Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Some Thoughts on Burnout and Passion. (Oh, and a Necklace)

It’s been a long time since I’ve made a necklace. A few years would be my guess. I worked nearly full time as a jewelry designer for years. And if my name is known for anything, I’m guessing it would be jewelry design. The beauty of working in a variety of art media is I can lay one aside for a while and come back when the time is right. Back in the day I worked it until it wasn’t fun anymore, I allowed myself to become burnt out and there was little joy in the creative process of jewelry design for a while. So I laid it aside.

Burn out is an interesting feature of the creative life. I have been there in the fire a number of times. I worked professionally as a cake designer for years and I remember the day that I looked down at a cake and knew that I was done. Like stick a toothpick in me and get me the heck out of here, I’m DONE! It was only a matter of time before I had left the bakery and moved on to something else. I went back years later and did a short stint as a cake designer again and I do wedding cakes for family and close friends, but for the most part I’d have to say that my focused cake designer days are behind me. (Which reminds me, did I post a photo of the wedding cake I did for my cousin’s wedding on the 11th?) Although I do enjoy those cake competition shows on the food network and from time to time I itch to get my hands back in it just to see if I could compete in that world.

Later I found myself on the stage leading a band looking out at a crowd. And I was there in the fire of burn out again. I imagined myself walking off that stage out of the doors of that place and never coming back. I didn’t, but it was tempting. I hated music for a season, I avoided even private playing of piano or guitar or anything. It was a struggle but I did finally leave, there were people who didn’t want to see me go. That was at least gratifying. The irony is that it’s been at least a decade since those days and I miss it from time to time. I wonder if I’ll ever get back to the music in the same way. I play piano in some small local venues here locally but it’s not the same as looking out at a crowd, playing and singing with all my spirit and soul. Maybe someday.

I’ve learned a few things about burnout. First of all, thankfully, it’s temporary. The best cure is to give yourself permission to walk away and give it the needed time. Just because I hit something a little too hard for a season and lose the joy in it, doesn’t mean I can’t come back to it another day and find that grove once more.

Secondly, burnout is an opportunity to learn how I was created and try to work within that design instead of against it. Often when a creative person gets to the burnout stage, it’s because we’ve gotten out of balance in the reasons we do the work or the way we go about it. Maybe we focus too much on the product instead of the process, or we get sensitive about the response the work is getting, or perhaps we’ve just pushed ourselves a bit outside of our zone without realizing it. Often we’re bowing to some kind of external pressure, or perfectionism, or a lack of understanding of the creative process, or perhaps pure simple fear. There are many ways to lose our balance and focus and begin to work in a way that becomes detrimental in the long term. Those who create in a place of freedom are the ones who experience happiness as a side effect of the creative process. There is joy in the journey, but generally it’s reserved for those who are intentional about living a balanced, authentic and unencumbered creativity.

Finally, burnout is a reminder that passion is central, seasonal and far deeper than we realize. “Inspiration” is a term one hears artists using from time to time, and usually they just mean some kind of emotional high or perhaps a manic phase. Authentic creative “inspiration” is a lifestyle, not a mood. People who understand the creative process can engage the process with or without the ambiance or special effects of the emotions. Passion is goes far deeper than inspiration, it’s the light God shines on a path that illuminates the possibilities and opportunities of one’s life. Passion is the single thing that determines whether or not a person feels a sense of fulfillment in the work of their hands. And passion is seasonal. If we are drawn by passion into new work, but are still busy doing the old work… burnout is inevitable. We’ve got to pay attention to the inner workings of spirit, soul and body. And as we are mindful and present in our skin and trusting in Providence, we’ll be guided into the next chapter of our lives. Sometimes burnout is the sign by the road that shows us the way to the exit off ramp. Staying at work when the passion has moved can drain the life out of the strongest sailor. And if you are in that place, please do yourself a favor and begin looking and planning for the next available exit ramp. Scary? Of course! But I know you are brave and you can do it. It's time.

I created a necklace today. The necklace wasn’t anything all that exciting, I’m not 100% pleased with it. However… it’s a bit of a personal symbol or mile marker. I can be a jewelry designer again, or not. I’m ok either way. Enough time has passed that I can go there and do the work in freedom. And that’s a good thing. It means that I can revisit work that used to be fulfilling. The worst is past. I’m not in that fire of burnout anymore when it comes to jewelry design. And that’s a good thing. Yeah, that’s a very good thing and I am grateful.
Dichroic glass necklace with fresh water coin pearls, silver and glass beads, sterling silver clasp and matching earrings. (I tend to avoid dichroic glass in earrings just because it can be so heavy, and heavy earrings tend to be earrings that don't get worn.) $165 for the set.

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