Design is a huge part of my life. It’s incredibly fun. It has enriched my life (and thus, hopefully others’ lives) greatly. Bringing value, ideas, concept, strategy, and execution to the projects I’m invited to be part of is literally what puts food on my table and pays for the house-shaped box that keeps most of my stuff dry when it rains. However, kind of like having too many Twix® candy bars, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing (I know this scenario isn’t really a thing, but for metaphorical purposes pretend for a second that having too many Twix® would somehow be a bad thing).
We all need some yin to our yang, some space to find input to replenish our output. But how do we find that amidst the hustle and bustle of this crazy world? We have to choose it. We have to prioritize it, put it on our calendars, and make it happen. For a few seasons of my life, I didn’t want to admit it, but I was overcome by inevitable burn out—and admitting I was human was the first step to healing.
I had left myself no room for recharging, for being filled-up, for inspiration, for escape, for relaxation—none of those. I was just doing any design work I could get in the pursuit of better. I wanted to get better, and the only way to do that was to always be getting more to work on. It was fine for a bit; I felt like a hero. But ultimately my well of ideas dried up, and I was left staring at a blank sketchbook page and an empty Illustrator art board, all because I’d let myself become empty as an individual.
I didn’t know what to do. I thought I just had to push harder and stay up later, which of course only made it worse. I wasn’t giving myself any margin to become reinvigorated about design, to sketch for fun, to doodle, to draw silly characters, or do any of the things that got me so interested in design and illustration in the first place. I was depleted.
It wasn’t until I met someone who was an unquenchable fountain of ideas that I realized how bad I’d become. It took having that direct contrast for my eyes to be opened. They were healthy, fit, and seemed to have time for everything they wanted to do and still time for me. Observing how they lived (aka. Intro-to-Stalking 101) I realized how different our lives were. They got plenty of rest, ate breakfast, didn’t drink soda, went for long walks, ran marathons, savored 3-day weekends on occasion, were in a community group, took a painting class, etc. all-the-while creating breathtaking art and design work. They made the time for what mattered—and they themselves were one of those things.
I decided I had to change me. My first step was learning one new habit: I stopped drinking soda. After that, I realized I could maybe eat better (not pizza for every meal). This led me to the real place where I found balance: running.
Lazy, high school me would be so disappointed. I’ve always loathed running. Sure I’d played sports, but that at least gave running a purpose. But I knew I needed to take care of me physically, so running it was. I hated it still, for the first month or more. But then I started to love it, because it gave me time to think. I could run and lose track of time and realize that my subconscious was taking in my surroundings and not trying to solve some design problem. My brain was able to recall the other parts of life that didn’t have to do with pencils, paper, and Adobe Creative Suite.
It was like running, though draining physically, let me recharge mentally. And when I would get to a stuck place mentally with design, I could go for a run to let my subconscious marinate on something I could figure out no matter how hard I tried. Balance was beginning to seem feasible. I started running in the morning so it wouldn’t take up all of my evenings, and then my newfound extra evening time turned to sketching for fun again. It was invigorating to be doing all of this as a recharge instead of just design job after design job of depletion.
Sure I had to work less, but the work I was doing got better, which got me better clients, which got me a better job, all of which has helped me become a better me. The me God designed me to be that I was stifling with a need for more of something that wasn’t fulfilling by itself. Thankfully God led me to a solution before it was too late.
It may not be running for you, but figure out something that isn’t what you’re paid for. Savor it for what it is, enjoy the process, don’t rush, and be present. Escape there regularly and prioritize it. You can’t give away what you don’t have, so invest in your own personal health physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When you prioritize what is going on in you, you’ll begin to experience the potential of what can be done through you.