I recently realized that exhaustion is my drug of choice.
Well, not drug, that’s probably the wrong way to put it. But it’s certainly a goal.
And why? What do I mean by exhaustion? Why do I strive to be exhausted?
Before I answer, let me clear something up at the outset: I do not mean burnout. I cannot emphasize this enough. Burnout is nothing I endorse or condone, it’s the result of exerting oneself beyond one’s capacity, usually for something that doesn’t speak deeply to that person’s soul or life. I experienced burnout several years ago as part of work that, while starting as incredibly fulfilling, ultimately led down a road of meeting quotas and simply following a formula with no end in sight. There was no rest with this type of burnout, no start and no end, simply a looping cycle of work. And the result? Anxiety, irritability, heightened stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, poor mindset, panic, etc.
I also don’t mean exhaustion to the effect of “burning the candle at both ends.” This too, inevitably, leads to burnout. Rest is absolutely essential to the body and mind and should always come following the exhaustion I’m about to discuss. (I’m also, in a sense, talking about exhaustion metaphorically here, so bear with me.)
The type of exhaustion I’m talking about is in relation to giving it your all on something. That is, not hesitating, not tip-toeing around it or dancing around it or dipping your feet into the pool to see the temperature of the water before jumping in. Quite the opposite, it is jumping into that water without any idea if it’s freezing or luke warm. This exhaustion is the last-breath effort of completing one’s soul work, even if it’s a small step. It is, to put it another way, the pushing oneself out of one’s comfort zone to respond to something that calls most to them. In some cases, this might mean working late into the night on a novel, only to rise a few hours later with hot coffee and crank out more words on that book. When I have done work like this, yes, I feel physically exhausted, but I also feel a strange calm within, a complete opposite feeling one experiences during burnout.
This, while involves hard work, is not what I call “work” by the standard definition. “Work” can have a negative connotation at times, when in reality, it simply indicates required effort. But the focus shouldn’t be on the effort, should it? We all like to talk about work, work, work. But what if instead we focus on the creating. I don’t want to “work on a book,” I want to write a book. Big difference, right? Effort is part of the process, so let that part come as it will. But it doesn’t need to be the focus.
And as a quick side note, a little meditation here on the notion of “taking the leap,” of which I should and probably will write a full post on. Many have talked about this leap as a literal, “oh, quit your job to pursue what you love most.” In some cases I’m sure this makes sense, although many have warned against doing this unless you’re really ready to make the transition from side hustle-writer to full time writer. Yes, this involves a leap, but that doesn’t mean the only way to “leap” is by quitting your job or just completely changing who you are. And the “job” leap is just one example.
But for me, the “leap” simply means stepping out onto one’s path. If you’re a writer and you start writing your book in the early morning or late evening after you’ve worked your day job and your kids are in bed, that’s taking the leap. If you’re even outlining your novel, that’s a leap. If you pay for a domain and invest in some hosting to get a website up and running, or even just start a blog for free, you’re taking a leap. The leap, as it were, is the commitment. To what? To you. To the universe (of which you’re apart, and not separate from). By taking the leap, you’re using a veritable soul-machete to cut through the thicket of your own inner jungles to forge your path. This is the leap. And taking that leap means leaving your comfort zone. And that can, at times, lead to this form of exhaustion I am talking about.
But again, this is the exhaustion one might feel after a long distance run. It’s not just physical, it’s soul-level exhaustion; it’s emptying one’s cup, it’s pouring oneself out only to be refilled again. We are all, in this sense, wells, and as we empty ourselves toward our purpose, the water will refill and refill again. If we don’t push forth, that well can either dry up, or simply remain a mud-laden puddle at the bottom . . . a puddle filled with muck and bacteria and is not worth much more than clearing out so you can actually start to fill it with the clear springs of yourself once again.
I’ve felt this form of cleansing exhaustion a number of times, most recently after running my third half marathon. By mile 11 my feet were in considerable pain, but I realized it was not the kind of “injury-prone” pain that might be cause for concern. It was the pain that will come for anyone running a long distance — especially for someone in my shoes during this particular race; training was a bit of a chaotic mess and not ideal, but even given that, I was astounded at how well I actually ran this (shocked is a better word) and it really revealed the true power of mindset. Granted, I didn’t make or break any records, and it wasn’t my personal best for such a race, but considering the crapshoot of training, I was more than satisfied (this isn’t to disregard the power and importance of training, either). But more to my earlier point, I was on the verge of physical collapse by the end of the race, and despite that discomfort, I felt clean, clear pure, as though I’d answered the call. This is what I sought — the hard-fought path that leads to an inner satisfaction. This is, again, simply answering the call.
And that’s the point. I’ve felt a similar clarity working on this blog or writing my book (more on this later) or reading what calls most to me. When you respond to the call of your soul, you will not achieve burnout. You will simply empty yourself and fill yourself again.
Granted, this isn’t easy to do. I’m constantly berated by my own self-doubt, resistance, old and stale mindset, habitual negative thought patterns that have plagued me most of my life (of which I have recently had a bit of a personal revelation/paradigm shift and will share more on soon). But when I push through that voice, when I have reached what I need to reach, and my eyes are heavy and I worry about lack of hours ahead through which to rest, I do feel an odd peace at hand. It is the peace of early morning, of dawn, of looking out at the silent sky and understanding that in that silence is the peace of exhausting one’s soul, which, again, is oddly self-replenishing.
Energy begets energy. The more you expand on the things that make you you, the more you start to have in your reserves. I want to reiterate this point: The well only dries up when you don’t use it. But use it thoroughly and often, and empty it at every chance, the more it fills up, and the better quality the water. Give yourself to the things you love and enhance your connection to everything and you will be refilled with joy again and again. I’m doing this now myself with my novel work (which is still in the Beat Sheet stage…again, more on this later).
This is the version of myself I prefer — the one that rises bruised, sore, bloody, head buzzing, but calm within. The alternative “exhaustion” (burnout) is left standing, shaking, filled with scattered clouds of thought, filled with unshakable anxiety, fear, uncertainty, frustration, guilt over not having actually produced anything or responding to the call, over thinking too much. It’s the exhausted version of me I strive for, the one that’s poured myself out onto the earth for all of this stuff: the writing, the soul-level connections, all of it.
And, as I’m learning, doing this — emptying the inner well, so to speak, does have a ripple effect. In short, the universe will take note and respond accordingly.
Photo: 12019 / Pixabay
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