A reflection on burnout
My new wife and I have been making a temporary nest on a Thai island for the past week and a half. It is now mid November and rather than battle the driving rain and less-than-tolerable temperatures back home in London, we’ve started out our married life the way we plan to continue it; warm and free.
Since Emms and I started to (pretend to) act like adults after fusing our lives in early 2016 I haven’t always coped well. The previous decade I’d been largely nomadic, foot-loosely loping around the world with a laptop and any cafe/ co-working space/ boat/ sofa or beach as an office. Commitments, responsibilities and expenses were low.
But then the combination of a bad back, a flourishing homegrown community project and a girl who made me want to stay home led to exactly that…a home. Along with the comfort, a place to store some stuff and the gorgeous familiarity of living with my favourite person, this also meant rent, a more work/income-focused mindset, paperwork. And crucially, the loss of creative spark that I’d always taken for granted when living on the move.
A place to call home felt incredible, as did finding another human who I never got tired of. The compromise, certainly at the start, was worth it. Soon though, as SayYesMore and the YesTribe started to grow the add-ons piled up. Monitoring endless social media and email accounts. Starting a company so an official bank account could account for the budget of our annual festival. Slowly forming a team, and coping with the two-way dependency and responsibility of other humans. Suddenly, in less than 18 months, life felt very different indeed. And as all this change hadn’t been planned my inner compass started to lose track.
I lost my mojo, my creativity, my energy and, occasionally, my love for life. The only way SayYesMore has kept going these last 18 months was because of a handful of people who kept the momentum going, and at home Emms took over the day-to-day running of the team, online spaces and admin. Her official title: “the cog turner.” Pretty sexy. SayYesMore doesn’t bring any income in though, and Emms had assumed what was essentially a ten-month full-time job without an income, and the only way to make this work was if I worked more to cover our expenses, at the same time spending a few hours a day on SayYesMore.
All of this probably sounds terrifically boring, and while there was an underlying sense that the structure we were building was worth the effort, it started to take a toll. Somewhere along the way I’d lost the energy to exercise and the space to get creative, and while my speaking career was on the up the really juicy bits of my previous Adventure-life were non-existent.
I longed for the freedom to get up in the morning and conjure up a little social project, to work on a new book, nurture a brand new adventure or to simply fly with the wind and land somewhere unknown for a period of time. Despite the great work being done through SayYesMore I began to resent the whole thing. This idea that had blossomed because I wanted to share what I’d learned about living without limits had cost me my own freedom. And stepping back — or out — didn’t feel like a satisfactory option - the sunk cost, faith and commitment from everyone on our team prevented me walking away. Meanwhile there were plenty of little wins but behind-the-scenes, the place that so few people see or think about — I was drowning and only my closest friends could tell. Perhaps there was something in there, a real glimmer of hope or shard of light that was more important than the way I was feeling.
But for a while I was stuck in the mud, professionally more unhappy than I’d felt in a long, long time. Which was, so claustrophobic, unfit and stereotypically unhappy that I had to gruffly laugh at my own paradox. When I realised that my happiest moments were up on stage, energised for an hour at a time because it was stories from the past that excited me, the need for change was looming fast.
My absent mojo has said hi again these last two months. Our wedding in September was magical, as was a first adventuremoon in the States. The SayYesMore growing pains have proved to be worth it, as the community were selected by Facebook for their first Community Leadership Programme, one of only 100 plucked from thousands of applicants. This annual programme and a healthy dose of funding takes huge pressure off the next year, and the recognition we’ve received as a team has lit a fire in my belly again.
It feels so good to be excited about community work again
The belief that maybe I can be a strong leader rather than a flailing one has led to an interest in learning rather than winging it, and once again I’m excited about the community aspects of my work. Our SayYesMore team have bonded so strongly in recent weeks, freeing me up to pursue more personal projects again, and our fourth annual Yestival in mid October was a blinding success. How grateful we all were for the endless sunshine that blessed the weekend (as opposed to Hurricane Brian that muddied and flew the tents in 2017), and the wave of positivity and thanks that has followed Yestival 2018 has literally shed further light on how worthwhile this movement is.
I’m so lucky to work with my friends, almost all of them folks that I didn’t know before the YesTribe started, and for the first time absolutely everything is clicking. There aren’t any obvious impending departures, struggles or weak links. We’re a family, a mini community in the image of the wider one that we just happen to run. What a strong foundation upon which to build our next chapter.
It might seems like a no-brainer to spend a couple of months on a Thai island over Winter; this is so much more than a holiday, a honeymoon or a blissful escape. It’s a celebration of new beginning.
For the first time in a long time I’m finding time to work forwardly, rather than catching up. We’ve found a lovely little co-working space in Koh Phangan to base out of and I write this with the sea a few metres away, and the coastal breeze supplementing the very necessary fans dotted around this open-plan, wall-less office. Coffee is on tap, I’m writing (this morning I wrote my first blog on Medium for over a year) and creating and bashing old to-do lists on the head. And it’s so, so fun to feel productive in this work again.
Creativity is fuelled by hope and possibility. This is a recipe, I’d imagine, for the years ahead.
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My website is stocked with over 13 years of adventures, blogs, projects, photos and films. I share these in the hope that others will experience similar feelings to those that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.