Healing From Burnout

Self-care is a huge theme that I’m seeing run around the Internet space these days. From Amy Kuretsky’s #28daysofcreativecare challenge to hearing other bosses lose the #hustle talk, self-care has quickly become a topic we love to obsess about.

My response to this is two-fold:

  1. F*CK YEA! As entrepreneurs we work too hard, the pressures are too great, and it’s too easy to internalize other people’s expectations for us to not be eating lunch, going for walks, or sitting in the bathtub. So, in light of our newfound obsessions, let’s all give each other a mutual group high-five.
  2. Let’s not make self-care another thing on the to-do list. I don’t think that any of the huge proponents of self-care are advocating for this, but as a Type A Creative (as I’ve often referred to myself), it’s easy to click into “accomplishment” mode and treat self-care like a task.

The Real Pain of Burnout

Last January I hit burn out in a major way. I had spent 2 years working 80 – 100 hours per week, trying to grow my brand strategy studio, Prim’d Marketing, while earning a Master’s Degree in Writing. I would work a full day with clients and then hit my second shift by heading to the library or a cafe to write. Some days it was off to class to have my ass handed to me by smarter students and brilliant literary professors. I was easily starting my days at 9am and ending them at 11pm. It was nuts, even for a crazy driven creative like myself.

I’ve written a bit about the experience of being a Type A Creative and finding active rest. But to be honest, it’s taken me almost an entire year to really understand the depth of how far I had pushed myself and to heal from the extreme asks I placed on my body and mind for those couple of years.

Last January, when I finished the MFA program, I was excited to have some of my life back. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was so tired. Tired in my bones, tired in my will, tired in my heart. I was tired of putting on the big girl pants. Tired of making hard decisions. Tired of designing or writing things only to have people tell me what they didn’t like about them. I felt bare — like I had creatively given away every last thread I had to offer.

I wanted to wrap myself in a blanket. I cried a lot. I wished I had a creative fairy godmother to tell me I did a good job and feed me soup. I wanted someone to draw the curtains and dim the lights and say I didn’t have to be the boss anymore.

I still wrestle with talking about this — perhaps I feel shame. Shame that I should have known my own limits, shame that I was the only person who didn’t think what I was doing was crazy, shame that I convinced myself that I could do so much.

Yet at the same time, I know that my superpower is doing what needs to get done. I’ve been this way since high school. I’d be the last to leave the library, the last to dim the lights, the last person standing after everyone else’s brains had turned to mush and they’d packed their books. It’s a strength that I love and admire about myself. But it’s also a strength that limits my growth and the growth of my team and business.

The Way Out: White Space

I did get a fairy godmother. Her name is Rachel, and she’s a spiritual advisor and women’s health coach.

I remember that first session we sat in her tiny cottage surrounded by the redwood forest, and the peaceful babbling of the stream outside was enough to crack me open. I couldn’t stop crying.

Rachel showed me many things over the coming months, but the biggest thing was this: just like great design, our lives need white space.

This felt different than “self-care” had before. It wasn’t a to-do. It was a void. It was carving out 2 hours in the morning before I turned on or picked up a screen. It was saying no to travel opportunities so my husband and I were home at least two weekends a month. It was saying no to fun things like dinners and nights out because I just needed some time to ramble around in my living room with no place to be and nothing to accomplish.

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that slowing down and making space was damn hard.

But slowly, I could feel myself coming back to life. I was probably kinder to my partners (married and business). I didn’t feel like there were so many demands placed on me, or more truthfully, demands I volunteered to hold.

Over the months, this white space morphed into a more traditional form of “self-care:” long baths, candles, hiking in the redwood forest, Soul-Cycle classes. But it took almost 6 months of white space to recharge and feel my creative roots again before I was even ready for more traditional self-care methods.

White Space as Fuel for my Business

The best part is, slowing down and making space has made everything better. We doubled our revenue last year. So did our profitability. We hired a new assistant and a social media person. This year we’re looking to bring on a writer and a designer to start taking even more things off my plate that I normally do as the boss.

It’s a bizarre and difficult truth for me to hold — the more I pull back and breathe, the more we grow. It’s not about doing more. It’s about making space.

Initially, I felt compelled to make this post a value-driven, “here’s how white space can help you.” But I think I’d rather leave you with this: If you’re facing real burnout, boss, I see you. I feel you. My heart goes out to you. It’s hard. You’re pushing and pushing and pushing. Yet, a little nagging voice keeps telling you that the only way to get to where you want to be is to just push a little harder.

But let me invite you onto a new path. Just like the fabulous creations you make, your life needs some white space too. Some space that has no obligation to be, look, or do anything certain or specific. Adjusting those “doing” muscles into “white space” muscles feels awkward and counterintuitive, but the rewards are great.

Deep breath boss. You’re doing a great job.

 

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