Is This What They Call Burnout?

Lately I’ve been shuddering when a new work email lands in my inbox.

And it’s tough, because I feel so grateful to be “successful” at what I do, but on the other hand, I’m tired and I can’t even name why. Some days, all I want to do is lie on my couch and watch Love It Or List It, which then makes me feel guilty. So I sit on my laptop at my kitchen island, browsing websites, blogs and search Kijiji for random furniture I don’t need to feel busy.

I used to wake up craving work and wanting to do more and churn it out 24/7, and now I question whether my drive was fuelled by discomfort, and now that I’m “comfortable” in life, I no longer have that fire-in-the-belly feeling. Then I begin to freak out over if I’ll ever want to work again, and then I feel silly because I know the answer is ‘yes’; it’s just hard to accept that I need time off. From 2012 until 2014, I worked non-stop (meaning I don’t recall taking more than a few days off every few months), so actually giving myself permission to relax and feel justified watching TV after 7pm for even two nights in a row is hard.

Is this what they call burnout? Or am I now just accepting that work-life balance is important?

I’m not sure which answer is the right one, or if maybe it’s really a bit of both, but one thing I do know is that my career path has never been a linear or singularly-focused one. I’ve done everything from illustrating plants to creating cartoonish vector illustrations, to branding companies, to designing Emoticons, to UI design for x-rated Apps, to working in tech, to blogging and writing for various publications, to photography and social media management, to consulting. And maybe wading all of this water is a bit tiring, but if that’s the case, I haven’t learned my lessons at all, because I’m adding more water to my pond with video and teaching! (I’m insane.) So maybe I’m self-diagnosing here as stretched-thin, and am slowly realizing the need to take a chill pill for a few days or ease up on a certain avenue of offerings.

In thinking about this over the past few weeks, I’ve been wondering what’s working and why, and what’s not and why, and I’ve come to the conclusion that illustrating (at least editorial) is stressful for me. I personally find the money often feels minuscule for the amount of work involved, and the pressure is gigantic to deliver the best piece you’ve ever done (all while being charismatic, grateful and even witty). I can’t think of another career where your character and personality come in to play like it does when you’re a self-employed creative. It can be downright stunting. So I’ve been doing a lot of design work, blogging and photography lately, which somehow feels freeing and pressure-free, for whatever reason. I know I work in waves, and my creative-ADD will eventually bring me back to wanting to pick up a pencil, but for now, I’m making a bit of a subtle and intentional shift into exploring new creative avenues and putting others on the back burner. Maybe if I do everything, I’ll gain a better understanding of which one I like best?

In any case, I’m going to try to be mindful of “checking out” and shutting my brain down for the rest of the month, and while I can’t take whole weeks off, I’m going to try to at least give myself weekends and evenings while still finishing up ongoing obligations I have. If you’re reading this, nodding along, I know it’s hard for me to give myself the go-ahead to take a no-brain day, so I’m giving you permission right now!

Chin up, buttercups. We’ve got this, we just need a minute.