How to achieve creative success while avoiding burnout
“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” ~Coco Chanel
Two years ago I quit my job as Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce in my hometown and went on an 8-month adventure to Australia, New Zealand and Bali. Essentially I traded in board meetings and budgets for baking tea time snacks and learning the art of Australian coffee. I left my heels and blazers behind as I lived out of a single suitcase for the entire trip.
I’ve now been back for three years, two of which have been spent with heels and blazers again, and yet every time I go out to the grocery store someone asks if I’m “back from abroad.” I jokingly tell them I’m still abroad, I’m in the country of the small town next door and I stay covered in work so no-one sees me. Though it started as a joke, there is a lot of truth to this.
My life has taken multiple cycles of repeating a pattern of going 100 miles an hour, achieving big things, growing at an insane rate, to switching back to long, slow leisurely walks and talks with the simplest of forms.
“The best artists know when to take their time. They conceptualize, brainstorm, sometimes taking time off to do nothing but think. In the business world, this conscious effort to be inactive sounds counterproductive. Artists recognize that actively working on something isn’t the only way to be productive. Occasionally take a break to allow time for the brain to reboot, this enables you to find inspiration naturally. When the mind can relax when it maxes out creativity -- this is true for art and business alike.” ~anonymous
This quote came after a much-needed weekend camping by the lake, under the stars and amongst the trees. I realized a few days before this trip that I had been working myself way too hard. I had 12+ hours of overtime at my 9-5 and every spare second outside of that I was throwing myself as hard as I could into my coaching business.
I had just ended a high-intensity mentorship program and was disappointed with my lack of results, despite my best efforts. I’d done all the things, been producing and active, shown up and shown out, and yet there were no clients (and no dollars) to show for it. Anger mixed with panic was settling in as I desperately cried out to all of my mentors, asking them for help. My sense was that I was out of alignment in one aspect or another, and that led me to start realizing I was pushing myself too hard too.
A sliver of light came through one Thursday morning as I listened to a recommended podcast by David Neagle. Neagle begins the episode by telling the story of a fly in a life or death situation. The fly was furiously flying as hard as he could towards a glass window, trying to reach the outside world. Each time he hit the window, he’d back up and fly into it again, even harder than before. He was trying his hardest to get outside, but only wearing himself out in the process. The sad reality was that he needed only to turn 30 degrees to the left and he could easily fly out the open door with almost zero resistance.
I listened to the podcast three times that morning before work. It was resonating hard with me. I was trying way, way, way too hard, when all I really needed was to pivot slightly and the success would easily flow to me. I knew in my bones that this was correct, I just didn’t know which way to pivot.
In the meantime I had to get back to a fully loaded work day, followed by five hours of overtime that evening for a meeting I had to present at. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to breathe, align and relax into my next move.
The next day I was so dog-gone tired, I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t think; not about work, not about my biz and not about anything. I was exhausted and I felt the tingling edge of a familiar and unwanted phase of life. Burnout.
Please, NO!! I thought to myself as I began to recognize all the signs.
I didn’t want to burnout. I was just gaining momentum and I couldn’t afford to get knocked off my feet, physically sick, or worse – mentally and emotionally spent.
I shared this with my boyfriend and told him it was absolutely essential that we make a weekend trip to the mountains for complete disconnection and solitude. And that’s what we did.
I didn’t take any educational reading.
I turned my phone on airplane mode (it wouldn’t have had service anyway.)
I told my Dad where I would be in case of emergency, and I let myself relax into a weekend that was literally and physically “unplugged.”
Isn’t it funny how often times the answers can come to you, while you’re driving down the road listening to a phenomenal book on Audible. Other times the answers come to you in the stillness of night, as you gaze meaninglessly at a blazing campfire.
Here in the silence of the dark night, my soul finally exhaled enough for me to take a deep breathe.
I realized I was doing too much. I was striving too hard. Just like the fly who was pushing harder and harder against a window that would never budge, I too was wearing myself out when all I needed was a slight adjustment in my soul’s alignment.
One night away isn’t enough to completely unwind and re-align, but it is a good start. It was enough to unveil a truth about myself: I was operating beyond my own capacity.
A note about Capacity
The thing is, everyone has a different capacity level. It’s important to find yours and know your limits from the start.
And what is capacity?
When I was a sophomore at university and in one of my highest-achieving phases, a friend of mine shared with me over coffee that she was amazed at my “capacity.” She described herself as a low-capacity person. She only liked to focus on one or two live happenings at a time and she required lots of recover time and rest in between her job, school and activities. Meanwhile, I remember having a planner so full from dusk till dawn that I literally had to schedule in two hours of “me time” once a month on a Saturday. (Yikes! Talk about a recipe for a burn-out!)
