This is the second installment of a two-part series on burn out. In the first installment, I talked about making the decision to step away from my start-up, My Alumni Link, for three months. I went through a period where I resembled a human version of a sloth--minimal movement, lots of naps, and limited sensory input. Thank god, nothing lasts forever.
Here are my tips for traveling the road back to joy:
- Rekindling your life force has no roadmap. A colleague asked me about my time off. "What will you do?" I immediately responded, "I don't know." In a world where we want answers and certainty, not knowing and ambiguity can feel like falling through the sky, with too much space and a gazillion places to land. But that's exactly what is needed. It feels odd that my work is to serendipitously re-discover what brings me alive. Armed with the blank canvas of a new day and the question, "What should I do today?", I follow my internal impulses. That is enough. Photo by mollypop.
- There is a time for reaching and achieving. This is not it. It's been hard for me to stay out of this mode. I've had to monitor myself. When I'm depleted, going into "achieving mode" smothers any joy that might be bubbling up. It looks like attending teleseminars that will teach me the seven secrets of XYZ and pushing myself to get to the top of a hiking trail, just so I can finish a loop. I have to remind myself that I'm loved for who I am, rather than what I accomplish.
- Who is that stranger? Finding joy is about being joy. That means re-connecting to all parts of myself--not just the engineer or coach or entrepreneur who I have gotten to know all too well over the last two years. During my time off, I've rediscovered the life long learner who devours several books a week, the food lover who savors a corn and tomato salad made from the bounty of a Saturday morning farmer's market, the aspiring flower arranger who places buds from a Rose of Sharon bush in bowl of water, and the bargain hunter who delights in finding a one-of-a-kind electric green skirt appliqued with beaded flowers, for less than the price of lunch out. In the comimg months, I hope to unearth the musician, the improvisor, the goofy girl who can laugh at her own jokes (over and over and over) and yes, the writer.
How do I know who is inside, waiting to get some much needed attention and air time? I'm noticing the quiet "voice" or feeling that tugs at me throughout the day. "Ooh, wouldn't that be fun!" or "I like this. I could do more of this." Photo by Eva Cristescu
- Visit other worlds to refresh the soul. Books and movies throw me into new scenery. Afternoons are for sitting on the back patio, reading about the U S Memory Championships or about a writer's time in an ashram in India. Evenings are for hunkering down with a movie set in another era, whether it's Frost/Nixon in the 70's, The Young Victoria in the 1800's, or Julie and Julia right after 9/11 and World War II. Yesterday, I spent the morning at the Denver Botanic Gardens, walking through their tropical greenhouse. For you, visiting other worlds might mean getting out in nature, picking up an old hobby, or leaving town. (I was inspired by the book, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, Indonesia.) However you do it, immerse yourself in new surroundings.
- Fill your psyche with light. You would think stories of redemption would be just what I needed to hear. But I found out that these kinds of stories first have to show the hard side of life before the hero can find happiness. I felt terrible after watching on DVD the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. I stopped in the middle of the book, Unbroken, even thought it is written by one of my favorite authors, Laura Hillebrand. When I got to the part where the main character is shot down in the Pacific during WWII, surrounded by sharks, I couldn't bear to keep reading. In both cases, the protagonist comes through his ordeal stronger and is a model of resilience. Trudging through the darkness to get to the light, even if it was in somebody else's story and not my own, was enough to throw me into disequilibrium. Photo by Jeff Hunter.
- If I had a year to do anything....it would be to write. In a conversation with a high tech serial entrepreneneur, he said, "I would love to spend a year, just coding. I get immersed and lose track of time. And when I'm done, I've created something of value." I feel the same way about writing. It's one of the things that I know will "rehabilitate" me, from half dead to fully alive. Most people know what makes them truly happy. Think about what you would do if you had all the time in the world. Then make time for that, even if it's only thirty minutes a week that moves you in that direction. Photo by Sean MacEntee.
- Create your toolkit. To stir my creative juices, I've returned to the practice of Morning Pages and Artist's Dates, read books by writing guru Natalie Goldberg, and set aside time to blog each day. I'm working through exercises in the book, The Sound of Paper, by creativity expert, Julia Cameron. I have returned to yoga classes, after a month off. You might have something completely different in your toolkit. The point is, by developing a structure for your creativity to blossom, it's more likely to happen. Make the ground fertile for the seed to sprout. Another book that speaks to this point is The Creativity Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, by the famous choreagrapher, Twyla Tharp.
- Leave space for stillness. Empty slots on my calendar can easily get filled with activities that sound fun. But I found that joy overscheduled is no joy at all. I've learned that making time for stillness is vital for a joyful life. It's the cleansing cracker during the wine tasting, the rests between the musical notes, the pause in a rousing speech. Stillness, on a regular basis, allows me to enjoy the rest of my life that much more. Photo by MinimalistPhotography101.
The road back to joy is more than replenishing my reserves or re-connecting back to myself (although those benefits are great.) This path gives me a glimpse of the life I saw nearly 9 years ago, when I left the corporate world to strike out on my own. The creative freedom was exhilarating and the "shoulds" and "have to's" of life were suddenly gone. My life force was bursting forth. From that place, so much more is possible.
I have to stop myself from asking, "What's next?" Sitting in a coffee shop, on a cool, overcast day, cloaked in autumn, it's enough to enjoy the change of seasons, to tap internally to the beat of music on the radio, and to be present to the moment. Photo by Muffet.