On Burnout and Transition

– On Burnout and Transition –

As I posted on Instagram a few days ago – For the past few months, I’ve been working really hard on FireCrown Pottery and at my full time job. Basically doing my day job for 8-9 hours and about 4 hours in the studio. The two jobs equaling out to about 12 hours a day including weekends. If anyone knows me they know that I work 100% at whatever I do. If I cant do it right I won’t bother to do it at all, or if it’s important enough, I’ll delegate to someone else (I have a hard time doing that but I’m working on it).

I was following the the 4 lane highway to burnout on all fronts, ignoring the huge bright, blinking neon signs. I was forcing it. Expending all my energy and failing to recharge that energy. This obviously leads to bad things. Emotional turmoil, family problems, depression, etc…

I’ve burned out several times over the span of my corporate career. It’s not funny, it’s not fun, and it takes an enormous amount of extra energy and hard work to get out of it. Far more energy than the steps that can be taken to avoid it.

Being that if you are reading this, you probably have a day job. You probably have a side gig. Maybe your side gig is pottery. Maybe you want to turn that into a full time career. Maybe you’re struggling with the same things that I am at the moment. Here is the answer I found for myself over the past few days. It may not be perfect but it feels like a good perspective change and is certainly better than the way I have been going about it.

What I learned from the past few months is that we have to Sharpen the Saw – a reference to the classic book – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People*, which to summarize – Sharpening the saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. 

I already KNEW this! We all probably know this with or without reading the book. You have to replenish yourself and make sure that you are the best that you can be otherwise you are a dull saw, destined to get stuck half way through the trunk of the very large tree that is life. We all want it NOW! From here to there instantaneously! That’s just the way our culture is. We cant escape the feedback that its supposed to be fast and easy. Pottery has taught me to slow down and to wait (patiently on occasion).

The “positivity folks” unintentionally paint the picture that everything is ok. Smile, something good will come of this. Your house is burning down? Don’t worry about it, it’s all going to turn out for the best. And in a funny way that IS true, out of my past few months of unconsciously forcing things, I came to a nice realization that took the weight right off of my shoulders. It eventually turned out good. But really, shouldn’t we try to put the fire out?

The “achieve at all costs folks” unintentionally paint the picture that you have to go hard, at all times, break down all obstacles, push all else out of your way so that you can get to the end goal. Anything else is laziness and you’re just not cut out for it. And again in a funny way, it IS true, out of the past few months I came to a nice realization that we do have to go hard and put in the work. As much work as possible without forcing it.

So in between any two extremes there is a happy medium, as there usually is. Embrace the work that feeds your soul. Embrace the work that feeds your family. Don’t expend energy hating the day job and wishing for this magical place in the future where you get to do whatever it is you want to do at any given time and the work is just so satisfying it fills your heart like a balloon. It probably, no let me take that back, it will absolutely not be like you think it will. If you have the expectation that it will unfold in exactly the way you plan and that you will end up in exactly the situation you wanted, you will most likely be disappointed.

So I learned, or rather I should say I re-learned, for the hundredth time, that flexibility is key. A goal of 1 or 5 or 10 years is great, it gives you something to shoot for. But where you land is up to the universe, a much more powerful force than we are.  Focus on the present moment and not years in the future. The present moment is ALL that we have and it is all that we will EVER have. We cannot live in the future for an extended amount of time, it leads to anxiety, because there is just no way to reconcile the infinity of variables that make up our lives. So be good to yourself, be open to change, be flexible and flow like water.

So how did I get the change in perspective? It’s sometimes the hardest thing to do, to change your perspective, but it can also be the easiest. I just took a break. My wife was home from work, we don’t get to spend an awful lot of time together because of our jobs and I enjoyed her company. I actually sat down outside, set the timer and meditated and let my brain relax. From waking in the morning until I fell asleep at night, for months, I was grinding away at this future state and how to get there and not even fully enjoying myself while in the present moment. I did a full set of breathing exercises on my lunch break. I ate two really good meals that my wife made for me. And because I took care of myself, because we took care of each other,  it just occurred to me.

During the time of transition, if you are serious about it, take it one day at a time. Maybe even better is one task at a time. Focus solely on that one task. During that task unfolds a beautiful web of new possibilities. Everything changes, therefore everything is always new. Be open to those possibilities with the end goal in mind and let your gut decide which one of the paths to take to the second task. And if the second task is a break, so be it. What is an hour or a weekend or a week here and there in the course of 5 years?

So here we are, the situation is exactly the same as it was yesterday. Except now I’m happier and more fulfilled. I’m recharged and each task is what it is and I can certainly get through a single task. The thing is, we get caught up without realizing it. Check yourself every once in awhile. Are you forcing it?

By taking care of yourself, you will be happier. Your family will be happier, creating a feedback loop of positivity. Your current job will be more fulfilling, making the people you interact with happier, and that creates a positive feedback loops as well, making a stressful job just a little better. All at the same time giving out good vibes and receiving them back. Your spirit will not feel like it’s being crushed underneath this false idea that once you make it to “over there”, THEN you will be happy.

Some people just buy pots, but I think, I cant yet prove it, that what they really buy, is YOU. Like many of the other arts out there, like martial arts, painting, singing, creating music… each of these, if they are to be any good at all,  require you to pour yourself into what you create. This is what makes them unique and hopefully that uniqueness resonates with someone and they have the same connection to this object as you do. Better stated, they resonate with you and they want to have a connection THROUGH this object.

So those are my thoughts of the day from the past few months of working hard and in earnest. Forcing it and then letting it go. It’s a place that some of us just are at in our lives. So, no, you’re not really alone at all 🙂



(* this affiliate link helps pay for hosting and for me to continue bringing you relevant content. If you want to read the very condensed version instead, it is offered for free here –  https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php)

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