You know what’s awesome about writing for a blog that you’ve framed as being anti-perfectionist right from the beginning?  You get to be capital-R-real about everything and it is totally acceptable.  This is awesome because I don’t feel the terrible pressure to live up to some sort of image of myself that I’m projecting.  I just have to live up to my own internal compass of values, I just have to be in alignment with myself.  I just get to be honest.

And, honestly, I’m damn tired this week.  Writing my three part series on stress and following it up with another big entry was a doozy.  I’m also in high volume with my training program and got into some nonfunctional overreaching (read: sooooo tired!).  I’m in the middle of studying for a certification that I’m excited about and that is taking up a lot of mental bandwidth while I simultaneously keep up with the rest of my continuing education.  I’m working on two large, long-term projects that have me very far outside my comfort zone and current capacities.  Simultaneously, and maybe because of all this, I’ve been experiencing extra lifestyle stress (poor sleep quality, poor recovery) and trying to manage that.

With my mind so occupied and my abilities currently focused on these projects and managing my recovery I’ve noticed a significant dip in my creative output.  Last week I was firing on all cylinders, I was highly productive in my output in several areas and felt excited and engaged.  This week, however, I’m distracted, tired, unfocused and can’t seem to get anything done.  When I sit down to work I end up staring into space.  I wake up in the middle of the night to run through imaginary scenarios or try to solve problems that don’t really need my attention at 3:00 am.  Due to needing extra recovery from my training I had to schedule in an emergency de-load.  Personally, hitting PRs in the gym makes me feel like I am also able to fly, shoot lasers out of my eyes and defeat all evil single-handedly.  In lieu of a PR I’ll take feeling strong.  So, when life feels a little heavier than normal and I’m struggling in the gym my mental state isn’t the best.

Oh, and the rain.  Can I just have one weekend of clear skies to go camping?!?!  (Please insert an image of me shaking my fists at the sky here, maybe some dramatic music, definitely thunder and lightning.)

Yesterday all of this was pilling up on top of itself like a dysenteric bull wearing concrete shoes.  (Yeah, I did, I did just type that.)  My overwhelming thought before 10:00 am was, “Why can’t I just get my shit together?”  It took me until this morning to sit down and hash out was going on with myself.  For me, this happens best through writing.  I keep a semi-daily practice of “morning pages” (from The Artist’s Wayby Julia Cameron) where I write without editing for a minimum of three pages.  This is my most reliable way to connect with my feelings and actually work through them as opposed to just spending time on a hamster wheel of cyclical thoughts that doesn’t get me anywhere.  Something about seeing my thoughts written down allows me to de-escalate my emotions and react to myself as a friend who is both compassionate in listening as well as capable of telling myself the truth even when it is difficult to hear.

In my journaling today what really put things into perspective for me and allowed me to move forward was remembering something that I read in I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova.  In her book, Markova speaks about our passion and purpose and what happens in those periods of our lives where passion seems to “die.”  She suggests that, like winter, passion is not dead, it is only dormant and that this is a normal and necessary part of the process.  I remember the relief I felt when I first read this.  It made so much sense to me!  How often had I bemoaned a loss of the level of productivity I had come to expect of myself thinking that it meant I had a creative block or that I was “out of” ideas, always fearing a permanent state of detachment from my passion.

No matter what is presented to us by our culture, we are not machines.  We cannot be expected to be endlessly productive without needing to rest or recharge.  In fact, it is the time we take to recharge, to recover, where our creativity does its work.  I think of this in similar terms to making progress in the gym.  Many people are under the erroneous impression that lifting weights builds muscles.  The truth is that lifting weights damages muscles and it is in the repair our body does, the recovery, that our muscles build themselves bigger and stronger.  If your recovery is poor then no matter how hard you work in the gym you will not see the results that you want (and you may even move yourself farther away from them if you continue to overwork unrecovered tissues).

In the same way that we build strength or muscle mass we build up our creativity and productivity.  It may seem that when we are creating we are doing the work of being creative, but to me this just seems like a release of the creativity we have built up through recovery.  I saw an unattributed quote a while ago that really brought this home for me, “The more time I spend away from my work the better that work will be.” (EDIT: It’s from Pico Ayer, thanks Dad!)

Think about it, if you are, for example, a painter, what inspires you to paint?  Maybe you like painting pirate ships, or unicorns or kittens.  You could call those your inspirations.  It’s not painting that inspires you.  Of course you need to spend adequate time improving your skills through practice, but painting for 10 hours instead of 6 is not going to make you a better painter in the long run.  Spending time becoming inspired will make you a better painter.  And this happens away from the act of painting.  This happens away from the work.  This is, in fact, the majority of the work.

So, the ebb and flow of creativity or productivity or output is in fact a part of the process, not a stumbling block to it.  Without this ebb and flow we wouldn’t actually be able to be that productive in the long run.  Remembering this is, for me, practically a full-time job!  I am, like many people that were raised in our culture, in love with productivity. If I can remember how valuable the ebb is, how necessary it is, I can stop fighting my own process long enough that I can actually enjoy it.  Long enough that I can actually get the work done.

Work hard, rest harder, friends.

Elias Gross