“Do great work and have the courage to sell it and force it to be sold. You can’t just have talent. It’s not enough to have talent. You have to have the courage to not let anybody force you to ever do a job that you don’t think is great.
And people say to me “Yeah but you can’t do that. You don’t want to throw a client out and people’s jobs and blah blah you got to keep your job…” You just proved to me that you’ll never be great. The minute you start doing bad work because it’s “forced on you” you ain’t shit! You have to have the courage to fight for your work.” - George Lois
I’ve felt pressure from within to write lately. Truth is I want to, but I am burned out. I’m chopping up a couple of my rough drafts here and putting them together so you get an idea of how I deal with burnout.
I’d say my first true burnout was buying a property. The solicitors on both ends were useless, and the seller (who was also my landlord) was less than helpful. The mortgage offer collapsed once and the total process took eight months. Sleep wasn’t happening, thinking straight was impossible, and interaction usually ended with me flipping out or slumping into a sorry heap. I couldn’t handle the most basic of questions, such as what we might eat for dinner.
The effects of that stress was all-consuming for a time. After the mortgage completed, I thought I’d go straight back to normal. But still I couldn’t sleep, unwind or handle any kind of conversation. I wanted to curl up into a ball and be left alone.
Recovery was slow. I made saying no the default, and this helped. I shut down anything which wasn’t essential. Every single application on my phone (including email)? Uninstalled. Non-work websites were blocked. Social activities were cut to the extreme minimum. The lifting schedule stayed constant; numbers were compromised but that was expected and accounted for. Some days I would just hide in the gym and lie on the mat.
Writing helped. Lots of writing to get it out of my head. The same two or three concepts, revisiting frequently as my thoughts unravelled. It’s not fit for publishing, so I’d sooner take the learnings and roll them up into new material.
The process was therapeutic. I’ve recently been unpacking my possessions in preparation for the move. In one box I found a clutch of yearly journals, from 1994 onwards. Turns out I’ve been making sense of the world through writing for a very long time, yet I had forgotten somewhere around 2006. So my next recommendation after saying no is to write a lot. Don’t write with ego or expectation, just write for the sake of getting it out of your head. Repetition is okay.
Lists are gold. If I’ve had three hours kip and I need to be on a flight, I’ll take the time to write down that I need to put socks and pants in the bag, and that I need to brush my teeth. Small, discardable lists are fine for tasks like this, but it helps to have a master plan in a trusted system. It’s worth setting up this system during a quiet period and engraining the habit.
From experience, it helps to let people know up front if you’re facing hardship. I got cut a lot of slack from work and friends once they understood my situation. If you don’t tell them, they won’t know!
Burnout coping summary
Nothing revolutionary here.
- Say no by default.
- Write honestly and privately.
- Use lists to carry you.
- Declare up front when you’re struggling.
I’ve got better material on the way. But this might help if you’ve got a lot on your plate.