The thing is, she was right, I am a very high-capacity person. I am interested in lots of things, I generate dozens of ideas on any topic placed in front of me and I find it easy to become passionate about the things I’m involved it.
It’s not uncommon for many entrepreneurs and creatives to operate in this same fashion. They find themselves passionate about multiple things and despite their human limitations, they enjoy throwing themselves into projects, hobbies and work because, well, it’s fun! It’s better than the alternative, which is boredom.
As a multi-passionate person I am interested in multiple things. Multi-passionate people find it easy to jump into new projects because we think we have the energy and passion to sustain ourselves when in the long run our humanness will always win. Eventually our physical max capacities will be met and our system will shut down because there’s only so much our human bodies can handle (with, of course, the exception of Elon Musk. He’s another story and perhaps might actually be a robot or alien, or both. Reference here.)
Of course, I realize that we have to live our lives. We have to do things. We have to work, have to make money — but we don’t have to burnout our lights by trying to prove something to ourselves and everyone else. We can provide for ourselves from a place of spiritual contentment. This way feels much better than providing for the hungry, hungry ego.
There is a fine balance between meeting the goals you set and living life as a human being. We have to learn how to find that delicate balance of achieving our dreams without burning out to get there.
How to find balance
I think the balance comes when we shift our energy from a place of doing and pushing to a place of loving and being.
When you find yourself behaving like the fly who was repeatedly flying into a window at full speed with no success, you have to stop and realize that what you are doing will not work.
True success and growth comes naturally from leaning into the current situation with peace, love and truth. When we force ourselves into a new venture that isn’t responding well to our attempts, it may not so much be the idea as it is the approach.
Try releasing your grip on the situation and letting go completely for a time. Take a few steps back and see if you can’t realign from a different perspective. Often times the easier, more clear answer is right below your nose, or in the fly’s instance, two feet to the left.
Even Tony Robbins says, “Energy comes from having a mission; it comes from something that you’re being pulled by, not something you’re pushing on”.
You too may be burning the candle at both ends trying to run a business, work for the man and provide for a family too. I don’t know your exact situation but I can tell you it’s worth taking time to stop, look around and become aware of how your energy is being used.
Are you used up at the end of every day, or do you feel satisfied and content with each day’s work?
Do you feel like your to-do list is never-ending? Are you losing sleep over it and creating more anxiety for yourself because of it?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then perhaps it’s time to take inventory and become aware of the road you are heading down.
Sometimes the answer isn’t “try harder” or “do more” but paradoxically, it’s just the opposite: Sit back and let go.
The energetic symptoms of burnout can manifest themselves physically in our body through many outlets; tense shoulders, poor posture, acne, constipation. All of these things can be the result of pushing yourself too hard and not allowing yourself time to rest and refresh. You’re not being kind and loving to yourself, and if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else — including clients and customers.
In his best-selling book, “A New Earth," Eckhart Tolle says, “The ego knows nothing of Being but believes you will eventually be saved by doing. If you’re in the grip of the ego, you believe that by doing more and more you will eventually accumulate enough “doings” to make yourself complete at some point in the future. You won’t. You’ll only lose yourself in doing.”
Among other principles discussed throughout the book, Tolle believes that our ego is our false identification. It comes when we identify with outside forms, other than our truest selves. For example, you may wrap up your identity in being a creative entrepreneur so much that if in fact, if this were to be taken away from you, you would fall into depression because you feel as though you’ve lost who you are. In fact, you haven’t lost yourself, only an outside expression you cling to as a form of yourself.
The key point in Tolle’s book is that we are not the roles we play, we are not what we do, we are not even our thoughts — we are the being inside our bodies that observes the thoughts and does the things. We just are.
The essence of YOU is not that you are a writer or a painter or a mom or a dad. The essence of you simply is. It isn’t trying to be someone or trying to do anything. It just is.
Through reading this book I have revisited a deeper, repeat lesson that has enveloped my life thus far. That is, playing a role, or as I like to call it, “Using a facade.”
How many times throughout your day are you 100% honest with who you are and what you want?
More often than not, you probably spend the majority of your day fitting into a “role” you’ve created in your mind. i.e. the role of “mother," the role of “creative," the role of “older friend.” Whatever it may be — the tale-tell is that you adjust your behavior depending upon who you are around, even if it is just slightly. You are role playing and living under a facade instead of feeling free to be yourself.
This unfortunate game is a direct result of the ego wanting to be more, achieve more, or be something more in the eyes of others or ones-self.
For many of us, this points back to chasing the ever-moving target of “success” or “achievement.” This is in fact what will quickly cause burnout and depression.
