I SPY: Burnout
TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...
So what does one do when one hits that invisible wall?
Survive, revive, and thrive.
I blogged about “The Write Balance” a few years back. As a counselor (in a former life), I’m aware how important finding balance is to maintaining health and happiness…and as a human with people and projects pulling at me from all directions, I’m just as aware how difficult that balance is to achieve and maintain on a daily basis.
This time, when my turn to blog came around, the only writing craft or career-related topic I could think of right now was the one thing that has consumed me for the past several weeks: Recovering my lost mojo. My motivation. My sense of balance. Whatever you want to call that need, that drive to create, I had lost track of it sometime back in early December. It's possible I misplaced it earlier than that and was just going through the motions for many weeks, meeting deadlines but feeling no joy in the process.
It wasn't until my health started suffering (both physically and depression) that I had to admit to myself that I'd hit a wall. Whether it was the current work-in-progress that threw that wall in my path or the holidays and a couple family emergencies combined with deadline after deadline throughout 2015, or just my inner two-year-old coming out to throw a tantrum, I just. Didn’t. Wanna. Anymore.
|Image from: http://www.pauladavislaack.com/burnout/|
When my physical health started to fail and I wasn't enjoying time with my kids during the holiday season, I knew these were signs I needed to slow the heck down. I had to focus on survival, making the holidays as bright for my kids as possible, and rest my poor, tired brain.
I worked on nothing but enjoying each moment, especially with my family. I read as much as I could. I communed with nature and binge-watched movies, trying to reabsorb any and all forms of creativity and storytelling while not having to work on my own stories. My only job became to nurture and restore myself.
I was convinced (and more than a little worried) that I was done with writing. Kaput. For about two weeks, until the holidays passed and the kids were back in school, I focused on family stuff. During that time, I hung out with family, played mindless online games where I grew crops and entire towns populated by imaginary people who didn’t care if I finished my book. I also jumped into several household projects that had been bugging me—such as repainting and reorganizing my pantry.
And I tried not to think about the manuscript that I’d already put weeks of hard work into, that already had a beautiful cover and two-thirds of a rough draft and was now languishing on my computer.
And I assessed what I wanted. Was this career still my goal? Was I simply tired? Did I need to try something new, even if it was simply switching to a new genre of writing?
Emailing with friends (writer friends who've been there, in particular) was helpful at this time. And I think the self-preservation part of me was trying to keep one foot in those writing waters. I wasn't ready to give up the career I'd fought so hard for.
My friends kept asking me "can you really walk away from this?" And, "what would you do if you didn't write?" The tone suggested that, as a writer, I couldn't NOT write. But I thought that maybe I could walk away and not look back. After years of working toward this career. (This was scary.)
So, analyzing why you're pursuing a goal—Money? Passion? Fame?—can help you discover whether the pursuit is still worth it for you.
For me, I need to finish a project I've started. I've always been that way. So I'll get back to it and finish. And I enjoy being a writer. At least, I'm discovering that I can revive that joy, now that I've had a break from the deadlines. It also helped to remember I could take a step back and it didn't mean I was quitting. I just needed perspective.
|Photo from: http://wemagazineforwomen.com/|
The answers didn’t come easy. In fact, I’m still working on finding that inner "zen." I'm not sure where this path is taking me, or whether a different path might be better. But after about four weeks of regrouping, of doing other “writerly” things other than working on the book I’d stuck in the corner, and totally non-writerly things like finally working on getting my youngest's baby book together (he'll be 6 in a couple weeks!), I decided to reopen the work-in-progress and take a peek. It wasn't so bad. I know it went off the rails somewhere, otherwise I wouldn't have stopped. And when my brain's rested, I'll find the answers. Despite my recent struggles, I have faith in this process.
Slowly, I'm getting back into the groove. (After all, I've already got that beautiful cover and don't want to waste it!) I'm learning that I need to pace myself, and part of that was setting time limits and reassessing goals. Instead of having a daily word count or page count goal, I've switched to a time goal. I know that, if I put two hours a day into this manuscript, eventually it'll get done. And I'll probably build up my stamina again in the process.
When committing to a word count or page goal seems daunting, or exhausting, I know I can still manage a time goal. One or two hours seems manageable.
And one day, that energy will be back and I'll thrive again.
Have you suffered burnout in your job? Have you had to take a step back and reassess? Do you have any tips or tricks of the trade for recovering from burnout and/or maintaining balance?