Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Hustle Culture is Destroying Your Creativity – Avoid the Burnout

I’ve been lucky the last couple of years to work with dear friends and amazing people on a variety of projects. One thing we’ve told each other a lot this past year is that we have to remember to rest. I have a tendency to try to fix one more thing, or do one more project, which feeds into a habit of working all the time.

This year, it finally caught up with me. I had two months where I just did not want to write or create anything. I felt like my creative well was completely dry, which honestly freaked me out because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in things like “writer’s block.” I do believe that our creative energy is finite to an extent. A few years ago I saw someone refer to it as your “creative cup” and that you have to be mindful of what is drawing from it.

For the first time in years, I completely drained that cup and this time I had no idea how to fill it back up. I tried my usual methods, start a new story, clean a space in my house, etc. Nothing worked, I was just drained. I was also working incredibly hard, on-call for a community I had built 24/7 that was fine a few years ago but now it had grown so much I could not just answer every call or try to fix every problem. For some people, this would be the point where they put down firm boundaries and stopped jumping at notifications. I am not able to do that. Because of the way my brain works, I tend to want to answer notifications/emails/etc. immediately, so I realized I had to step out of my position in that community and take some time to re-connect with myself.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in the last few years. I loved the space and I loved the people I worked with, but I knew what I was doing was not sustainable and that the people I worked with had better boundaries than I did.

I realized it was time to take a real break and figure out what came next.

I had to change my strategies for filling my creative cup back up, and these were the questions that helped me work out what path I needed to take going forward.

  • What do I want my daily life and routines to look like? For me, I didn’t want to be on call 24/7 anymore. I wanted to wake up and choose the routine to start my day. Right now, it includes figuring out theme for my day, 3 tasks to focus on (research says that’s really all you can do in a day), writing down what I plan to do for exercise and ways to relax/play each day.
  • What was the most draining about my past projects? Can I avoid those aspects in the future? My choice on this question was that I will not take on volunteer projects unless A. I love the project, I’m excited about it and it’s helping me move myself/my career forward. or B. The project has to work with my schedule and pay me for my time. If it doesn’t fit that basic criteria, I can’t take it on.
  • Will I be happy I did this in five to ten years? I’ve seen a lot of posts that ask you to think about when you’re old and gray, but I want to go a bit less forward. If it is not something I think I’ll look back on and smile in five years, I need to approach the project carefully and decide if it is worth it.
  • Am I working with someone who values my work? If the answer is “no” one thing the last year has definitely taught me is that it’s time to get out. I’ve spent too much time building up people who take my work and effort for granted. If they can’t say “thank you” and recognize my skills, it’s time to step out.

Lastly, thank the people who have supported you and recognized your need for growth. Also, if they do recognize your skills but it doesn’t fit with your vision for your life and future, remember to tell those folks how much you care about them and thank them for the ways they’ve supported you. For me, I’ve worked with some amazing people in volunteer positions that I’ve had to step down from as I grew as a person. As my career progresses, I want to keep them in mind for projects that I need to hire people for. I firmly believe that rising tides lift all boats, but that we still need to remember that everyone needs rest and support as we flow through those tides.

Productivity · Time Management · Writer Self-Care

How to Know When It’s Time To Move On

I hate big changes. I kind of always have, when I was kid and my parents would mention they were thinking about moving, I would immediately begin to cry. We moved a lot when I was little, I went to four different elementary schools. Each move came with new struggles, bullying, and loss, so for me I began to just despise the idea of big changes.

I’ve spent a lot of my life outside of my comfort zone, there are times I definitely cling to it. But as a person and a writer, I know the times I’ve grown the most are when I step outside of that comfort zone. Still, I’ll cling to that comfort for a long time before I realize it’s time to move on. I’ll also pour myself into spaces with little to no return, because they’re comfortable. I also like to stay busy, so I tend to volunteer to help support different projects and communities often.

I’ve noticed some signs though, that tell me it’s time to move on, and I’m going to share them with you in case you would benefit. These may apply to a job or a volunteer position, but they could also just apply to life as a whole.

1. The joy is gone.

This was a big sign for me when I recently stepped down from a position I had held for nearly 3 1/2 years. I still loved the space/community, but fixing issues in it had started to give me anxiety. I no longer loved participating in the activities I used to adore there. I thought the feeling might go away, but after months it didn’t. That was the biggest indicator for me it was time to make a plan to step down, and hand the reins over to someone who still had the joy that I had lost. Passion, especially when it comes to volunteer opportunities, is so important.

2. You’ve hit the goals you wanted to accomplish in this space

I personally have a bad habit of jumping down rabbit holes that aren’t actually my rabbit holes. A friend says “let’s build this cool thing!” and I’m down to do it and willing to learn what is needed to make it happen. Because of that, I tend to consciously and unconsciously set goals for myself as we build out a new community or new space. These goals have been things like improving my coding skills, upping my graphic design abilities and creating a fun, low-drama space where people can freely write and create. With some of these spaces, you could always learn more, but if you feel like you’ve built the skills you needed to it may be time to see what comes next.

3. It’s time to do other things.

Sometimes projects stall or fail or you out grow them. It can be tempting to keep investing time into something in hopes of a different outcome, but there are times where sinking more hours into something is just wasted time. Try to recognize when you’re just treading water and start swimming toward something new.

4. Your efforts aren’t appreciated or your contributions aren’t recognized

I am so bad about this one. When I tell people about myself, I often say that I consider myself to be a real-life Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec. I will take on way to many projects and work my ass off to make them happen and make people happy while I do it. This has led to me working for or helping people who actually don’t care how much time and effort I’m putting in to bolster their project.

These people are usually easy to recognize, usually working for them looks something like this.

  • They never say “thank you” or praise the work you’ve put in. Ever.
  • If they do say thank you, it’s only because you saved their ass or made them look good.
  • They don’t put in much work themselves. You and others are always the one building things/improving things.
  • They don’t respond regularly to you, they often drop conversations and never get back to you.

If you’re building someone else’s community or helping them with a project and they can’t even say “thank you” to you once in awhile? Run. Run like hell and take all those skills you’ve built and build your own dream. Start your own project.

Don’t sink another month into supporting something that isn’t yours or isn’t something you truly believe in, especially if you aren’t being paid for your time.