It’s actually not because I’m working too hard. Work generally energizes me. I think it’s sort of cool to stay up late to work on things, or get up early to finish them. I think a calendar with a bunch of deadlines is a beautiful sight.
It’s not about being overworked in the classic sense. Rather, it’s about feeling burned out because I am in the middle of too many things. The middle can be a precarious place. Beginnings are great: you have that early excitement, that spark of ideas, that newness of purpose. And, more practically speaking when you’re working on a project, you often have a lovely upfront payment—a little wink that says: “You are the right person for this project. I have faith. Take the cash and wow me.”
And then at the end, there’s that final push to hit send, ship the work, hear the speech, or take the site live. It’s adrenaline. And it’s exhilarating, even when you’re totally exhausted.
But the middle. Oy. I am in the middle of nearly everything right now. Literally, I’m in the middle of a handful of projects. We’re home from the honeymoon, and it’s time to dig in. And more figuratively (but no less relevant to why I feel burned out), I’m in the middle of, you know, life. The middle of having a toddler and a preschooler. The middle of a marriage. The middle of an identity that is hard to keep up with.
It isn’t that I’m bored with any of it. I’ve got some of the coolest projects ever right now. And a very blessed life. But still, here I am in middledom, in a state of unfinishedness, where everything outstanding in my life starts flashing before my eyes: my web site video, my eBook, the mulch, the curtain for the closet at the top of the steps, the pictures I haven’t downloaded, the scrapbook I never made for the second kid. All I see are a series of open boxes with things piling out (the exact opposite of a Real Simple cover). Inevitably, middledom is a straight shot to martyrdom (“Poor me: I never have any time for myself!”). And martyrdom is a fantastic place for things like picking fights with my husband about which one of us has a harder life.
So the only antidote is pushing through. Right? This is what classic Judi would say: “Just stop it, will you? Stop whining and do the $%&ing work already.”It’s pretty much my motto. Do it already. But I don’t think it works for the problem of middledom. Because I am doing. I just don’t feel productive.
¬†A Middledom State of Mind
I had a new thought today: All of the stuff we say you should do when you feel burned out and uninspired might just be crap. Plans, lists, inspirational quotes, and even watching TED talks (my all-time favorite get-over-my-blues solution) are all intellectual solutions. But intellectual fixes may not be able to solve a state-of-mind problem. And that’s what middledom is: a state of mind.
My burnout problem isn’t coming from feeling like the projects are too involved or the clients aren’t responding quickly enough. It’s coming from my belief that to be unfinished is to be uncomfortable. I define myself by what I finish and produce. I am a writer, so this makes sense. I have to just do it, already. Produce, already.
But believing that to be unfinished is to be uncomfortable creates these long and scary middle passages. I think instead of constantly trying to will myself out of the middle, I might start believing that it’s not uncomfortable. That things take shape in the middle. That I won’t suddenly become a person who doesn’t finish stuff if I live and breathe in the middle a bit more.
This is a little bit of what Garret Kramer says. I got the chance to interview him for Expand Your Influence. He wrote the book Stillpower (about to be re-released), based on the idea that our state of mind is what creates our experience (not the other way around). Gritting through stuff and willing it out just binds us up, he says, and we wind up in our own way.
Instead of churning the wheel of the unfinished, I could ride the wave of the unfinished. So make deadlines—absolutely. Do it—absolutely. Produce—absolutely. But co-exist with the open boxes.
So . . . hello, middle. Let’s just be friends already.
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