Work-a-Day Exhaustion and Rethinking the Means

Hey y’all… It’s been an exhausting two weeks. And exhaustion is one way that our bodies are yelling out for a change.

Now, when I say “exhausting” I don’t want you to think that I’ve trained for and run a marathon. Nothing like it. On the contrary, it’s been a rather normal two weeks by all standards. You know, 40 hours in the office each week, sewing on nights and weekends; eating three square meals a day and taking a multivitamin; running errands and catching up with friends whenever there is a spare moment not consumed by sleeping.

But that’s just the trouble. Slow and steady is just as tiring as a fast-paced race ever could be. It’s just a different kind of tired.

* * *

Working as a temp in my office, I hear a lot of people who are tired. Some of them are recent grads (like myself), who are starting to run out of idealistic steam; some of them have been at the job too long without enough appreciation, excitement, motivation, or innovation.

A lot of my office colleagues attribute their exhaustion to something localized, personalized: “I’m not cut out for this office job,” “I’m just not as young as I used to be,” “I can’t stay motivated,” or “I need a better work/life balance.”

I’d rather we just all be honest with ourselves: even when we feel like we are doing something meaningful, and even when we appreciate our jobs, we can still become exhausted by them.

Such is the case with my adventure into entrepreneurship: it’s totally awesome, creative, and fulfilling, but it’s wearing me out.

In just the past two weeks, I have made little quantifiable progress on my goals. Yes, I have worked on my branding (with the help of some super-cute stamps and a solid afternoon with Photoshop); I have made new stoles and posted them on my Etsy site; I have made real progress on custom oders and have started new designs. But being on track to complete my ambitious goals? Not happening…

Faced with the confluence of exhaustion and budding disappointment, I began to wonder if I am actually “cut out” for the life of an artist, crafter, and artisan.  I was worried that my seeming lack of motivation to create was a sign that I was better suited for office life… such a bristling, tickling uncertainty.

* * *

Kathleen Norris, in her book Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, discusses the long history of acedia: the “noonday deamon” that would come upon monks in the early centuries of the Church and tempt them away from their vocation.  Soon thereafter, acedia would appear in literature as a sin (much like sloth), and even later it would become a corrollary of melancholy and depression.  Eventually, the term fell entirely out of fashion, being replaced by more lyrical terms such as ennui.

Acedia is the temptation to consider your pursuits worthless.  It is the tipping point when we decide to despair of our situation rather than be hopeful about it.  Is it any surprise that acedia should have come upon monks (and artists, temps, accountants, teachers, and executives) just when they are most likely to become exhausted?

* * *

The other day, I found myself singing a hymn from my childhood. This hymn is based in Psalm 61 (specifically, verse 1): “Sing to the Lord a new song!” I had no clue why this song chose to repeat itself in my mind: the shower, the walk from the parking garage, the mindless filing that my 40 hour a week job called for. But it stuck… “sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done wondrous deeds!”

Later that afternoon, I was struck by the thought: rethink your plan. Now, I’m not claiming supernatural inspiration here… just something quite ordinary. Here I am, exhausted and worn out, attempting to do something I truly enjoy (but doing it under such worrisome restraints that I was becoming more and more troubled by the pressure to produce), and I was continuing to sing the same old song. “I’m not cut out for the life of an artisan,” “I can’t stay motivated,” and “I need a better work/art balance.” It was time for a new song.

Rethinking my plan, though slightly, was like a new melody to shape my step.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the Grand Opening will be postponed until October 1. This will give me lots more time to really give the attention that my craft needs, and will help me to become less exhausted with my work and more energized by it. Taking off some of the stress to amass quantity will help me turn a more careful and caring eye toward quality… both for my work and for myself.

So even when you are exhausted, when you are tempted to think all your pursuits worthless, I encourage you to be bold: sing something new; rethink your plan. It’s not a sign of failure, but a nod to the heady optimism that got you here. Rethinking your plan is a way of saying “yes” to the goals, but “eh, not so much” to the means. Don’t worry, you’ll still get there. Through the trudge of the 40 hour week, you’ll get there…  Whatever it is in your life that has become exhausting and toilsome, I know you’ll make it through.  Just sing something new for a change.

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