Overambitious: Recovering from Creative Burnout

just-beI’ve overextended myself, wrung myself dry of creative energy. Not ideas, mind you, I have plenty of those – but my ability to execute them is at capacity.

I’ve disdained comfort and safety. “I’m not the type of person who watches TV every night,” I tell myself. “I make things.” I’m constantly pushing my own boundaries, instantly jumping to the next project when I master the last one. Learn one recipe, time for a new one. I feel the need to be constantly growing by experiencing new things. Every year I make an ambitious set of goals in all aspects of my life. I care about everything; I have opinions about everything. No decisions are easy or simple.

I’m happy to be passionate about life, but sometimes it’s just exhausting.

I don’t want to be average. I want to leave a mark on the world, even if just among my family and friends. I aspire to more.

I want to do more, accomplish more, read more, learn more, create more.

But I need to just be more.

I think it’s time to let myself be comfortable for a while.

Stretching myself too thin

I create by day and by night; I design interpretive signs and marketing materials at my day job, and in the evenings alternate between writing fiction, blogging, and designing.

I haven’t taken a true, relaxing vacation in years – if ever? I take time off work to pursue my own art projects. My family’s always been go-go-go. In college, I maintained an ongoing list of neat things I wanted to do or see. I’m thinking or doing all the time, taking classes or volunteering or starting new personal projects. Self-structured work wasn’t enough; the past two Novembers, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and written 50,000 words in a month.

And my personal life is a frenzy of changes; in the past year, I’ve adopted two kittens, eloped with my long-time partner, bought a house, and got a promotion (and new workspace) at work.

In response to the continuous stress, my body’s revolted. I’ve rediscovered the insomnia of my college years, and sometimes can’t fall asleep until four in the morning, or not at all.

Lessons about myself

It’s hard for me to admit that I’m burned out. It’s even harder to force myself to act on it. There are so many interesting things, and even at 27 years old, I feel like I don’t have enough time to learn and do and see as much as I want. I’ve made time precious. And when time is precious, any moment not producing or learning is a moment wasted.

I don’t know how to really relax.

When I take a night off, I feel guilty for not creating things. Commitments to others nag at me through the week.

Yet I sit in front of my computer every night and feel my hand inexplicably take me to facebook, pinterest, google reader – my ‘junk food of the mind’ addictions. Easy, mindless activity. Simple pleasures.

I need to learn patience with myself, and with life. As much as I seek meaning in creating for others, and as much as I seek to grow as a person and a creative, I can’t neglect the present, or my well-being. I need to learn to relax and enjoy the present.

I need to trust in myself. I’m enough, as I am. I’m satisfied with my possessions (well, for the most part ;)) and lifestyle; why can’t I be satisfied with myself? I like myself. I think I’m pretty swell – why can’t that be enough for now?

What I’m doing about it

Doing fewer projects for other people

I’m trying to reduce my commitments. Last November, I had to turn down a project that I really wanted to help with, for a person who I feel I owe much. This winter and spring, I took a hiatus from this blog. Going forward, I will post only what I feel comfortable creating within my schedule and energy levels. I can’t schedule my energy or my inspiration.

Dropping personal goals

I’ve always been goal-focused, and scoffed at Leo Baubata’s “no goals” lifestyle, thinking it impossible to achieve without ‘self-directed’, big-picture focus. Yet goals constrain our future to our past self’s dreams.  I think it might be time to try going mostly goalless, as scary as that feels to me.

Letting go of the neverending quest for the new

I’m paring back my sources of intake – I don’t have to keep up with the latest trends in graphic design, art, cooking, and interior design. I don’t need any more inspiration. I was tempted to let go of my feeds altogether when Google Reader pulled the plug, but couldn’t go cold turkey. I cut about half of the blogs I was following, and now am down to 27 (including ten webcomics). (Give me a second to laugh at myself – 27 blogs are essentials?)

Allowing Life to be Simple

I’m learning to let go. Every night I try to get off my computer an hour before bed and read or do something else to help me unwind from the day. I’m allowing myself to enjoy other people’s stories, watching shows and reading books and comics, without worrying about my own. It’s OK for life to be simple and calm.

Adapting my mindset

Day by day, I am working on my mindset (ironically, changing myself to accept that I don’t need to constantly change). I know I’m not there yet because I keep finding myself trying to take new things on, thinking, “I had my break, time to dive back in!” And then I find myself sleepless again. Oh, yeah – I am stressed, huh? Learning a new perspective is a work in progress.

Have you ever burned out? What did you do about it?

About Tracy Durnell

Seattle-area graphic designer and SFF writer inspired by the Pacific Northwest, crafting a sustainable and intentional life.

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