Human and Being
Again, if you’re always playing a role you aren’t being. You aren’t connecting with others. I feel like I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I’ve only recently become aware of the many roles I play throughout each day. Here are just a few:
-public relations Haley
-star employee Haley
The truth is, I wear myself out constantly moving from mask to mask to mask. This endless role-play leaves me recluse, exhausted and robbed of my peace at the end of each day.
These roles are ego-based. They are all fueled by the ego-ic whispers of “You can do more. You’re better than she is. You know how to behave in public. Don’t embarrass your parents, Haley. Don’t misrepresent the company you work for. Don’t disappoint your boyfriend, Haley. You have to work harder. You haven’t reached their level yet. Keep going, Haley. When you get there, then you can stop, but you aren’t there yet.”
Lies. Lies. Lies.
When I finally get alone in my apartment with no agenda, that’s when the magic happens.
The real essence of Haley stirs up and I am being, not doing. I am. I just am.
Here I find myself engaged in the unexplainable pouring out of creativity, passion and love. Sometimes I only sit and listen, other times I find myself elbow-deep in a painting that suddenly came to my vision. I “wake up” hours later to find a piece of work completely finished in front of me.
Now, if you lived every day from this “being”, how rich and fulfilled would your life and business be? Business doesn’t have to be hard, masculine and ego-ic either. The best businesses come from a conscious place of being, that aligns with a higher purpose.
There are three questions we must ask ourselves as creativepreneurs who wish to avoid burnout.
1. How do you want to Feel?
Danielle LaPort’s take on this is that we never feel good reaching or achieving goals. We always fall short or overachieve, thus feeling bad about the goal we set in the first place. And often once one goal is achieved, you no more than take 3 minutes to celebrate before you are off on the next goal, trying to figure out what to achieve next.
This insatiable hunger is what makes us human and is what has caused us to survive under crazy conditions. It’s a remarkably beautiful thing, when used under strict control.
LaPorte says, rather than asking yourself what you want to achieve next, ask yourself, “How do you want to feel when you get there?” By focusing on the feeling we desire rather than the metric, we become much more aligned with the true intention of our chasing, and much less likely to feel behind or depressed or disappointed when and where and if we hit that goal.
How do you want to feel in the weeks, months and years to come? How do you want to feel as you move your business forward? What feelings can we focus on?
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Hi there! If you haven't met me, I'd like to introduce myself. 😃 ⠀ My name is Haley Hoover and I am a creative who was totally born in the wrong decade. I listen to 🎸Fleetwood Mac, Joe Walsh and Tom Petty. I read books about the Summer of Love. I watch docos on Woodstock and San Fransisco in the 1960's. 🌸 ⠀ Aside from studying the counter-culture generation, I spend lots of time in my 🎨painting room painting bold, playful objects such as guitars and Volkswagen busses. ⠀ I believe there are no rules in art, life or business -- and so that must make me some kind of anti-artist or something. But who says it has to look a certain way? Shouldn't our creations be as unique and as personal as each and every one of us? ⠀ My story is about finding the ultimate happy ending, no--not a soulmate-- but a soul. ☀️ I believe creativity, spirituality and consciousness are tools we can use to help become the most authentic version of ourselves. ⠀ Perhaps you too, have a voice inside you telling you to go do something brave. What's it saying? Take that first brave step by writing it down in a comment below. Together we can shake the crummy dust off our boots and change the world! 🌎
2. What’s your “Enough” Number?
Bloggers and entrepreneurs, Caroline and Jason Zook are no stranger to burnout themselves. In their article, Let’s “walk” our businesses instead of running them, Jason says, “As business owners, we often don’t realize the traps we set for ourselves and how much we over-work until it’s too late.” – Jason Zook
In their monthly membership program, Wandering Aimfully, (WAIM), Caroline and Jason teach their students how to build a business without burnout. One of the most amazing things I’ve heard taught in a business course, is to define your “enough” number.
Jason and Caroline explain that the natural human tendency is to create a goal, work super hard to reach the goal, then turn around and repeat endlessly until death. The alternative is suggested by creating an “enough” number for your business. Rather than consistently reach for more money, more clients, more success — why not take the time, do the math, do the dreamwork and really pinpoint how much money is “enough” for you. This then takes away the dreadful anxiety of always wanting more, always striving for me and always climbing the proverbial ladder of success. This in fact is what causes empty feelings upon achievement and late night depression for the high-achiever.
We can apply this idea of “enough” to every area of our life and businesses too. How many clients are “enough clients”? How much time spent working each day is “enough”? If you don’t set clear and firm boundaries for yourself, others will. Sometimes that “other” is the never-satisfied ego within yourself.
