Stephan Joppich (aka Leo Sharp)

How to spot energy vampires

published13 days ago
4 min read

This newsletter is a fortnightly meditation on living a more intentional, fulfilled life.
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Today: Life transitions and energy vampires

Hey there!

Yes, I'm very aware that today's not actually a Thursday. But it's been too long, and I didn't want to delay this edition any further.

So, what has caused me to skip my bi-weekly rhythm for the first time in the 19-months history of this newsletter?

Part of the reason is that I lost the courage to write. None of my ideas feel worthwhile anymore, I dread sitting down in front of an empty page, and I'm not even sure what kind of message I want to put out into the world. I feel stuck.

Yet another, more obvious, and more crucial reason is that I'm not a full-time writer anymore. Instead, I'm now a full-time student again and -- well, a part-time writer. And as you can imagine, this is not the ideal combination for managing my time and energy. Also, it's weirdly surreal, since writing had been playing such a huge role in my life, and now it has suddenly turned into this silent background buzz. I feel like a captain abandoning his beloved ship to swim to the shore -- it's a funky mix of grief and relief.

But then again, it's actually nice. To be surrounded by so many like-minded people once again. To exist on external schedules rather than my own. To be committed to learning for the sheer sake of learning. See, these are things I didn't really experience when I was still a full-time writer. I was wearing blinkers, always focused on the next blog post. Chasing the next hit. So, in a way, I'm glad I'm taking off the pressure now.

Rest assured, this transition won't keep me from writing this newsletter as often as I can. I'll also keep publishing weekly-ish posts on my website and on Medium. And I'll try to finish one of the three books that have been lingering in my mental pipeline (it can only be a matter of years).

So, if there'll be another radio silence, don't worry: It doesn't mean I ghosted you. It simply means I'm brooding on the next idea.

Idea: The vampire test

There's a simple method to find out what you want in life -- the vampire test. I first read about it in Austin Kleon's book Show Your Work and basically, it revolves around this question:

Who or what are the vampires in your life?

In other words, what people or things suck the life force out of your soul? What encounters leave you drained? And conversely, what activities spark ecstasy? To help you find out, the American graphic designer Milton Glaser offers a simple mental model. The thought process, as Glaser suggests in his talk Ten Things I Have Learned, goes like this:

"You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished."

And here's the thing:

This doesn't just apply to people. It also applies to hobbies, jobs, cities, books, etc. Anything, really.

In his article Compass in Your Gut, the writer Derek Sivers suggests a nice rule of thumb that works great for the vampire test:

Whatever excites you, go do it.
Whatever drains you, stop doing it.

If you've been following me for a while, you know that before becoming a writer I'd studied to become an engineer and started garnering work experience. And yet, I didn't particularly enjoy this line of work. Whenever I used to come home from work or classes, my mental battery was down to 1%. Critical level. I'd slouch into my bed, distract myself with video games or movies, and dread the next morning where it'd start all over again.

But now that I'm studying Romance languages and philosophy, I get unexpected rushes of energy. Many times, I go dead-tired to a lecture and by the end of it, my battery has fully recharged. (And no, that's not because I'm sleeping throughout all of my lectures!)

And you know what's funny? Usually, you can spot energy vampires straight away. It's as if we have a built-in vampire bullshit detector. The only problem is that, very often, our goodwill tries to convince us otherwise -- that a certain person or activity isn't actually an energy vampire. But deep, deep down, we know.

Now, of course you might think, "What if my first impression was simply wrong? Maybe, with time, it'll get better." That's a noble thought, but it's almost always vain. Because even if that relationship or job does get better, you still had to sacrifice a ton of energy at the vampire's altar to convert it. When I was still in engineering, I kept thinking, "Oh, I just need to give it some time. It'll get better. I simply need to adjust." But, of course, it never did get better. Not even after four years.

Ultimately, life is too short to waste your time trying to force things into certain boxes. (The effortless way is to find a box that fits in the first place.)

One last thing: You don't always need to be 100% certain about the vampire test. Treat it like an iterative process by doing the occasional check-in:

Is this person/activity/place/time draining or nourishing?

Ask yourself that question twice a day or so. Maybe write a post-it note to remind yourself. Then, reinforce nourishing things, banish the vampires, and monitor everything in between for more clues.

Content: Energy vampires in action

There's this great show called What We Do in the Shadows where the protagonist -- Colin -- is a self-proclaimed energy vampire. Incredibly entertaining. Horrifyingly relatable. (Don't we all have a "Colin" in our lives?)

Something to think about

A fitting quote from James Clear's latest newsletter:

"Making good choices is an endless process. Many areas of life that we value most—our relationships, our fitness, our craft—require a continual commitment."

A 30-second favor

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Until next time,


Bonus: friend links to newest blog posts

  1. It's finally here: my take on Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (one of my favorite books this year)
  2. Probably my favorite article I've written about minimalism so far
  3. An expansion on the poignant idea from the last newsletter I sent: Every time you do something could be the last time you do it.