I ran an experiment last year. Very scientific.
It was called: How Drained & Empty Can Katherine Get Before She Reaches Total Burnout?
My hypothesis was: I Can SURELY Make It All Better If I Just Keep Cranking And Working Harder.
Turns out that this hypothesis is a piece of garbage.
Nonetheless, I ran this experiment not once– but twice. JUST TO MAKE SURE!
I ran it once in the spring. Or should I say “spring” with extra ironic air quotes since there is no spring here in Alberta– I mean yes there’s mountains and evergreens and majesty if you’re into that sort of thing, but we do not do spring here. Instead we have a beautiful white crystalline frosty winter for nine months, then a long dry brown dead season that lasts about 17 months and goes on and on until your soul is sucked dry and you beg for mercy and then it is July and it’s green for five seconds and then it’s all brown again.
But anyway, I ran my experiment like a champ. I cranked and cranked, worked harder and harder, planted hopeful pansies and watered them 5 times a day (ok let’s be honest, my husband Nick watered them), and tried to breathe through the dull brown dust patch where once I’d had a blooming, vibrant heart.
In the end, all my data pointed to the conclusion that when one is approaching burnout, working harder is NOT the answer. That in fact, working harder only accelerates the road to burnout. And that once one reaches burnout, it’s much harder to fix it than if one had just not been such an idiot in the first place and done some g-d self-care.
Oh, I was a sheepish life coach; a chastened life coach!
But then, inexplicably, just for good measure maybe, I ran my experiment AGAIN! In the autumn! Which, in case you are wondering, lasts about 2 minutes. One day the trees are August-parched-brown, then they turn a pale yellow one afternoon, and you think– oh yay, autumn must be coming with its crimson and berries– then the wind blows and the leaves are all gone and that night you get four inches of snow.
It would steal your soul too.
But I just kept plugging along. A little further, I kept thinking. Just try a little harder, I kept saying to myself.
And I slowly got duller and duller until I felt actually perforated. Like there were all these little holes punched in me so the winds could conveniently blow right through. I don’t know how long I would have just kept mulishly plugging along, but luckily for me I had a speaking engagement booked in Portland in October. I got on the plane, feeling dull. I arrived, feeling dull AND foggy. This is a mistake, I thought. I should just turn around and fly back to Alberta and sit down at my desk and WORK HARDER, I thought. (You know, because that was going so well.)
But then? The very moment my feet touched those wet muddy leaf-slimed Portland sidewalks, I could feel the nourishment pouring back into me. It was like the colors came back. And in less than a week, I was in full bloom again.
OH miracle! Oh blooming! Oh quenched spring-back-to-life soul! Oh hello, I missed you so!
I came back feeling like myself again. The change was so dramatic that I even wrote a shamelessly excited missive about it.
It wasn’t just being in Portland, even though for me that city is a magical portal of grounded soul sustenance. It was great drenches of solitude in my hotel room; it was reading a book cover to cover; it was being in a room full of dynamic, ambitious, soulful women; it was standing up on stage and letting a message that I passionately believed in pour through my body and my mouth and light me up; it was eating exquisite food slowly while reading; it was long heart-talks with my dear, much-missed friends; it was the day of SCANDALOUS rest I booked for myself after the conference was over when I did not speak to one soul for 24 hours.
It was glorious.
But can I just step back and say something?
If anyone should be able to avoid this dreadful experiment, IT SHOULD BE ME.
You know…master life coach, beauty lover, dreamy spirit? Creator of the Bliss Conspiracy, for crying out loud???
Which is why it’s all a little mortifying. But I tell you ALL my most embarrassing stories, because they’re the best ones!
So it turns out, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Again. GYAH!!!!
It turns out that this is good news for you, because I know some things now about taking care of a
neurotic smart, sensitive, soulful woman in an alien land that I didn’t know before.
And I can’t wait to tell you about them.
It turns out that it was EASY to keep myself healthy and thriving (physically, emotionally, spiritually) when I was living in Portland. It was like a gentle little greenhouse perfectly primed to keep me lush and plump. So, yes, I was above-average at taking care of myself there. But I didn’t even know the head start I had.
It turns out that Alberta is this wonderful bootcamp the universe provided for me to up my game in this area. Like, “All right, missy, let’s take away all the trees and all your familiar comforts and add in four more kids and a minivan and THEN let’s see what you got!!!”
It turned out that what I got was a whole lotta failure.
I TOTALLY SUCKED at keeping myself in top fighting form last year.
But one thing I am good at is learning from my own mistakes. I have a wild curiosity about all the things I’m innately terrible at. I like to study them, mind-fuck them ’til they’re nicely poached, come up with many plans that don’t work, and then when I finally DO crack the code I get so excited about it that I usually turn it into a coaching program! (Queen Sweep….squirrel brain and difficulty navigating basically all of adulting.) (Secret Mystics…utter inability to set energetic or any other kind of boundaries.) (EFBA programs…feeling like a scaredy cat about basically all of life.)
So I don’t have all the answers, but in the process of living my own real, messy, complicated, actual life, I’ve learned some things about taking care of myself in this
barren hinterland prairie suburb even though I have five kids now.
Let me say it again– I don’t have it all figured out yet. I am far from an enlightened guru who can promise you perfect peace and enlightenment. (And also, I don’t find enlightened gurus very helpful because they’re already enlightened! They don’t ever cry when the washer breaks. They don’t ever kick the toddler stool when it gouges their shins.) I’m just a messy flawed human muddling through. But I have learned some painful, rather embarrassing lessons this past year, and they might as well be useful.
It’s easy to mock “self-care,” and honestly sometimes we should.
And yet. It’s also easy to forget that if you don’t fill yourself back up after you pour yourself into the people, work, and causes you love, then you will go dry. You know who suffers then? You, for starters. But also the very people, work, and causes you love. (My husband will bear witness to this; my brush with burnout was anything but fun for him.)
We need your caring. We need your passion. We need your light.
Which means you’re going to need to stay filled up, dearhearheart.
And in the meantime, if you just need a little immediate hygge-style comfort top-up, here’s a list of things to make you feel better right now. Like RIGHT NOW.
Okay, now you. How do you stay filled up? Have you ever had to pull yourself back from the brink of burnout? Or climb out after you fell in? What helped??? Tell me on Instagram or Facebook, I’d really love to know.