, etc.? Are you worried without it, you won’t be as successful? 

Let’s experiment and explore together. 

Let’s look critically yet very kindly at how we chose to or had to work – especially over the pandemic. We were in a constant state of crisis. Some still are. That level of stress is not sustainable. 

You are worthy. You are essential. It’s time to gift yourself space to rebuild.


*This post was originally created for my newsletter, Digital Leadership Download. Subscribe and keep up with everything I’m writing, podcasting, and speaking about!

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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