93. Recovering from burnout with the B.B.C.
Boundaries. Boredom. Creativity
Well folks, it’s happened. After a year that I will henceforth refer to as, “The Year That Changed Everything,” I have completely, utterly, all the overused adverbs in the world-ly, hit a wall of systemic exhaustion.
Not that I can stop.
I’ve got four trips planned in the next eight weeks, all for work or book-related endeavors. Los Angeles —> Las Vegas (lord help me) —> San Francisco —> Virginia Beach.
I’ve put myself on a work embargo in between trips, which means after I write this, I’m going skiing. (That’s how embargoes work, right? They’re conditional upon finishing work, right? RIGHT?)
Burnout is a manifestation of chronic, unmitigated stress. Or, as the World Health Organization defines it, an “occupational phenomena” characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
One google of “burnout” provides a whole host of solutions, but frankly, I’m too burned out to even look through it and throw some research at you. Instead, I’ll share my unscientific philosophy on the matter: the BBC.
The thing about publishing memoir is that everyone wants to talk to you about it. If you’re trying to sell as many books as possible, which I am, this means taking every opportunity to chat. MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS is gaining traction and the bigger the opportunity, the more focused I need to be.
Thus, for the next eight weeks, I’m postponing, cancelling, or avoiding any work that’s not directly MCSE related. No more bullshit meetings. No more “picking my brain.” The same goes for social obligations. If I don’t fully want to be in an experience or around a group of people, it’s just not happening. I don’t have the bandwidth.
The only cure I’ve ever found for burnout is boredom followed by creativity. Not standing-in-line-at-the-grocery-store-boredom, but true boredom. Like pandemic levels of boredom. The kind of boredom that transitions from agitation to openness, where the brain shuts down and the instinct to pick up a paintbrush, go for a walk, or play an instrument kicks in.
In my experience, true rest only occurs in this state. And it’s why vegging out in front of the TV for an hour isn’t all that rejuvenating. What the mind and body needs is primal rest, the sort that occurs in nature or in the nurturing presence of close friends or family.
It’s a cumulative process, too. One that isn’t all that compatible to modern life. But there are little things we can do to facilitate boredom, like leaving your phone at home when you go for a walk or taking a social media break. One of the more amusing strategies I heard involved locking yourself in your bathroom with nothing but a pen and paper, setting an hour-long timer, and not allowing yourself to do anything but scribble or doodle while you’re in there. No reading lotion labels, no organizing the makeup drawer. No bubble baths. Just pure, private, glorious boredom.
The great tragedy of the digital world is that fewer people—kids, especially—get bored enough to pick up a pen, eliminating countless writers and artists who might be filled with talent but are instead wasting away playing Fortnite.
I don’t think it’s an accident that our abhorrent collective mental health coincides with the massacre of arts funding in schools. As the beloved author Kurt Vonnegut said, “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake.”
Making art for art’s sake is the only thing that rejuvenates my brain during times of burnout. But purposeless creativity does not exist without boredom, which is why the two need to go together. The second moneymaking is involved, it moves into the realm of adding to burnout rather than removing it.
Of course, I don’t have kids or an elderly parent to care for. Caregiving burnout is its own beast; one that trickier to address. So I’m not even going to try. But if you’re burned out keeping other humans alive, consider yourself hugged. You’re doing a hard thing.
With that, I’m going skiing. Without my phone. If I have time left in the day while it’s still light out, I’ll paint something. And then in 36 hours I’ll get on a plane. Rinse and repeat.
🎙Mikhaila Peterson Podcast. This is my highest-profile interview to date.