Creativity is a huge part of my life.
I spend a lot of time writing, or working on this blog, even dreaming up new ideas. Anyone who runs a blog or has spent time trying to publish or promote a book (or any other creative endeavour) will know that it can be an endless round of self-promotion. This can be quite draining.
My job can be quite creative too and I expend a lot of that same energy at work.
Without proper self-care, it’s easy to do too much and suddenly creativity becomes much harder. Perhaps it even becomes a chore. Things that once were fun inspire resentment instead of fulfilment.
That’s a difficult situation to be in. Sometimes you don’t realise you’re close to burning out until it’s too late. It can take years to reach that point. And without the option to step away for a while, from work, from commitments, it can be hard to recover.
I once went on a Mental Health Awareness course for work and the tutor used a particular analogy that has stayed with me.
He described your mental health as being a bit like a bucket: when things are functioning well, any stresses or negative events and emotions flow into the bucket and out again through a tap at the bottom.
But if the tap ever gets rusty or stops working properly, then the bucket begins to fill. And if something doesn’t give, eventually it will overflow.
It’s worth remembering that not everyone’s bucket is the same size. Some people can cope with more than others. And your bucket may shrink at different times in your life, perhaps if you’re coping with a period of stress at work, dealing with an illness or the death of a loved one.
I like to think of creativity using the same analogy, but in reverse.
Instead of letting things flow through the bucket, the aim is for it to fill up. For me, the more art I consume, the quicker my bucket fills. The more quality books I read, films I enjoy, music I listen to, theatre I watch, the more time I spend allowing myself to dream or to explore my own ideas, the more stuff there is packed into that container.
And when it begins to overflow, I’m bursting with creative energy and ideas.
But trying to do too much can draw too heavily on the contents of the bucket; the material weakens and cracks and it springs a leak. It begins to empty faster than I can refill it.
That’s when burn out happens.
It can be tempting to push yourself too hard. We live in a society that encourages us to strive constantly for the next thing, to compare ourselves to others and push ourselves harder.
Hustle. Work harder. Earn more money. Reach your potential.
But you can’t do those things without considering your basic human needs.
Rest. Exercise. Eat well. Get some sleep. Allow yourself to feel joy. Stop and turn your face up to the sun.
Creativity will always ebb and flow, that’s part of life. But the more you allow it to ebb, the longer it will take for that tide of inspirational to return.
And I’d rather live a slow life full of passion and creativity than have it burn too bright and see that creativity snuffed out completely.