Thursday, March 17, 2016

Burst Working & Burnout

I'm a burst worker. I find that many creatives are.

I get into a high creative energy and I pour myself completely into it and I produce a hell of a lot of content.

The last six months I wrote a book and published it. Then I created a Creative Cocoon around myself and focused on redesigning, rebranding and rewriting every single page on my website, my private learning portal and every single online class I've ever taught.

It took months of pure focused energy. When it was complete I was happy with the result.

And exhausted. My brain was ttttiiiiirrrreeed. Like the kind of tired where you can't think anymore and pretty much all you want to do is sleep. And you're just pushing through and nothing feels joyous anymore.

That kind of tired. Exhaustion. Creative burn out.

The only cure for this kind of exhaustion after a massive burst of creative energy is to get out of dodge and rest. Go for a vacation by myself, sleep, dig my toes in the sand and allow myself to be mesmerized by the waves of the ocean.

Of course, I didn't used to do this for myself. I used to just keep slogging through and beating myself up for not being able to generate the creative energy anymore. I got sick. Like, leaky gut, depression and adrenal burn out kind of sick.

It wasn't until I said, "Screw it, I'm going to Mexico," that I got well again. I totally couldn't afford it and I didn't have time for it. But I couldn't afford not to do it even more and my time was not being well-used anyway. Because I was sick, could barely work and didn't really care anymore.

I learned from that experience that I have to respect my own energy levels. I have to work these little vacations and rest periods into my creative and professional life. I have to schedule them before the extreme burnout happens. And I have limits. I have limits to how much creative energy I can generate and how long I can maintain all that energy "out," before running myself into the ground and depleting all of my creative energy all together.

So I am in Puerto Vallarta right now. I got a cheap little Airbnb place and I slept for the entire first two days. A deep, restful sleep that I desperately needed. The first few days were hard. I had been in such a state of Do-ing that I had forgotten how to just Be. I wandered around disoriented thinking, "what am I supposed to do with myself for nine days?"

Of course that faded after the first few days and I allowed the ocean and the sand and the lack of responsibility lure me, seduce me into a state of Be-ing.

See, most of us are Productivity Junkies. We get a high off of producing content. We get a hit off of producing projects and knocking stuff off of our lists. We have this whole idea that the more you produce the more money you'll make or the better you'll be.

And we run our creative energies into the ground. Even worse, we can be self-deprecating and quite rude to ourselves when we simply need a break and we can't produce anymore because our natural energies don't support that. Some of us call it depression, or call ourselves names like "lazy," or make up reasons that sound legit for why we can't maintain the high creative productivity all year long, every day and through every season.

But, here's the truth. Your creative energy is the very most important thing that you have. It's your biggest resource and your life depends on it. But, it's not supposed to be a steady stream of high energy all the time. There are cycles of the Earth, they are natural and must be respected. There are seasons in which all mammals—yourself included—experience high creative energy and also periods and seasons where you're supposed to be resting and Be-ing and creating white space for yourself so that you can produce exceptionally good work when the season comes for that.

So respect your natural rhythm. When the high creative energy comes throw yourself into it and enjoy it and make the most out of it. But, when the creative high subsides, throw yourself into rest and play and Be-ing and enjoy it and make the most of it.

If you follow the natural rhythms the creativity will come back even stronger than before. But if you ignore the natural rhythms and don't allow yourself the rest and play you need, well, you know what happens—burnout.


Jennifer Goble said...

Oh, can I go along??? SO true!

Patricia Stoltey said...

For me, I call it binge writing, and I take on jobs or play with burst of energy...and then I take lovely afternoon naps whenever I need them. It works in the same way as a toes in the sand vacation at the beach, but costs me a lot less cash, and I can usually get the cat or dog to nap with me on the couch, a bonus relaxation event.

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