Burnout is one of the most insidious and pernicious things that can happen to a creative. Most times, you don’t even see it coming. Especially if you are someone like me. Always eager to put body mind and soul on the line for the sake of design. Piling on work unscrupulously, systematically going against everything I have been writing about – essentialism and all that.
Sometimes I do it for the sheer masochistic pleasure, I like being busy, being caught up in many things at the same time. It does something for me. I also like being able to do the impossible, being able to pull rabbits out of hats. But at some point, it catches up. Usually around June, the halfway mark of the year. This is a pattern now, it’s not the first time I’ve complained about burn out in June. Maybe it being Gemini season also brings some complication to the table.
It starts with the irritation, the annoyance, the loss of perspective. For a time, I forget why I do what I do. I start to hate design. I start to lose interest in doing my best, I just want to do enough to get by. But in all that I still push, still winging, still pulling rabbits out of hats. Until I can’t. I’m talented, I’m experienced. I make it look easy, but it’s not.
Then the more serious symptoms show up. It gets harder and harder to get out of bed. It gets even harder staying awake. The smallest tasks drain all my energy. Doing the dishes, cleaning, making food, replying emails for 15 mins can send me back to bed for the rest of the day. I wake up and sit by my desk and look down into the creative well, and nothing. No spark of genius rises up to greet me. It is then I know I am utterly screwed. I have worked myself past the point of no return. There is nothing I can do but shut down.
So, shut down I have, I write this from an undisclosed location, stealing some time away from the world. For the first time in days, I feel a little bit clear. I reach down to the well, and there is something there, a bit of water, a bit of magical creative energy.
I broke my streak. I didn’t blog last week. I am hoping to be able to write two posts back to back this evening to make up for that. I really didn’t know what to write about last week. And I was exhausted and overwhelmed, it was hard to even marshal the strength to put two sentences together in any cohesive way.
I was going to write about the dip.
The Dip is a concept articulated by Seth Godin in his book by the same name. The Dip is that long chasm and space between the moment of excitement when you embark on a new journey/goal and the actual moment of fulfilment. It is easy to start, it is much harder to continue when you are smack in the middle and the initial rush has worn off and all you are left with is the freaking tedium of the grind.
The Dip is when you start off the year with the goal of blogging consistently, at least once a week for the whole year, and then you run into June feeling like you have run out of things to say.
There are two things to do in the dip. You can push through, or you can quit. And both are valid decisions. Winners know when to quit. In fact, winners are better at quitting than most people. The key is quitting the right things. The Dip provides you with the opportunity to really consider what you are doing and gauge its importance. Are you quitting because this thing is hard, or are you quitting because this thing was a mistake? And that is the kind of thing you have to wrestle with for yourself.
The Dip offers the opportunity to take a step back and catch our breath and gather our strength. The Dip is important because it separates the ‘men’ from the ‘boys’. It is the winnowing process that only leaves the truly committed and truly worthy standing. The Dip kills the competition and builds a moat of safety around what you do. If you use it well.
“Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment” – Seth Godin (The Dip)
So, I’m in a Dip right now. I know I want to keep writing, I know I want to keep creating. I feel like I should shake things up a bit, change the format, maybe write about other things. For a while, I have been feeling a bit over the whole personal development thing. Not personal development as a whole, just my consumption of content has sort of slowed. I feel more concerned with doing and action over contemplation and philosophizing. But that’s how I feel today, I know that can easily swing right back tomorrow.
But I’m in my Dip. I am resting, I am reconnecting. I turn 30 in a few days. It is a sacred week. I’m doing some reflecting over the past decade and looking towards the next. It will come to me, I’ll figure out what to do.
There’s an amazing analogy I read yesterday over at Farnam Street. It’s so good, I’ll just paste it here verbatim.
Imagine sitting on a commuter train and your stop is near the end of the line. If you were certain that you were on the right track, you wouldn’t get off simply because the train stopped from time to time. You know that stops are part of the journey. You can learn a lot from them, and eventually the train will start moving again. Yet when it comes to the goals that are most important to us in life, we tend to jump tracks the second we stop perceiving forward momentum. We’re choosing the illusion of progress over what really matters.
It is okay to be still, it’s part of the process of moving forward. I feel like I’m in a stop phase right now. A lot of my actions and planning over the past 18 months lead to this month. I’m still, waiting for the verdict, knowing that from this point, everything will probably change, things will fall off, things will be added, but whatever happens, I look forward to it because I’m pointed in the right direction. It’s just a matter of being patient. Stops are just as valid as frantic motion. Savor being still.