CHRG: A watch more self-aware than a candle is or I was

My watch is powered by light. It’s a Citizen EcoDrive. I got it almost 13 years ago. A few years ago, I needed to change the battery so I sent it in for repair. This weekend, it kept flashing, “CHRG.”

It’s was fitting. I had to take a break. I thought it was stress but I think it might be burnout. Temporary stress keeps you going. It motivates you to get things done. Prolonged stress, that can lead to burnout. When you burn out, you have to stop, because, well, you’re burnt out. Like a candle.

A candle is probably a good analogy for this. The wick, when lit, is hot and sucks up the wax so that it can be burned to create light and heat. The wick itself doesn’t burn as quickly as the wax but serves as a conduit for it. Eventually, the wick will burn down. When it does, it can no longer convey the wax and create the light and heat that it once did. It’s at this point that you need to replace the candle.

People are similar: they take an idea and work with it to create something new – light and heat. This is what we often refer to as productivity. Your ability to work well is directly correlated with the amount and quality of wax around you. If you have a large reserve and it keeps getting topped up, you’ll be able to continue on for a good while. But, if the wax drips down the sides as you burn, there’s energy being wasted and you won’t last as long.

A couple of weeks ago, my wick burned dry. I didn’t see it coming.

The flame of the candle is indifferent to how long the wick is or how much wax is in the reserves. It doesn’t know if it’s serving a tea light or votive candle. All it knows how to do is burn until it doesn’t.

I was like a flame, unaware of how much I had left to burn.

But, if the wax drips down the sides as you burn, there’s energy being wasted and you won’t last as long.

I used to make my own candles. I did. I would get coupons for Michael’s to buy the materials at steep discounts.

To make a candle, you have to start with hardened wax. You melt it down in a double boiler for good heat distribution. Once it’s liquid, you pour it into a container or mould with a fresh wick positioned just so. Then you wait for it to cool and harden. Once it’s hardened but still malleable, you poke a few holes and pour a bit more wax on top. This helps fill in any air bubbles that may have formed. Once it’s cool and solid, it’s ready to burn.

The point I’m trying to make is that it takes time to make a candle. Interestingly, you’re starting with wax that’s already in the state you want it to end up in but that’s not in the right shape. You have to melt it down in order to reform it.

The same thing needs to happen with people when they burn out: they need to be reshaped into a useable form. This takes time. It takes a series of alternating melting and cooling to help bring back the desired shape to serve the desired function. Running through the middle of all of this is the motivation and sense of purpose that makes it all work – the wick. If it’s not there or placed in a poorly chosen position, the candle won’t burn as expected.

My watch wasn’t functioning as expected. It was running out of energy. It had had enough of being kept in the dark, under the cuff of my sleeve or on a poorly lit countertop. It was keeping time but the second hand was moving every two seconds and none of the unused chronographic functions worked. My watch needed more light, more energy. The light from a candle wasn’t enough to charge it back up, it needed to see the sun. Still, it kept going through the motions while continually flashing “CHRG.”

Somehow, my watch was more self-aware than a candle is or I was.


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