I remember the day I told my editor I didn’t think I could continue writing my newspaper column anymore. I told her I needed a break from the article, as the more technical side of my job had become too crazy for me to keep up with the creative parts. We decided on a three-month hiatus, and agreed to revisit the issue at the end of that time.
Having my own newspaper column was my dream, so why was I throwing in the towel? Easy — I was overwhelmed. There were so many components to my job, I had nothing left in me to write something witty every single week. I felt like taking this one huge thing off my plate would help to lighten my load, both work-wise and emotionally.
But it only made things worse.
Years later, I look back at that time, and just want to shake myself by the shoulders. Before giving that column up, I was saying “yes” every time someone came to me with a task that need completing, even if I didn’t really want to do it. If someone needed their load lightened, I was right there to take it on for them. If a new project was introduced, I didn’t hesitate when asked to complete it. If a customer needed assistance, I took the call, even if I was swamped with work. I had many hats that didn’t fit my job description, and sometimes I wasn’t sure what my job description really was.
I felt like this was what I was supposed to do to be a good worker. I wanted to be the person my boss could come to about anything, and the person my coworkers felt they could depend on. I thought that maybe if I said “yes” with a smile to everything that was handed to me, I would eventually be trusted enough to do what I really wanted to — write exclusively for the newspaper.
I was saying “yes” to so many things for other people, I was eventually forced to say “no” to many of the things I wanted to do.
Two problems existed in this way of thinking. First, I never made it clear that this was what I wanted to do, or even helped to come up with a game plan on how I could eventually move into a writing role at the newspaper. Second, I was saying “yes” to so many things for other people, I was eventually forced to say “no” to many of the things I wanted to do.
Soon, the things I didn’t want to do became my whole entire job.
It’s kind of sneaky how this happened. I made it my mission to get all the mundane, boring parts of my job done first so that I could save the best parts of my job for last. I’m sure you see where this is going. As the boring tasks became bigger and more involved, I had to keep pushing the fun parts further and further down the list. Eventually, they even started to fall off my list completely. First was the parenting website I ran. Then the parenting columns. Eventually I gave up going to features meetings, missing the chance to take on any new articles at all. In a sense, I voluntarily gave up all the parts that made me look forward to going to work, and traded them in for all the parts that made me have to give myself a pep talk before I even walked in the door.
Three months after my hiatus from the parenting column, I let my editor know I was ready to begin again. But the damage was done. A month passed and the newspaper stripped my column from its pages to make room for other things. Part of this was due to a redesign. But I’m pretty sure my brief hiatus made it easy to imagine the newspaper without my column there ever again.
As creatives, it’s so easy for us to not take our craft seriously enough to put it first — to see that time as voluntary, and give it up easily when “more important things” show their face. That time is the first thing we give up when a friend needs our assistance, the chores are piling up, or the boss wants you to work extra hours.
If you give up the things you love doing the most, you are giving up the parts of your life that feed your soul.
But your creative time should NOT be treated as expendable! I’m not saying those other needs aren’t important. But if you give up the things you love doing the most, you are giving up the parts of your life that feed your soul. If you give the majority of your time to the tasks you dread the most, you run the risk of those things taking over every facet of your life.
Trust me, you don’t want this.
Making a List: Peace vs. Stress
A few months ago, I was feeling overwhelmed at the path my life had taken. My job felt especially soul-sucking, and all of the creativity in my life was seriously lacking. I couldn’t even think of how to get out of my rut, and felt completely wound up, frazzled…spun. The only thing I could think of doing was to enlist the help of my family.
I took two large pieces of cardboard and stuck them to my wall. On one piece I wrote, “What is stressing you out?” On the other I wrote, “What makes you feel calm?” Then I put a note on both of them, instructing the members of my family to add thoughts under each question.
Throughout the week, the cardboard turned into a jumbled mess of words. The only rule was to be honest, but refrain from being mean. Other than that, the sky was the limit for what each family member could add to the list.
Here are a few things that stress my family out:
· Long lines
· Bossy people
· Being late
· Feeling judged
· Writer’s block
· Too many emails
· Public speaking
And here is what brings my family peace:
· Deep breaths
· Creative writing
· Riding bikes
· The ocean
· Showing affection
· Hanging out with friends
· Taking photos
· Listening to music
I took a picture of each of these lists and saved them to my phone. And I refer to them often. The stress list serves as a reminder that I’m not alone. Occasionally I’ll even add to these lists, putting a name to the very thing that is causing me to feel pulled in all directions. The calm list gives me ideas on how to come back to center, reminding me to take the time for the things I love doing.
Somewhere in the time between being a child and being adult, we learned that life was about giving priority to the stuff we hate.
Somewhere in the time between being a child and being adult, we learned that life was about giving priority to the stuff we hate. As kids, we’re told to eat our vegetables before we can have dessert. We’re told to finish our chores before we can play outside. We’re told to do our homework before we can turn on the TV. We’re made to give up recess until we’ve learned to sit still in class. We’re told that work is supposed to be boring and dreadful, because that’s just life.
I say NO!
Okay, I also say that most of those things really are important. We should eat our vegetables (but only the ones we like!). We should finish our chores (but it shouldn’t take all day!). We should do our homework (but take mini breaks in between!). However, recess is allowed, jobs can be fun, and being an adult doesn’t have to suck.
If you don’t make time for the things that feed your soul, life will start to feel meaningless.
Here’s the thing. If you don’t make time for the things you love, you’re going to end up miserable, burnt out, depleted, depressed, unfulfilled, uninspired…. Should I go on? We all have stuff that needs to get done. But if your daily routine is starting to look more like all work and no play, you’re going to end up in a rut that isn’t easy to get out of. If you don’t make time for the things that feed your soul, life will start to feel meaningless. Your art, the very thing that once defined you, will start to feel like a burden to you. It will become something you resent as inspiration becomes harder to find.
However, doing the things you love will lighten that load considerable. Suddenly, you’ll see the light in life, and have something to look forward to each day. Not only that, but doing the things you love can give you the energy to tackle the more mundane parts of your life.
Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we need to stop having fun. In fact, having fun should be a requirement for being adult. After all, haven’t we earned the fun parts of life?
If you’ve fallen into the trap of edging out the creative parts of your life in favor of the mundane stuff you have to do, here are a few easy ways to bring the fun back into your routine:
- Make a list of all the things stressing you out. This list is just to name those things that are stealing your sunshine and sapping your soul so that you’re aware of them.
- Make another list of the things that make you happy or keep you calm. Include everything, including your favorite color, books to read, ways to move your body, creative expressions, and so on. Keep this list handy and add to it as you remember more things. Refer to this list at least once a day, incorporating one or more of these soul-filling items into your daily routine.
- Think back to things that brought you joy in your childhood. Was it coloring? Playing with Legos? Roller skating around your neighborhood? Regardless of how old you are, do one of the things you loved doing as a kid. You might feel silly at first. You also might feel free.