Thanks to everyone who left a comment or sent me email in response to the previous burnout post. I’m grateful. I felt I owed you an update and here it is.
The unexpected entertainment of expressing an emotional experience is how surprising people’s responses are. Some are too concerned. Others not enough. Some don’t know what to say, so they grasp at what’s familiar and share that. Some don’t know what to say and stay silent. Others admit they don’t know enough and simply ask what they can do to help. It’s fascinating how when you’re real, the best people are real right back. And when you haven’t been real for awhile with someone it takes time for both people to calibrate where exactly the other person is coming from.
I’ve rediscovered how easy it is to shake myself and others out of a worn out routine: just be completely honest. Honesty is the easiest way to make life interesting. It’s the basis in part for why improv often works so well and regular life does not.
In short I’m doing fine. I’m not in a rut exactly. I’m not even really burnt out, and wasn’t beyond the first few days (which was now several weeks ago). Part of what I didn’t convey well in the first post is paramount: I now have a lack of conviction that I have to continue to be productive to be a good or happy person. There is a faith we share in society, an unquestioned ideal, that we must work hard and be successful to be good people. I don’t believe this anymore or at least not as much. Many people have told me “don’t worry you’ll get out of it soon” but what they don’t understand is I’m not sure getting out of “this”, whatever it is, is progress. There’s something here I can learn or need to figure out first.
George Carlin has a joke about motivation and the American self-help industry. He didn’t understand how you could buy a book to get motivation. If you’re motivated to buy the book, why not just use that motivation to do the thing itself? He goes on to point out that some of the worst people in history were highly motivated: Genghis Khan, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot. Books about motivation and productivity never mention them. Maybe there are more important questions to ask ourselves than how productive or successful we are or are not?
Maybe it’s not so bad to be unmotivated if you’re not hurting anyone else. The slacker who spends all day on the beach, or the bum in the park, does less damage to the world and the people in it than many CEOs and heads of state. Maybe it’s more important to do things that don’t earn as much money or prestige but that matter far more to the people you do them for? Or simply cause no harm? These are big questions, I know, and it’s much easier to only ask the little ones.
So many of us drive ourselves and our families into the ground chasing the modern version of a rat race. It’s a largely technological race now, but the results for all contestants is the same. We chase a made up idea of what success looks like, an idea shaped by corporations, religions and television, that’s defined by what’s easily measured, not what matters most. We’re so invested in the game we never stop to notice how miserable the personal lives of many of these “successful” people we’re chasing actually are. How much emptiness they feel and how productivity and what’s easily measured is the only way they know how to fill, even if temporarily, that void inside. Many legendary people were assholes, even to themselves, and I’m not sure it’s a worthy trade.
I still plan to work. If I’ve promised you something I will get it done and do a good job. I won’t disappear. But perhaps what I’ve achieved is I don’t mind taking it slow. I hope you don’t mind either. I think I’m learning something. But I’m still sorting myself out and I’ll share more when I have it together. Thanks for reading.