When he got off the stage after delivering his power-packed TEDx talk in Athens, Thomas Erikson was ecstatic. However, upon returning backstage, his wife shared the disturbing news of his father's passing. Miles away from home and with very little he could do about the situation, his world suddenly turned upside down.
“I didn't plan to mention it, but I do believe it's a good example of coming across tough situations that you simply have to accept. You’re happy one moment, but you can’t predict the next," says Erikson, as his eyes well up. "You have to accept that you're going to lose energy sometimes. You can't be strong everyday."
"Society—whoever that is—has tricked young people into believing: that you can feel fantastic 24/7. Sure, it would be great, but it's not true.” Life is never all good or all bad, neither are people. A sentiment that forms the crux of Erikson’s widely-recognised bibliography, including Surrounded by idiots, one of the most widely read books about human behaviour.
The most recent addition to the ‘Surrounded by’ series, Surrounded by energy vampires brings together all the themes explored in his earlier works, identifying psychopaths to bad bosses, setbacks, and narcissists as energy vampires. In a recent conversation with Khaleej Times, the Swedish author and behaviourist, recently in Dubai for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, talks about the dangers of labelling people based on only one characteristic and sheds light on why Gen-Z might be the most misunderstood generation, as a result of it.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Q: Who is an energy vampire?
Let's imagine you're sitting at your desk; you feel okay, good about yourself, empowered, and with something nice to do. Then, someone enters the room through the door, and suddenly, you feel, “Oh no, this is not one of those days”. That is your energy vampire—the one who makes you feel completely drained.
It could be anyone; it could be a bully, a passive-aggressive person, a narcissist, or even a perfectionist or drama queen. It could be your manager. We all react to different things. My energy vampire is probably not your energy vampire. I may react to certain behaviours that make me feel sad, drained, and low on energy, but you might say, “Yeah, that's nothing”. So, it’s tricky to figure out who’s an energy vampire.
Q: So, how do we spot an energy vampire?
Notice when your energy level is going down as you start to measure your inner battery. When you get your coffee, you feel strong and ready to take on the day. Then, all of a sudden, you realise you don't feel that strong any more. You can go back literally a couple of hours and assess what happened. Was it that phone call at home? Was it a situation that you weren’t expecting? Sometimes you can see a pattern.
For instance, every time Fred calls, you need to get up, walk around a little bit. What is the problem with him? Fred is not deliberately trying to steal your energy; you just aren't connected in one way or another. Maybe you can talk about it with Fred.
Q: The phenomenon of ghosting is becoming increasingly popular. Is it acceptable to ‘ghost’ energy vampires?
That is not the solution; it’s a coward's solution. I believe in old dinosaur thinking: you are responsible for yourself, for what you do, and for what you don't do. If you didn't act, that's your problem. Your reactions are also your responsibility. So, take responsibility for that. Do something.
Q: How do you recognise if you’re being an energy vampire yourself?
That's a good question because sometimes you are your worst enemy. That is indeed the case. I would say most people are their own worst Energy Vampire. But it's hard to accept. Sometimes, we spend time on the wrong things but you need to pay attention to what is happening.
What I did while writing this book was quite the opposite of what all the Gurus say, which is usually along the lines of ‘write down one brilliant thing every day’. I'm totally for that. But what I did here was, I started writing down everything I did wrong in a day. What call didn't I respond to? Did I eat too much during lunch? Why did I not go for a walk?
When I had a list of 100 points, I realised I could probably fix 98 of those, which I am working on as we speak. Every time you fix one tiny little thing, you can tap yourself on the shoulder. The message here is, it's the small things that matter.
Q: You don't seem to like the conventional labels, often used in modern society. What are some dangers of labelling people too quickly or incorrectly?
Self-fulfilling prophecies occur when you label people, creating complex problems. When I started my project, defining personality styles using four colours (red, yellow, green, blue), I didn't understand how similar people are all over the globe because we’ve often been told otherwise. When I travelled across, I realised people from India are basically the same as in Sweden when you talk to them individually and people within Sweden, from north to south, could, in fact, be very different. So, when we label people, we think of them in a unidimensional way.
Q: You’ve previously mentioned that young people, or ‘Gen-Z’, are being labelled incorrectly. Why is that?
We are so quick to judge young people nowadays. Everyone loves making assumptions about them. Over 2.7 billion people can’t all be the same. The problem is when we label young people as needy, entitled, and no good. Why would they bother? Then, life is already over for them. Why bother when you can spend the day in bed, eating crisps and drinking Coca Cola?
When actually, what they should be doing is roll up their sleeves and ask, “How can I help? What can I do?” Young people don't want to be treated as young; they want to be treated as people. And social media is only making it worse by telling the young people that they should be happy 24/7. You shouldn't chase happiness. Happiness is a result of something. It’s not a goal in itself. You will feel happy when you do the right things.
We need to remind ourselves that everyone's suffering. When I'm working with entrepreneurs in Europe, or mentoring billionaires, they all look fantastic. They look super competent, confident, and successful. It’s all shiny from the outside but when you scratch the surface just a tiny bit, you see the darkness within everyone. We all have the darkness in us.
Q: How can employers actively support and integrate the younger generation more effectively into the workforce?
This is actually my main business—to help people be good leaders, not managers, but leaders; we all should know the difference. Especially because the younger generation wants leaders, not managers. You can't coach a team, you need to coach the individual.
I don't care if you don't have the time, if there is no infrastructure, or if you have 33 people on the list and you are busy with something else. They still need you as the leader. You need to talk to the individual and figure out what they need for the task at hand. You need to invest time in the individual.
Q: Can the absence of an individual relationship between an employee and employer lead to quiet-quitting?
Quiet-quitting means you are not taking responsibility. Who said to Gen-Z that it’s okay to quit quietly? That is the opposite of taking responsibility. What you need to realise is that it feels bad, it is bad. If you think that you’re indeed better than the organisation, good on you. Start your own business, or apply for another job.
Another issue is that managers don’t really show any interest in finding out what their team is struggling with. A good leader will sit with their team and ask them what's missing because something is usually missing and addressing that is a good starting point.
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