On Firing All Cylinders and Burning Out

About the photo: Hiking in Connemara National Park, Ireland, with my family back in November 2019. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

I’m a writer by trade and, like everyone, my life is more than my profession. But what’s unique about my arrangement is that I can weave my passions, interests and daily existence into my writing. If you follow my social media feeds, you’ll notice some emerging themes that don’t always have a clear connection apart from them coming from me: the mountain life, travel and adventure, writing, entrepreneurship, publishing, the work/life balance and parenting.

My usual approach is to compartmentalize parts of my private life and keep them offline. There’s a lot that transpires that doesn’t need to reach the virtual space. I’ll hint at things at times, but not fully divulge. But this month, I’ve been through a period of burnout that I recognize has the potential to affect other creative people and fellow parent-entrepreneurs who are firing all cylinders all the time. Heck, anyone can fall into the trap because we’re all juggling a lot, right?

So, I wanted to write about it with hopes that I can start a conversation with other creatives, business owners and go-getters so that perhaps I can help others avoid a similar scenario.

The Backstory

“Lucky” for me, I have an auto-immune disease I’ve never spoken about publicly, and not because I am ashamed of it but because I’ve never acknowledged for myself the real role it plays in my life. I say “lucky” because what this provides me is a barometer for my stress and my neglect of self-care. That disease is eczema, and it’s a difficult one to talk about because it manifests itself differently in every person it affects. It varies widely in severity and also in what causes it to flare. I’ve been dealing with it since high school, but it has gotten worse in my thirties, and went from “a patch here or there” to a full-body screaming machine. By definition, mine is of moderate severity, but the consequences of a bad flare-up are enough to make me want to crawl in my bed in a dark room and never come out.

This week I had a bad flare-up. Hindsight is 20/20 and I really should have seen it coming. All the signs were there: lack of sleep while we were travelling (immune system is shot); 45 hours of transit home from Malta (sitting in airplane air that sucked all the moisture out of me); jetlag (now we’re really not sleeping); a toddler with chickenpox (that was like having a newborn all over again); me getting hit with a flu and fever (sweating is not great for eczema-prone skin); and external circumstances that pushed my stress-load right off the charts.

On top of this – and my life as a writer, mom, wife, business owner – is the daily regimen I keep up to avoid a flare. I keep a gluten- and dairy-free diet and take a supplement of fish oil, omega 3, 6, and 9s, and other oils to help manage the disease from the inside-out. I moisturize like my life depends on it, many times a day. I avoid triggers, especially when my skin is very dry. The list goes on. Last week, I let things slide.

No wonder it flared.

I feel the same way, kid.
[Playing at Keem Bay, Achill Island, Ireland.
Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.]

Where to go from here?

As devastating as this flare-up has been, it also lit a bit of a fire under me. I’ve come to a few realizations, some related to managing the disease, but I think all of these are transferrable as tools to avoiding burnout:

1. I need to take this condition seriously. A flare-up takes weeks or months to heal. My friend Robyn calls her MS her “sidekick,” and I think I need to reframe the way I view eczema. It’s a nuisance, yes, but it’s also a unique tool I can use to keep myself in check. The trade-off if I pay more attention to it, and prioritize myself more, is that I won’t only have fewer flare-ups, but I may also heal my system.

2. I need to make some adjustments to my external circumstances or the stress-load will never come down. This is something my husband and I are working through together.

3. I complain all the time that I lose my creative time to admin work and life logistics, so I need to create more space for the things that make my heart truly sing. No one else can do that for me.

4. I need to get my “team” back together and get back on my supplement train. My team includes my naturopathic doctor, massage therapist, and yoga instructors. As a creative entrepreneur, I absolutely cannot do my job or pursue my passions when I’m running on empty.

5. I need to listen to my body and the people who are holding me accountable. How often do we resist words of caution or “symptoms” when they arise? Often I just need to listen to what I’m saying to others: “It’s a little too much right now” (usually with a nervous laugh) or “Yeah, things are pretty crazy around here.” These are words of caution to heed as much as any others.

6. I need to simplify my life, even if it means making hard choices. I think many entrepreneurs will relate to the idea that you need enough on your plate to feel motivated and productive. Finding the right balance is tough, but I plan on taking some time to identify the pinch points in our lives, what I can say “no” to moving forward, and putting together some goals for the next year.

So, whatever your “sidekick” is or the mode your body and spirit go into when you’re running full tilt into a brick wall, I hope you’ll take the steps you need to get back on track.

This is my work for the year ahead. 😊

Feel free to share with me in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this very important topic and how burnout affects other creative entrepreneurs.

My 5 New Finds This Summer

Time is precious, and in a world where we have a million options to choose from (in every possible realm of life!), I find it helpful when other people help me narrow those down. When you come across something great, why not share it? That’s what this post is all about – my latest finds for making life easier, more productive and interesting.

1. This I Know, by Terry O’Reilly

downloadI put a call out through Facebook earlier this summer, asking for summer reading recommendations and I was inundated with some amazing responses.

One, in particular, caught my eye: This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence. I have enjoyed Terry O’Reilly’s radio show for years, and this book perfectly summarizes the lessons I needed to hear running various small business. I highly recommend it to business owners and marketers.

 

2. Great Big Story

Like many of you, I can’t resist a compelling video. Unfortunately, most of what I see featured on Facebook looks great until you watch it and realize you’ve wasted five minutes of your life. But not with Great Big Story. This is a global media company that does storytelling right, and they are always on a quest to, according to their website, “discover the untold, the overlooked and the flat-out amazing.” I highly recommend you follow them on Facebook for a weekly dose of content you’ll actually enjoy.

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3. Fjallraven Kånken No. 2 Laptop 15″ Bag

My husband will tell you I have heaps of bags at home. Laptop bags, hiking packs, backpacks that second as laptop bags. Despite the choices, I have my favourites, so I’m constantly switching my stuff around, emptying out my snacks and gear from a hike to load the bag up for a desk day. I also find that bags can be too big, leaving me with lots of bulk when all I need is to transport my laptop to the office, with just a few other items. Enter: the Fjallraven Kånken No. 2 Laptop 15″ Bag. I love the bag’s durability, size, and detailing. Plus I trust this long-standing Swedish bag-maker to make something that feels comfortable to wear.

 

4. LastPass

If you struggle to remember passwords across your devices and accounts, I highly recommend you take a look at LastPass. Between my personal and business accounts online, I have dozens of passwords and logins to remember. With LastPass you can say goodbye to notes scribbled on paper or the need to reset your passwords when you forget. It takes a bit of effort up front to get all your passwords into the system, but after that, you’ll be so glad you did.

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5. Happy Scribe

Writers and researchers know just how long it can take to transcribe an entire interview. I remember hours spent pausing tracks and pounding as fast as I could at the keyboard. Often, I’d only use a small portion of the interview, but I still felt it was important to have the whole thing recorded in a document. Happy Scribe is a service that allows you to upload your recordings and pay a nominal fee to have it transcribed at lighting speed. You’ll likely need to do a pass of it to make any corrections, but the bulk of it will be there. Major time saver!

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Notes: None of these companies paid to be listed in this post. These choices, and my opinions of them, are entirely my own. This post contains affiliate links – if you click on them and make a purchase, it sends me a small ‘thank you.’ Finally, thanks to Fjallraven for sending me the Kånken No. 2 Laptop 15″ Bag. You know what a writer needs! I have many bags for laptops, but this one now takes the cake. I didn’t need to include it in this post, but I chose to because it’s truly one of my new favs.