Quicker to anger.
Longer to grace.
Loss of control.
A little depressed.
A little relieved.
I’m not sure what you feel like as you labor through an artistic or creative endeavor, but the phrases above describe me.
It’s crazy, really. These things I get to do every day – creating and dreaming and strategizing and executing – those exact things can become the very things that leave me in the fetal position on the living room floor when I’m finished with my workday.
The things I get to do every day can become the very things that leave me in the fetal position on the living room floor at day’s end.
As I engage in any creative endeavor – any act where I’m pouring the essence of who I am into a void – there are three reasons why that process might just drain the life out of me (which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing – it’s just a thing).
1. THE DECISIONS THING
If you think about it, anything you create or design requires a series of tiny small decisions, often with the pressure of a hard deadline looming. When I’m cutting together a short-film, I’m making at least 10 decisions a minute. Which clip do I use? Which piece of cutaway? Where should the clip begin? Is the music loud enough? Too loud? Am I pushing the storyline forward, or just spitting out random information? Can I razor that statement and connect it with another statement? Is the color consistent with the next frame, shot in different lighting on a different camera? How can I make the interviewee more inspiring. Should I try to cut that “‘um” out, or leave it? What will the client want? Does that music work?
If you’re a painter or a lighting technician or a visual worship leader or an entrepreneur or a storyteller or a pastor or a team leader or a blogger, you’ve got your own different set of tiny decisions. They’re different than mine, but that’s not the point. The point is that you’re making a ton of decisions.
And you’re making them hundreds of times every day.
No wonder we end up on the living room floor. Or angry with the people in our lives who don’t deserve our anger. Or just silent. Or … you can fill in your own blank here.
2. THE ENDORPHINS THING
The second reason creativity is so draining has to do with endorphins. Endorphins are small protein molecules that are produced by cells in our nervous systems, and other parts of the body. I know – I’m already bored too, but stay with me. Among other things, these little guys control feelings of stress and frustration (they control a lot more, like chocolate and sexual appetites, and addictive patterns as well).
So when we’re pushing our creative projects into the wee hours of the morning because the deadline is upon us and were crazy-stressed about meeting it, our endorphins essentially become imbalanced. They have to, because we’re stressed. The only way for our endorphins to get back into balance is for the stress to go away.
And here’s the key for our current conversation: The re-balancing mechanism happens automatically 36-48 hours after the stress-provoking event, and involves feelings of depression, lethargy, and criticism. We can’t choose when our endorphins choose to rebalance themselves. It’s entirely up to them. But we’ve been on a high, and we need to come back down.
When I was a pastor, I was always depressed on Tuesday mornings. This was true every week, unless I had taken the prior weekend off. When I fly somewhere to work 16 hours a day for a week, I’m always great the day after I get home. But it’s the day after the day after that kicks my butt.
3. THE HOPES AND DREAMS THING
The final reason creativity is so draining has do with our hopes and dreams. There are a variety of hopes and dreams that I carry with every project I involve myself in. You and I aren’t just working our tails off for a paycheck. With every project we carry, there’s something in us that hopes heaven takes one step closer to our ever-groaning earth. That’s why I create short-films. That why we all want to tell great stories. That’s why we push hard into the org-chart redo, or create the product that our audience really needs.
We carry hope with us, and we can’t help it. We were created to carry it.
But when we don’t experience any fulfillment of that hope in some manner, we get bummed or depressed or anxious or cynical (and the best leaders, by the way, are the ones who show us the hope that we’re blind to). Living long-term with no perceived hopeful outcome is indeed living on the very edge of burnout.
A theme in my life is to become more self-aware of who I am, and of how I come across to people. And a huge part of this self-awareness piece is to prayerfully figure out, as I’m lying there bleeding on the ground, what got me there in the first place. Inevitably, it’s related to one of the three things I’ve talked about above.
And it’s a beautiful thing indeed when we begin to recognize what’s happening deep inside of us, and then we express the broken capacity to invite the risen Christ into that exact place – not to become the magic potion for our fixing or our short-term self-medicating.
But for Him to reach out His hand, and help us stand again.
Because the next deadline is on the horizon, and because these feelings aren’t bad things. They’re just things, after all.