If you’re like me, burnout can be a scary icky word that insinuates you’re not on top of your game and not up to the challenges of your job/career/parenting/whatever else.
In other words, you fall short.
What if I tell you burnout is actually good for you and can positively enhance your creativity and productivity?
First, Some Background
During my final coaching call with Sandi Amorim, we talked about burnout and how all the passion I felt at the beginning of our 3-month programme seemed to have faded away into nothing. It was like I’d become a totally different person who couldn’t remember what she wanted or why it was so important in the first place.
Before I continue, I should mention that I dove headfirst into a slew of personal development books; wrote my first eBook; downloaded teleclasses and attended webinars; declared my intention to go pro; and basically went on a virtual spree of information gathering.
Something had to give, and my brain simply shut down one day.
I couldn’t write anymore. Twitter made me want to heave. I stopped commenting on blogs. I rarely went on Facebook or checked my email.
What happened? I was burnt out. Completely and utterly knackered. I couldn’t read another book, blog, or manifesto even if you paid me (although a few hundred thousand sure would’ve perked me up, LOL).
I denied being burnt out (as you do) and bludgeoned myself bloody over slacking off and not getting anything done and how the heck could I expect to start a business if my stamina was so wishy-washy?
Here’s what I failed to take into account, though: I’d been going all out for weeks at a time. Juicy opportunities came a-knocking and your girl went a-pluckin’. I was fully alive in those moments and intensely invested in being totally present.
And since I do things all the way or don’t bother at all, it was inevitable I’d run dry, right? Even machines can’t operate nonstop without eventually breaking down; what made me think I was any different? I’m not Superwoman (although I think I’d look very fetching in a cape, don’t you?).
Sandi and I talked about reframing burnout as part of the cycle and recognising that every part of the cycle has value. Just like Nature’s four seasons, we also have periods of growth, harvest, death, and rebirth. We can’t force our way into a stage of the cycle before it’s time to be there, and we can’t rush our way through either because we wouldn’t get the fruit or lesson in that particular stage. Y’know?
What’s my point in all this?
Burnout is a sign that you’ve lived full throttle for as long as you could and now you need to scale down. Not because you’re weak or can’t handle the pressure, but because your body and spirit require rest after such intense exertion. But then you already know that.
So why do we chew ourselves out when we feel exhausted? Why do we fight so hard against the body’s cues to rest, to leave it for now and come back when we’re refreshed?
Simple: because we feel compelled to constantly perform and create and produce, to always have something on the go, almost as if we need to justify our gifts and existence.
I’ll repeat that: almost as if we need to justify our gifts and existence.
No way. Not even close. We don’t have to justify anything. Other people are rarely as hard on us as we are on ourselves, and and it’s our responsibility to treat ourselves with the same compassion we automatically extend to others. It’s up to us to pay attention to our bodies so we know when we’re close to burnout and can immediately scale back.
You can make your relationship to burnout less “I couldn’t stand the heat” and more “I’ve given my all and now need to rejuvenate”. Because honestly? Nobody can be on all the time. We’re just not wired that way.
So even if you feel you haven’t done enough to warrant burnout and surely you should be able to eke out a few more hours/days/weeks before you absolutely must stop, may I remind you that the body always knows when it really can’t go on?
Say your car’s almost out of gas and the needle’s lodged on empty. What do you do? Cross your fingers and chivvy it to go a few more hours? No, you haul butt to the closest gas station and fill ‘er up.
Your body is just like that fuel tank and can’t run on fumes and willpower alone because it’s simply not designed that way.
I reiterate: your body’s simply not designed that way.
Or what about when your laptop’s out of juice? Do you curse and rant at it for being empty, or calmly hook it up to power so the battery can recharge? Of course you don’t burst an artery over it.
Why treat yourself any different?
How Burnout Boosts Your Creativity and Productivity
- It forces you to scale down your activities: When you ruthlessly pare your schedule to the bare minimum and delegate or defer anything that isn’t absolutely crucial, you create space to do the things that elicit a soul-deep “hell yes!” as opposed to “oh HECK no!” Hint: Just because you’d like a task or project completed by a specific time doesn’t mean it MUST be. Fluid deadlines are your friends, people.
- You take time out to recharge: Let’s face it, sometimes it’d take a crowbar to pry you away from work and deadlines and busy stuff. Dealing with burnout means taking some time out to recharge is non-negotiable. You’re the best judge of what works for you when you’re wiped out. A luxurious 5-day retreat? 2 weeks without email? An hour of yoga every day? Build an arsenal that zaps your exhaustion and breathes life into your tired limbs. While you’re doing that, guess what else is soaking up juice and different ways to blow your mind? Yup, your creativity will be raring to go after your time out, and you’ll be even more productive than usual. Real talk. Whatever you do, let it caress your spirit and renew your mind. Spa day, anyone?
- You empty yourself of all your “best” ideas: Have you ever found yourself thinking in the same groove over and over again because you haven’t given an idea or line of expression everything you had to give? Well, when you work so hard that you’re swaying with fatigue and everyone’s telling you to take a break before you kill yourself, you empty yourself of all your best ideas in an effort to get things done. Finishing a project, wrapping a launch, final edits on your book or epic blog post . . whatever it is, you go all out and squeeze every last drop of genius you’ve got to offer at that point in time. Excellent, because now you’re free to mine your soul for precious nuggets that take the quality of your work to the next level; the deeper you dig, the sweeter your juice. Limber up.
So does this mean you should actively court burnout on a regular basis? No, but it does mean you can turn it to your advantage whenever you find yourself up to your hairline in it. 😉
What’s your relationship to burnout, and how do you turn it into a positive experience?