“You’re like carbon fibre”: even high maintenance needs to earn its keep

I have often wondered whether I simply enjoy working for myself, or do it because I have to. Without the wish to put off potential clients, one of the reasons why I do my job well is because I am who I am and largely have the freedom to do it. I am bound by my chartership codes of ethics, and I have a clear awareness of societal and professional procedures, but I leave with all my belongings at the end of the day and I am not bound long term by wider organizational rules – or politics. “Politics” may be unfair, but while of course I know how to behave when I need a job, it has most often been a clash of my values with those of my immediate managers that has led me to leave (followed only by the reason that I was plain bad at the role and knew everyone would be otherwise far better off...aka my stint in telesales).

I’m doing ok on my own, but I am extremely privileged to have a second stream of income from a family business that I also run, a very supportive husband, and clients who trust my methods, work and outcomes to rebook me but have as much need to put me on formal contract as I have to be on one. As my husband put it “You’re like carbon fibre…you rely on a few people to hold in your protruding strands…”, however, he added “…that’s a fair analogy though, you’re also very strong, worth the cost and have a few important applications.”

When I think back, my clients who repeat-book me say much the same, so does my dad.

I am high maintenance. Although outwardly affiable, I'm difficult to manage, and I make a number of high emotional demands from those close to me, although I also work to earn and repay them either professionally – by doing my job well, and/or personally, by thinking about them and trying to be as good a friend as possible. However, I don’t always get it right and after the carbon fibre comment today I went to learn a bit more.

Carbon fibre has excellent properties, it is attractive and it is strong, but it is the cost and the amount of wastage has prevented adoption on a wider scale despite its usefulness. Its cheaper alternative of fibre glass is seen by some as more flexible (although less aesthetic) and in some ways of better value. There is currently research into a blend of carbon fibre with other materials to retain its positive qualities while addressing price and eco-friendliness.

It’s a bit like anything high maintenance. You always need to earn your keep.

It’s ok to demand high as long as you yield high return – effectively

The biggest gripe I hear from many is “I give and give and give” and no-one bothers, I should just not bother/set lower standards/not be friends with anyone.

One thing I have learned over the years of relationship building and maintenance is that, like carbon fibre, “gift” is best appreciated where it is needed. Now that doesn’t mean “don’t give” – it means give wisely, and be prepared to look for how it is being returned.

On a recent Wellness League Energy Top Up show, we spoke about Gary Chapman’s “5 Love languages” which focuses on the ways we like to give and can appreciate receiving love:

- Physical touch

- Words of affirmation

- Quality time

- Acts of Service

- Gifts

Most of us have a preference, but if the object of our affection does not have a similar primary preference to us – we both may end up labouring under a misapprehension. (I would urge you do the profile, and get friends, partners or family to do it too (I’m less enamored by the “nudge app” that comes with it, although it’s free, I personally think a “nudge” of any sort is passive aggressive)).

It is certainly not the case that if you have one preference and your partner, friend or family member has another that you should completely try and change yours, or “forget the whole thing”, but simply, as with carbon fibre – see if adding other elements to your own actions results in higher levels of return.

For example, I scored 23% in gifting, my husband 0%. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate gifts from me at all, but he would prefer to receive – and would most likely appreciate – words of affirmation or physical touch (his higher scores) more. This doesn’t mean I should stop giving him gifts…but perhaps alter the type. Instead of simply “something expensive”, I might instead buy something meaningful, personal or engraved; or “gift” him vouchers for a massage or similar.

My desire to adapt is not because I think he would source a “lower maintenance material” otherwise, but as I say with much of life – professional and personal – if you aren’t growing you’re stagnating, and if you are stagnating while others are growing, you’re moving backwards. I’m just keeping my value as high as my expectations (or perhaps needs) – as effectively as possible.

Rather than exhaust yourself doing things which you may like and find they are not returned – or similarly missing when love and appreciation is being given to you – it doesn’t hurt to reframe your approach through broadening your value rather than cutting it off or compromising it.


· Keep an open dialogue regarding need or desire in relationships so that both parties know what is valued and what may be expected.

· Try to collaborate through reframing rather than compromising through reducing. (ie. It’s not that “I don’t “gift” to my husband because he doesn’t value it” – we are all far more complex than that – as regards this example, it is simple that I am now looking at altering the type of gift to offer.)

· Always seek to improve and learn (this does not mean old skills “disappear” but rather they can just be put away until you need them again.)

· If you are a “square peg” you do not need to fit into a “round hole” (carbon fibre too has very specific uses) – it is helpful, however, if you do suit and enjoy the professional or personal environment or group that you have chosen to stay in for some time.

· Personal growth and reflection is all part of earning your high maintenance keep!

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Learn more about her at www.draudreyt.com or follow her on Twitter/IG @draudreyt. Watch her resilience-building show Energy Top Up here.

©2019 by Resilient Health: Wellness before the point of crisis.