“That’s what you need to do,” said Val Nelson, before we hung up. "I’m sure of it.”
I’m pretty sure she’s right.
I called Val, a career, business, and life coach, to talk about burnout for a recent blog post. I wasn’t intentionally trying to steal her services by disguising it as an interview…but also, that’s exactly what I was doing. I’m sneaky that way.
I was inspired to write the post because of my own burnout and feel very fortunate to have among my friends and colleagues a couple of kickass coaches—Val and Beth Buelow—who agreed to be interviewed. I tried to keep the discussions pretty general, but from time to time, they slipped into my own issues (oops), and I came away with a lot to think about and one definite action plan.
That plan, which Val endorsed with such certainty? Signing up for a co-working space that is opening near my home. I've already toured it and made a verbal commitment, I'll sign up and pay up soon.
I left my last full-time job, at a newspaper, in 1994. I’ve worked at home, alone, ever since. That’s more than 20 years of spending most days stewing in my own juices. That might sound like the ideal situation for an introvert, but it has its drawbacks. Because getting out and about requires effort that I am not always motivated to expend, I have allowed myself to become isolated. And while solitude can be conducive to creativity, life in a bubble is not.
I think of creativity as a well. When I’m alone, creating, I draw from that well. If I spend too little time out in the world, I have nothing but my own thoughts and the nattering of social media to refill it. After 21 years of workday solitude broken mostly by online chatter, my well is bone dry. I am in dire need of a change of energy to refill it.
I work at a coffee shop sometimes, but have decided on co-working for a few reasons. One: if I’m paying for it, I’m more likely to use it. It’s pretty easy for me to blow off plans to go to the coffee shop, but I tend to be tight with a buck, so I’ll want to get my money’s worth out of space I’m renting.
Also, this could be a community of sorts for me. I look forward to being around other people doing work unlike mine. I look forward to serendipitous conversations—both participating and eavesdropping. I know this co-working company tries to create community with happy hours and such and I plan to participate sometimes, to help get fresh thoughts flowing through my stale brain.
I’ll still work at home sometimes; I plan to divide my weeks between home and office. I admit, I’m kind of anxious about all this, so I’ve decided to give it a one-month trial to see how it feels. But I’m also excited about the prospect of something different.
So that’s where I’m taking immediate action. But the conversations with Val and Beth also got me thinking in other directions too.
For example, Beth suggested thinking about different ways of doing the same things, which made me reconsider my tendency to belabor every job. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job, but do I overthink? (Yes.) I used that nugget to power through a job that wasn’t coming together easily. Instead of sweating over it and trying to make it into something it would never be, I knocked it out, called it good enough, and got on with my life. And the client was fine with the final product. I can be harder on myself than anyone else is. I need to start discerning between jobs that are worth sweating over and those that can be good enough. After all, I have years of experience doing what I do. My good enough is usually pretty good.
What else…? I had to go to a bookstore last week to buy a gift, and spent some time in the self-help/psychology section, looking for inspiration for future jobs. This actually turned out to be a little bit discouraging; so many smart people writing so many interesting books. How can I possibly stand out? Then, for no particular reason, I picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and settled into an armchair with that. For some reason, the idea of divesting myself of clutter was inspiring. When I mentioned this to Val, she said that she often finds decluttering reenergizing. I haven’t got serious with this yet, but I did manage to clear a few things out and that felt refreshing already.
Before leaving the bookstore, I wandered through the sale-books section and flipped through a career self-help book—I couldn’t even tell you what it was—and came across the question “What would you do if you couldn’t do what you’re doing now ever again?” I have no idea what my answer to that is, but it’s a good question. I’ve planted it in my head to gestate.
And then, a few days later, I listened to this Marc Maron interview with the wonderful comedian Jim Gaffigan, in which Gaffigan talked about the amount of rejection aspiring comedians are subjected to. Yes, of course. This is part of the writer’s life too.
I sometimes joke that in my job, I get rejected five times before breakfast. Haha. Sort of. While creative professionals must and do develop a pretty thick skin, so much rejection has a cumulative discouraging effect. Eventually, you have to retreat a little, take a breather. And you have to start choosing what you let into your brain. A few years ago, I wrote this blog post about the quantified life. I’m going to keep it bookmarked to remind myself, when necessary, that FB likes are not a measure of my worth.
So, that’s where I am right now. I’m not cured and have a ways to go. For example, Val suggests clients list and rank tasks, to identify the ones that give them joy vs. the ones that suck the life out of them. I started to do that, but realized that I’m too burned out to find joy in anything I do. I’ll save that job for later.
But at least I’ve been nudged out of my rut a wee bit and that’s a good thing. And this week, I’m taking a little vacation to attend a wedding. Which certainly can’t hurt.
Look for Val’s career and business column on the new website “Quiet Revolution,” where I'm also writing an advice column. Beth’s wonderful book, The Introvert Entrepreneur, will be in bookstores in November.
Please note that anything purchased from Amazon or Barnes & Noble by clicking through a link here will earn me a few pennies.