By Caitlin Rose
Burnout––a relatively short word that packs a huge punch. While it’s becoming a little less taboo to talk about, we still avoid the subject because of misguided implications such as: Am I not passionate enough? Not good enough? Not doing enough? But burnout is not reserved for the least dedicated, the least passionate among us. Rather, it can happen to anyone, at any time, and we need to be talking about it more as a community!
My experience with burnout started during my undergraduate studies. My exhaustion, perfectionism and unrealistic expectations for myself all compounded to create the perfect storm. By the time I graduated, I was so burned out on music and the flute that I made the most difficult decision of my life to quit.
I left the music world for 2 ½ years, and while that doesn’t seem like a very long time, it gave me a lot of time to understand my burnout, recognize the unsustainable habits that help to cause it, and how to prevent it from happening again in the future. If you’ve experienced burnout in the past or are going through it right now, give one of these tips below a shot and see if it helps better manage your burnout.
TIP #1: You only have 100%
The whole idea of giving 110% to everything you do not only is a logical fallacy (you can’t actually do that), but it’s also a really good way to get yourself burned out. All you have of yourself to give to the various aspects of your life (work, music, hobbies, family, yourself, etc.) is 100%. Expecting yourself to give more than you have, depletes your energetic reserves to the point that you have nothing left.
A healthier and more sustainable way to use your energy is to prioritize it. Break down your 100% into all the different activities and obligations––20% to this, 30% to that, 50% to this, for example. Ask yourself: How much energy can I spare for this? This allows you to use your energy more efficiently by prioritizing projects, and to ensure that you won’t over-obligate yourself or use up precious energy to things that aren’t as important.
TIP #2: Follow your energy
This is one of the best practices I instilled during my period of burnout. It helps me to be more efficient with my energy by taking advantage of my energy levels at any given time. That means when I’m full of creative energy and everything is flowing, I sit down and knock out as much as I can. And when my energy is low, I feel sluggish or lacking motivation, I give myself permission to pause and take a break for however long I need to. It’s about deeply listening to yourself and trusting your intuition about what you need right now.
Following my energy can be frustrating when I put expectations on myself about what I think I “should” be doing. But over the years, I’ve learned that everything that needs to get done WILL get done. It may not be within the timeline that I want it to be in, but it will, in fact, get done.
TIP#3: Change things up
Monotony is something that almost always makes me feel burned out. Doing the same things day in and day out; rigid routines become cumbersome and tiring, and I start to crave a change. When I decided to leave music and put down my flute, all the sudden my time and energy became available to explore other things. I dove head first into studying yoga, picked up my knitting needles again, and gave my mind a break from constantly thinking about music and the flute.
So, try something new! Whether it be learning a new hobby (I’ve recently picked up bread and pastry baking), trying out a new warm-up exercise, changing up your morning routine to make a little bit of time for some movement and mindfulness, having variety in life keeps our work fresh and helps us to keep going even during the busiest seasons.
While each of these tips are beneficial for numerous reasons, the most impactful thing they have in common in combating burnout is that they help you start to listen to your personal, individual needs. So often, we compare ourselves to others and think we have to keep up with the Jones’ to be successful, but the key to creating a sustainable life in music is learning to notice and acknowledge how you’re feeling (tired, anxious, overwhelmed, etc.), then taking whatever measures you need to maintain yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
Caitlin Rose is an Oklahoma City-based flutist and yoga instructor. She specializes in teaching musicians how to create fulfilling and sustainable lives in music through yoga, meditation and wellness practices. caitlinroseflute.com