Full disclosure: I’m one of those people who’s surrounded by their passions in the form of work. That sounds amazing beyond words but what it’s done is ensured that I can’t enjoy those passions without feeling stress in the pit of my stomach anymore. I love and am eternally grateful for the fact that I get to work immersed in words constantly, but that does mean that I’m never “off”. Passion is essential for meaningful living (to me, at least) but I don’t agree with the idea that doing what you love as a job will mean you never work a day in your life. I do what I love constantly – it still requires consistent effort and attention to detail and can be beyond frustrating because by making these beloved things part of what I do to earn money, I’ve ensured that the flexibility and carefreeness of it all has been traded for a different kind of satisfaction.
I would never take it back, but there are drawbacks. When I sit down at night to unwind, my fingers don’t itch to write. I don’t ache to crack open a new book or pour my thoughts out onto the virtual pages of a journal. I love every single one of these things, but they’ve been recategorized in my brain as something very different than entertainment.
Passion is vital, I will never say otherwise. But balance is necessary. If you’re not careful – if I’m not careful – passion begins to consume, slow and quiet. If you’re doing what you love, you may be more susceptible than you think. I’ve lied to myself, more often than I’d like to admit, pretending that I was doing something different because the concept I was writing about was different. I wrote myself to exhaustion God knows how many times because I was determined to attempt everything I could – and because I love to write with everything in me.
That’s just not sustainable though. A novel, a script, a blog post – creating them all requires me to connect to that little well inside me that holds my creativity and when I draw too deep, I run the risk of damaging myself. Writing right to the end of writer’s block is always dangerous. When that writing ability is tied directly to the health of your bank account, it’s life threatening.
I still make this mistake, despite knowing better. I sign up for new projects that excite me. I begin that new novel idea that’s been playing in the back of my head since way back when. I start that new time sensitive blog post. Why? Because I love it. It’s addictive. I can’t really help myself.
When I’m hitting my limits these days, I feel it in my arms almost as much as in my head. I never thought that I could possibly type until my hands were tired, but it seems I can. The words may feel like they want to flow up there but the effort of transferring them onto a word processing document is like what I imagine it would feel like to begin grating your fingers and then keep going. (I have only once grated my skin and I stopped immediately when the sting made itself known).
So what else then? What do you do if indulging your passions as much as you wish and need to is pulling you fast toward burnout?
Rest. Actually rest. Take a nap, talk to Allah, shut your eyes and listen to the silence. Connect with a friend or loved one you miss.
Something that I just recently rediscovered was lying flat on the floor and taking a moment to recharge. I’m not a fan of lying down on my bed because it immediately gets me wanting to shut my eyes and sleep and as I’m trying to fix my sleep schedule, that’s not even slightly helpful. Instead, I take to the floor. If I’ve a headache, I toss a pillow down first. (It is possible to fall asleep doing this, I’ve done it a few times when truly tired and shocked my mother greatly. Perhaps get up if you feel the urge to float away into dreamland if you live with easily alarmed people.)
You might be wondering whether it’s worth it to try and pursue your passions fulltime if the result is that they become wrapped up in pressure and paperwork and all the other stresses that are associated with work in general.
There’s no easy answer to that question. I think it is, but then I’ve wanted to be a writer for such a long time, I don’t actually remember when it started. On top of that, I really like to talk, something that would have utterly shocked anyone who knew me for most of my childhood and teenagerhood, back when I didn’t speak much at all. Had I not been able to work at least surrounded by words if not penning them myself, I would have been a terrible employee. I know this because I did work in
an environment where the only writing was what I did on my lunch break and in my head as I periodically drifted away and imagined myself in a very different space.
You might be far more responsible and able to compartmentalize than I am, and if so, it might be better for you to confine your passions to after work when you can delight in them with the security that you’re free to just enjoy. Practicality’s been taken care of already.
Or you might be like me – a little spoilt and a lot stubborn to make the world accommodate what you want. In that case, doing what I did and finding a job adjacent to your passion, if not entirely immersed in it, would likely suit you better than attempting to divide your attention.
Don’t forget to find your balance, no matter how tempting it might be to overload. In the long run, it’s simply not worth it to ignore what your mind and body are telling you.