Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to Save Yourself From Burn Out

When I arrived Saturday morning for my weekend painting workshop, I was tired from the week's work - month's work, to be precise. I had taken on one too many calls, one too many emails, one too many art-donation charity events, one too many project, and not taking good care of myself. I was "burnt-out." This is the dark side of the artist life.

When we are depleted of time and energy, so it our creativity and art. We become a snarling animal prodded one too many times and we refuse to perform any more magic acts. Having experienced burnt out before, I thought I knew how to avoid it. I thought I knew better. But it's difficult. The fine line between a fun creative productive artist and a manic overworked "horse" is very thin. Although sometimes there doesn't seem to be much of choice between work/rent vs sustainability/rest, we have to remember - there is always always a choice.

Contrary to the myth that artists are selfish, I think we are very generous - perhaps even too much. We are often taking on projects that are not ours. We make posters for Uncle Steve's bbqs or little Billy's birthday party for no cost. We often volunteer in some creative or mentoring program for the community. People often use artists as a sounding board for idea pitches, solicit critiques, or even rants on personal lives without refilling our energy wells. We, ourselves, often dip into our own well and drain it faster than we can refill it. We say "yes" to the latest social gathering when we really want to be alone with our art. Or quite the opposite, we stay home, when we really want to go dancing but are afraid. In short, we are NICE PEOPLE, but not necessarily honest to ourselves.

But what if I have kids or are in a relationship or have friends who need me? You ask. Surely, they come first before my art? The truth is: we can become better family members and friends when we take care of ourselves and our needs first. When you give to yourself, your energy and time will surprisingly multiply by ten fold.

It's time to think a little bit more of ourselves. It's time to be more selfish. Take care of your artist self. Invest in yourself. "Stop being nice, and start being honest," as writer Julia Cameron said. So you don't want to do this project, DON'T DO IT. Give it to someone else who has the time and is more passionate about it. So you need to stay in instead of a movie date? Take a raincheck. But what about timed events that you have to attend, but may not have energy for, like gallery openings, friend's poetry reading, or billy's birthday party that might make or break your friendship or relationship? Well, take care of yourself days ahead and the morning beforehand, so you have plenty of rest. Wake up earlier in the week before work, or sleep in, or find the time and prioritize your creativity so that at Billy's birthday party or your friend's poetry reading, you are alert, attentive, and present - NOT thinking about your novel or project back home and seething at Billy in resentment.

Self care and freedom is the best remedy for burn out. A little goes a long way. Like buying your favorite soap for $2.99 or warm hot cocoa. Finally watching that movie or reading that book that you've been putting off. Calling a friend who can help you refill the well by listening to you. Freedom from email or phone after dinner. Freedom to rest. Freedom to see friends or go on a run. Undisturbed guilt-free time. It's going to be different for everyone.

At the weekend painting workshop, my teacher Erik Tiemens always seemed very energetic, creative, and animated.

"Attack the paper," he would say.

"Play with the paint, without having an end-product in mind." I don't know if this is true, but I suspect that he will always be young-at-heart and creative because he gives himself the freedom to play.

Our artist self is like a seven year old kid. If we told it to sit still, be quiet, and do your work for one too many times, it will start to rebel. So we need to communicate to them that we'll listen to them. That we will give them a treat for being so good all this time. That we are on their side and it's safe to create again.

Just ask yourself, what do I want? If there are no emergencies, no restrictions, deadlines, or people depending on me and I have the freedom to do whatever, what do I want?