I Tried to Cheat the System and Failed
September 23rd, 2013 by Katie Morton
Photo by Nima / Creative Commons
Dr. Brené Brown writes about the 10 Guideposts of Wholehearted Living — practiced by people who live “amazing and inspiring lives” — in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. I began living wholeheartedly before I knew of Brené Brown, and I was astounded to read about the journey I’d already begun. This article is part of a series that explores Dr. Brown’s Guideposts and how they look in my life.
Guidepost 6: Cultivating Creativity; Letting Go of Comparison
Guidepost 7: Cultivating Play and Rest; Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self‐Worth
These two guideposts are intertwined for me in a really interesting way. In short, I tried to cheat the system and I failed. Let me explain.
I thought if my work – helping people live blissful lives via The Monarch Company – felt like play and allowed me to be creative, then I would be completely covered in these two guideposts.
Of course, I can’t advocate for working any other way. I love my work. I’m lucky I experienced a breakdown breakthrough similar to Dr. Brené Brown’s that led me to discover solutions for myself that I can now share with others.
But as I’ve come to find out, even if your work is highly playful and fun and it nourishes your soul, and even if your work allows you to be creative, you can’t stop there. You need outlets for play and creativity that are separate from your work. What it took me a while to figure out is that your brain needs to “cross-train,” as Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do at Work, puts it.
I felt really resistant at first when I read Brené Brown’s assertion that you need to be creative without a purpose. That rubbed me the wrong way. I know that humans universally want their actions to feel purposeful. So many of us are wandering around, wondering if anything we do has a purpose; we know how awful and soul-sucking it feels when we think we have nothing positive or important to contribute.
But here’s the flipside to that: feeling as if every single thing you do must have purpose causes a soul-suck of a different sort. As I had to learn the hard way, it leads to burnout. I didn’t have a second big breakdown; I have nothing dramatic to report. However, I learned through experience – gosh, this is so counter to the spirit of the message – that I’m more motivated and yes, (eek!) productive because I take time for purposeless creativity.
I had to make some changes to my weekly routine in order to give myself time for a different sort of creativity, play, and rest that’s completely separate from my work. The ironic thing is that by tuning out, taking a break, and making sure I get time to play, rest, and be creative, I am more motivated, more creative, and more effective in my work than if I tried to stay on and productive all the time.
Letting Go of Exhaustion as Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
These are biggies for me. It’s really tempting for me to write here that my schedule is “packed” and “grueling.” And I suppose, if I’m honest, it might look that way to some people.
But here’s the truth: I get up early every morning – before 6AM – to work out and to do an hour of work before I get my daughter out of the crib because it’s energizing. I also have a second work routine while my daughter is at preschool. There’s a lot of comfort in having these routines because I know that with these tiny, daily steps I’m taking care of myself and my family by extension.
It took a lot for me to let go of my work-out and work routines as status symbols and attaching them to self-worth, and to realize that I do them because I love myself unconditionally and because these things are good for me and I like to do them.
I’m eliminating decision exhaustion later in the day – I never have to wonder, “Should I work out today? What should I do in my work? How shall I best fill my time?” These questions have already been answered for me in the regular rhythms of my day and week, and the tasks and times I’ve already carved out for myself.
Cultivating Play, Rest, and Creativity
Recently I had a coaching call with a client who said she used to be creative as a writer. It was something she did just for herself, but she let her career get in the way and it’s been years now since she’s done any creative writing.
Here’s the funny thing: when we don’t have a purpose and we really, really want to figure out what it is, one element of figuring it out is allowing ourselves to be creative, and then simply observing where that leads.
I gave my client an assignment: to take herself out for a leisurely brunch or lunch, to people watch, and then to pick a stranger and make up a creative short story around what she sees. As I instructed her to be creative without a purpose, to simply do it to enliven her senses and her soul, I felt envious. I realized that I hadn’t been giving my own senses and soul the same courtesy.
I work (or, rather, I used to work) 7 days per week. Here’s a big change I implemented recently:
Every Sunday, sleep in until about 6:30. (I know, party hearty. Ha ha. But I like getting up early, so bear with me.) Instead of doing my workout in our dungeon-esque community gym, I go to a local hotel that has a gym that’s both gorgeous and completely deserted. I work out in luxury. Then I head up to the hotel lounge for a cup of coffee while I create intricate, tiny drawings with markers, one of my most favorite creative outlets, and one that has nothing to do with my work.
Sunday is also the day that I go unplugged. I can read books using electronic devices, but the aim is no email and no Facebook. I’m not perfect at this, but I know I’ll get better over time.
So what’s the big deal? What’s the big a-ha? There are a few results of this routine change that I LOVE.
1) I can look forward all week to my Sunday routine. It’s special. I love drawing. If I went to the hotel and drew every day of the week, it wouldn’t feel so exciting and special. I love the contrast of my early-mornings the rest of the week, in a prison-like basement gym when I’m barely awake to care anyway. It’s the relativity – the contrast – that makes Sunday such a delight. It wouldn’t hold the same allure and charm if it weren’t a special occasion for me.
2) Going unplugged one day per week is massive for me. I tend to check email and Facebook in my spare moments, and normally, this is a good thing. I need to check email and Facebook for my work, and I would rather just do it when I have a spare moment, like waiting on line, rather than making it a big “thing” and scheduling it into work time that could go to more impactful tasks. However, if I’m not conscious about it, I could fill every waking spare moment with this task, which doesn’t feel good to the soul. It’s nice to have spare moments that are just that – spare – empty – a moment to conduct a mini meditation, to get in touch with oneself, to watch your thoughts go by and to feel peaceful, calm, and centered. On the tail end of all this comes joy.
I will leave you with this video because it’s profound, insightful, and hilarious.