If you’ve seen my most recent video, you know that it was almost exclusively about burnout, specifically how I experienced it during April & May of 2019. When I made that video, I felt very ashamed of myself for not having worked harder or having been more resilient in the face of hardship. I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted in any respect, and I would have been much more comfortable never admitting that to anyone and pretending everything was fine. When you’re in the throes of something negative, it’s easy to 1) not look at your situation objectively, and 2) forget about the times you felt a lot worse. And I realized that is exactly what I was doing when I was feeling ashamed about experiencing burnout. The truth is, compared to April & May of last year (which was an extremely difficult time for me professionally), I am doing super great now!
So what’s the difference? And if I felt burned out both years, why does it matter? Well, while it would be great to say, “Hey there, I have a cure for burnout! Just do the thing you need to do and stop complaining. Also, no one cares if you’re tired or depressed. Repeat every day. Solved it!” obviously this isn’t realistic or an actual solution, unless you’re willing to work yourself to death. And actually, I think it does matter that I’m doing better now than I was last year, even if I experienced burnout both times. The way I felt a year ago was truly awful. It didn’t just affect me while it was happening, but for months afterwards as well (spoiler alert: I practiced for 0 days in June 2018. Zero.). It took me a long time to recover from the hard work I put into my professional life at that time, not only because it was not rewarding, but because having my work end up ultimately becoming so de-valued made me feel worthless as a musician and as a human being.
What I’ve realized is that a year ago, I gave other people agency with my career. Now, I am not willing to do that anymore. I do things that I care about. Do they make money? No, so I still have to freelance and take gigs that I may or may not enjoy. But that’s okay, because I have projects of my own now that give me life. They make me feel like I have something to offer, and like I have control over something I care about. And this is the main difference between this year and last, and why I am not as burned out this year as I was last year.
Here’s the thing: I’m not going to pretend like this is a magic solution that will make everything better for everyone. Having something of my own to care about does not mean that I don’t get tired, or that I magically like working and am practicing every day because the only thing I needed to do was just FIND MY PASSION. But in my experience, having my own projects to work on makes my professional life feel more manageable, more tolerable, and gives me hope. It makes me feel like I have something to be proud of, to look forward to, to work towards...and it all comes from me. No one is making me do anything I don’t want to do. And that is when I feel my best.