Seasons of Input & Seasons of Output

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A popular faith-based podcaster I listen to, Jamie Ivey, did a livestream on social media with her husband where they referenced the idea of seasons of input and seasons of output.  I loved this type of thinking, so, naturally, one of my besties (Angela) and I started discussing this idea over dinner this weekend.

I love how simple and true this idea seems.

There are seasons of your life that require input.  Practically speaking, I define seasons of input as putting in the hard work at work, putting in extra hours on a task, working out consistently, not procrastinating and getting things done, taking time upfront to be organized on everything from managing personal finances to stocking up on things needed at home, saving money, speaking truth to someone and/or building them up when they’re walking through a hard time, practicing or rehearsing for anything, showing up for people even when it’s inconvenient, eating healthy, writing a book even when you don’t feel creative, mentoring others, training for something, volunteering or doing acts of service, and generally speaking it’s a lot of doing things even when you don’t feel like it.  Seasons of input are sometimes (oftentimes . . . mainly all the time) exhausting.  Seasons of input require trade-offs you don’t always want to make.  It requires missing the fun event if you have to study for a test.  It requires reworking a presentation that you received a lot of feedback or changes on.  It requires discipline and not giving up.  Seasons of input require taking care of yourself so you can even sustain the season of input itself.  Seasons of input are periods of time when you roll up your sleeves and you spend time heads-down focused on “the work” which can range from office work, home work, relationship work, raising kids work — and you oftentimes look back and don’t even know how you did it all.

I define seasons of output as a raise, a promotion, buying new clothes when you’ve lost weight, having a friend encourage you when you need it, having people show up for your special events, vacations and time off, receiving awards and recognition, winning the big game, earning a scholarship, watching your kid graduate, sitting on a deck you built with your neighbor, receiving praise on something you created, enjoying the benefits of a process or preparation for something, sitting in the favorite room of your house after it’s been renovated, seeing someone you’ve mentored achieve a personal accomplishment.  Seasons of output are the rewards for the season of inputs.  It’s the moments when “the grind” pays you back.  It’s when the organization and extra hours and the lectures and the rework and the guiding and the pouring into people and the discipline pay off and you get back out what you put in.  It’s the “good karma” at the end of what you’ve cast out into the world.  It’s the moments that bring pure joy and make you look back and think it was all worth it.

The trick is (according to what Angela and I came up with) having/understanding your personal threshold for how long you can exist in a season of input; and having the discipline to know when you should pivot back from a season of output to a season of input.  I’m speaking to my fellow overachievers for a moment — guys, we’re so susceptible to extending our seasons of input that we’re too exhausted to enjoy our seasons of output.  In real life terms, that means we’re too busy working so hard and achieving the next achievement that when the accolades or downtime potentially present themselves, we’re too burnt out to take a moment to fully engage in the output.

On the flip side, speaking to those who avoid putting in the work . . . guys, get to work.  We can’t live in a season of output our entire lives.  We can’t eat crappy but expect to be thin.  We can’t not try at our jobs and expect a promotion.  We can’t magically expect people to show up for us when we need it when we were nowhere to be found when they needed us.  We can’t expect to have a savings if we don’t put the money in the bank.  We can’t have the view without the hike.  We can’t expect the rewards without putting in the work in our passions, careers, relationships, etc.  Put in the input and you will get your output.

So we’re all doing this dance.  We’re all shifting in and out of these seasons, but I think it’s important we all pause and understand what season we’re in, how long we can or should sustain the season of input, and show gratitude and recognize the season of outputs.

What season are you in?