Again, the ego is not your true essence, but a part of you trying to cling to anything outside of itself to define itself.
In my eyes, the ego tells you that you aren’t enough. You have to do more. You haven’t proven yourself yet. It also lies and says “just keep going, once we reach this goal, then we can rest.” The only problem is, this is a lie and it is a perpetual lie that we believe over and over again without realizing its empty promises.
3. Are you creating from a place of consciousness?
When we disengage the ego and sit still to focus on our inner-selves, the one who is at the heart of everything, the part of you that is full of love and connected with source and with God, we learn truth.
The truth is that you are enough. The truth is that you are loved and you are perfect just the way you are. You don’t have to do anything. You simply are.
By being alert and present in the only moment you have, you are accepting the moment for what it is and ceasing to want anything more.
For creatives this might come at work in the studio, when you hit your “flow” or “zen”-like state of creativity. But it just as well might come when you are lying on your back, staring up at the stars with no agenda whatsoever.
Allow yourself the time to be, without an agenda, plan or motive.
What it all boils down to is: self-love. I believe that the practice of being connects you to the giant glowing love source that naturally shines throughout your body. When we are aware and consciously connected to this source, we recharge our cells to focus on positivity, good vibes and the truth of living, which is love found in being.
When we make time to fully connect to the love in ourselves, sourced from God, and found in others, we become present. In this formless present we aren’t doing anything, and so we are being. When we are being, we are connected to love in all forms. We are one with truth, one with love, one with God, one with others.
Superiority and inferiority vanish. Striving and trying disappear. All the emotions persist, except the purest, most true feeling of love and light in your inner-most depths.
When we let go of our lies and our ego and our feelings of not being enough, not trying enough, not doing enough, and instead switch to the present moment and accepting that we are who we are and that is not only enough, but it’s all we need; then at that point do we find every answer we’ve ever needed. We hook up to the major love supply in the air around us and when we are full, we can then take that supply and naturally overflow it into our creative works, our relationships with others and the path that is our destiny.
Living your dream should never be hard. It should always be a state of flow that pours out of you effortlessly and aligns with your heart, soul and passion in a way that fuels you, not drains you.
You are enough.
When you become one with the love inside yourself and truly operate out of a space of being and connecting with yourself, God and others, it becomes much easier to assign value to each individual area of your life. This love isn’t selfish. It is actually self-full, helping you give to clients and customers from a place of pure essence, rather than washed-up salesmen B.S. that comes from a desperate place of yearning.
To make sure you don’t fall into the trap of striving rather than fluidly creating and aligning, begin by setting a few boundaries in order to take the best care of yourself.
-Say no to things that don’t align with your natural interest, passion and life purpose.
If you happen to be a people-pleaser like me this can be easier said than do. I have hero-symptom as well. I want to make everyone’s non-profit better. I want to help everyone on their website. I want to do all the things to make the world a better place and while I can easily jump onto committees for five different organizations, I find that this doesn’t produce my best work. In fact, I am much more ablaze when I align with only one or two focuses and drop the half-aligned things or even the things I’m two-thirds aligned with. It all comes down to limited time and resources. You’re only human and you have to accept that.
-Set limits on how much you’ll work (both at the 9-5, at home on the biz, and in the studio)
This is a big one. When I look at my planner for last week I realize I didn’t put a stop sign at the end of the work day, not professionally nor personally. I got up early, went to bed late and took lunch to do more. What this does is burn your energy levels so low that it takes much, much longer to recover when you finally crash. It’s much more effective to take slow, steady strides towards a goal. Sprinters only last a few seconds.
-Regularly schedule downtime to replenish, and restore yourself - Me Time/Be Time
Again, this is very important. My previous example of one Saturday a month isn’t enough, by the way. We should all be incorporating daily doses of downtime to take walks, reflect, and linger without any agenda whatsoever. I know it’s tempting to turn that down time into a chance to get ahead on your reading or work through a problem in your mind, but that’s only going to wear you out quicker, rather than restore you for a fresh approach.
These are just three small tips you can implement today to protect yourself from going down the harsh road of burnout. Taking time and space for yourself will not only improve your mood and quality of life, but it will also increase your love and patience for your business, clients, customers and virtually every other relationship in your life.
Put short, you truly can’t afford not to spend time cherishing yourself. It’s the core backbone to a healthy, successful, thriving and aligned creative business.
I’m Haley Hoover — a writer, artist and soulful Creative Coach. I work with driven creativepreneurs to help them awaken to their intuition and step into their Creative Consciousness so that they can live a full, vibrant life.