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Pursuing Rest and Creative Renewal After Burnout

You know those people who set their minds to something and churn out beautiful work with stunning results just as naturally as the sun rises in the east?  Well I’m not one of them.  And the more I hear their stories, it turns out they aren’t either.  In fact many of us creatives, entrepreneurs and dreamers tend to mask the inner struggle that come with striving, by burying our insecurities under the motto, “Fake it, ‘till you make it”.  I subscribed to this soul-sucking way of life for far too long, but found hope after my body hit burnout and I succumbed to a year of rest.  Along the way, I discovered a number of methods that helped me incorporate restorative rest into my lifestyle and continue to serve me well now that I’m back to work.  If you’re approaching burn out, are struggling to juggle too many responsibilities/opportunities/possibilities, or just need to develop habits that refresh your creative spirit on a regular basis, I hope my journey will inspire you to integrate restorative rhythms into your pursuits.

As a perfectionist by nature, ambition has been the ever-present monkey on my back. 

As a perfectionist by nature, ambition has been the ever-present monkey on my back.  And yet, I’ve never become successful in the way I’ve hoped for.  I could never make the top grades, turn my business into an industry game-changer, or truly excel in my hobbies.  The culmination of decades’ worth of striving to succeed was burnout, and I knew I had nothing left to give in terms of creative efforts or entrepreneurial drive.  With a growing family needing me, I felt like I hadn’t been giving them my best either.  Everything I pursued felt like a mediocre version of what I longed to accomplish.  I had become consumed by my fear of failure and the burden of comparison, both of which were holding me back from thriving, not just professionally, but personally.  I needed to put the breaks on everything I was doing in order to gain some clarity, not to mention rest.

In January of 2017 I embarked on what evolved into a one-year sabbatical from all paid work.  I decided to focus on my family, as well as personal creative development, which had taken a backseat during my career as a photographer.  I also needed to slow down and rest without professional pressures bearing down on me. 

Fast forward 9 months later and here I sit, right smack in the heart of a new business launch and entrepreneurial dream.  I honestly never saw this coming.  However, I often find that when I release my grip on something, it is returned to me in a new form and with less pressure attached.  As my year-long sabbatical came to a close, business ideas began to flood into my rested and restored imagination, and it seemed like every other night I was going to bed saying to my husband, “Sooo, I have this idea…”.  And for some reason, he didn’t think any of them were crazy.  (Believe me, I’ve watched his eyebrows raise with incredulity at my hair-brained schemes many times over the years, so this time, his lack of scepticism just served to fuel my passion!)  Something was different.  This time I was determined to pursue my career in a way that would serve me and our family, not the other way around.  There was no way I was going back to being a slave to my work or jeopardizing our family’s best interests in order to have a career.

Once I returned to work, the effects of the sabbatical really kicked in.  For the first time in years I felt like I could evaluate my career priorities and preferences with clarity.  I delineated strong boundaries between my work time and my home time, (even while working from home…but you can read about that here). I began to make business decisions that reflected my passions instead of those that would lead me back into the trap of comparison.  Original, creative thinking began to flow, and my focus became less about success and more about pursuing what made me come alive.  I came to the place where I finally believed that the success would come if I were using wise business strategies, trusting my creative abilities, and relying on God to keep me humble and at the centre of His will.

One of the biggest challenges I faced with returning to my career after a sabbatical has been how to implement periods of rest into my current lifestyle.  After all, I don’t see another sabbatical like that coming down the pipe for a long time!  I think the answer has come down to knowing what the most effective rest looks like for me, and how to ensure it happens.  While rest looks different for everybody, our bodies require it and our spirits are nourished by it.  When we rest, (and not just sleep) we give ourselves the opportunity to thrive, create, grow, and nourish others.  These elements are essential to living an abundant life, and who doesn’t want that?

If you are craving a period of rest in your life, or want to replenish your creative source, here are 4 things I did throughout my sabbatical that you can do to help achieve the restorative rest you need:

1) Evaluate times in the past when you’ve felt the most rested, inspired, and creative. 

Also consider those periods in which you’ve been the most burnt out, exhausted, and stressed.  Study your schedule in advance and decide how often you need times of rest that really refresh you, limiting the situations that burn you out and deplete your wellspring of rest and creativity.  Block out your times of rest according to your needs first and your lifestyle second.  Of course that doesn’t mean spending money on a luxury retreat if that’s not in your budget, but consider planning your calendar year with your physical, spiritual, and emotional needs first, before you fill up the blank space with activities and obligations.  I know that I need at least a couple of days a week at home without running errands or having to meet people.  We also like to have one weekend a month that is left completely unscheduled so we can be as spontaneous as we please.  I know I need alone time every day and time in nature on a regular basis.  Scheduling these times into my calendar helps me honour the time it takes for me to be restored and rested.

2) Consider the source of rest. 

Where is your true source of rest?  What have you discarded that might bring you ultimate peace in your life?  Seeking these truths out on a daily basis will result in the most restorative rest and life-giving freedom one could ever imagine.  I believe that God the Creator designed our bodies to rest on a habitual basis, hence the tradition of a Sabbath, or weekly day of rest.  I also believe that His Son Jesus Christ offers us rest for our souls when we are weary and burdened.  Spending time lingering in His presence through prayer, time in nature, meditation, the reading of Scripture, and journaling was a deep source of revitalization and inspiration for me.

3) Spend time in nature

Look for little ways to be outside on a daily basis and drink in your surroundings.  Schedule times in your calendar to be in nature that are longer and more lingering, especially while walking.  Keep a nature journal and document your surroundings.  If you can, seek areas of nature that are grand, isolated, and rich with inspiration.  The sound of freeways and crowded parks do little for our mental refreshment and creative enrichment.  During my sabbatical, I had the opportunity to spend 8 days walking through the Cotswolds with a couple of friends, and was invigorated by the very best of what rural England and its vast countryside have to offer: endless quietude, idyllic scenery, and hearty, farm-to-table pub fare.    

4) Create for creation’s sake

Find ways to create that have nothing to do with work or an audience.  Seek opportunities to indulge in creative activities for the sake of sheer pleasure and discovery.  While on sabbatical I had the pleasure of using a camera just for myself with no clients to impress.  I rediscovered what it meant to slow down and shoot in a way that was exciting and meaningful to me.  I fell in love with my favourite art form all over again, and experienced the joy of photography as it became more of an extension of who I was and less of a tool to earn an income.  Now that I’m back to work I have so much more of a reverence for my camera, the film I use, and my time spent behind the lens.  It’s a special relationship that I cherish now more than ever.

Whether or not you consider yourself a creative type or someone who has succumbed to the hustle of our fast-paced society, we are all beings in need of rest and inspiration. 

Otherwise our bodies cease to function well and our desire to live dissipates.  We were designed to need rest and regeneration, to cultivate our creative spirits, and nurture the gifts we were given, but we cannot do these things if our well has run dry.  The Psalmist knew that being lead to still waters and having our soul restored was essential to well-being.  I’m so excited to return to those waters again and again, knowing now what it is like to thrive in the midst of striving.

If you long to be encouraged by other like-minded women who long to seek restful rhythms, pursue their dreams while living practically, and develop their creative gifts while sustaining their ambitions, I’d love to have you join us for a retreat in the fall of 2019.  As we develop and plan for this time of restorative rest and encouragement, click here to let us keep you informed!




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