Many multitalented people feel inspired and energized to pursue multiple creative projects, often at the same time.
One potential downside is physical and emotional burnout.
Abigail Breslin has acted in a number of films since “Signs” (2002), including “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), and commented at a young age about the kind of polymath passion that many actors, writers and other creative people have:
“I want to do wardrobe. I want to do hair. I want to do makeup. I want to do writing. I want to do directing. And I want to do producing. I want to do all of it. I like it.“
Jennifer Westfeldt wrote, produced and acted in “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Ira & Abby.” For her movie “Friends With Kids,” she not only wrote the screenplay, acted and produced (along with other people, including her long time partner, actor Jon Hamm), she also directed the “two-year, round-the-clock endeavor” as a Los Angeles Times article describes it – not an uncommonly demanding schedule for filmmakers.
Westfeldt said, “I must have been crazy to have donned so many hats. It made good sense for me to direct it, since I was involved in every aspect anyway. But I’m not sure I’d ever do it again.”
[From “Jennifer Westfeldt writes her own story line in Hollywood” by Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2012.]
The burned-out house image above comes from the post “When Life Loses Its Meaning: The Heavy Price of High Achievement” by Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. on her blog High Octane Women.
She quotes this passage from the 1980 book, “Burn-Out: The High Cost of Achievement” by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger, who was, she says, the “first person to describe the syndrome known as burnout”:
“If you have ever seen a building that has been burned out, you know it’s a devastating sight. What had once been a throbbing, vital structure is now deserted. Where there had once been activity, there are now only crumbling reminders of energy and life.
“Some bricks or concrete may be left; some outline of windows. Indeed, the outer shell may seem almost intact. Only if you venture inside will you be struck by the full force of the desolation.”
Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter is author of the book “High-Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout.”
The burned-out house is a pithy metaphor for our condition when we are suffering burnout.
It’s a ‘system breakdown’ I have experienced a number of times over the past couple of years, when putting “too much” time and energy, emotional and intellectual, into writing and research for my multiple sites, including The Creative Mind, plus doing technical “web-master” maintenance on a dozen or so of my sites, plus affiliate marketing of products and programs I think will be helpful to other creative people, etc etc.
There is no end to it. And as interesting and fulfilling as all that may be, there are times when ‘only a few more hours’ of work becomes too much, and I end up kind of comatose the next day.
And I hate losing the energy to work, and being able to do not much more than eat and watch some TV, and, of course, sleep more than usual.
But I am learning to engage in better self-care by taking more breaks and exercising more. I am using the voice time announcement (every 15 minutes) on my iMac to remind me to stand up and stretch a bit, and every hour to take a 7 or 8 minute mini-meditation rest break.
One definition of multipotentiality is “An educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. Because gifted students generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions, they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.” [Wikipedia]
A variation of that definition, using Emily Wapnick‘s term “multipotentialites” instead of “gifted students” comes from the post “I am a multipotentialite, and proud of it” by Angela Giese, quoting from Wapnick’s blog Puttylike.
Gifted students, of course, grow up to become adult multipotentialites. But this is not just about intellectual giftedness – it’s about creative people who have multiple “intelligences” and capabilities.
In her stimulating post “How to Deal with Multipotentialite Burnout,” Wapnick articulates how we may go “too far” in pushing the boundaries of our capacities to keep achieving.
“It’s a collapse. Complete mental exhaustion. While most people experience burnout from time to time, multipotentialites are prone to hitting this point more frequently and more intensely. It makes sense, considering how passionately curious we are, and how easy it is for us to lose ourselves in our projects.”
Wapnick adds, “Now don’t get me wrong, the multipotentialite tendency to jump into a new interest immediately and go hard is one of our greatest strengths. Our fiery passion means that we learn at lighting speeds and acquire new skills much faster than most people.
“It also means that we can inspire others more deeply, since this kind of enthusiasm is very infectious.
“But at the extreme, even strengths can become liabilities… Since our projects are just so much fun, it’s easy to push ourselves too far– to sort of O.D. on them.”
Emilie Wapnick is author of the program “Renaissance Business – make your multipotentiality your day job.”
Reframing ‘Too much”
This image (“so. much. homework.” by anna gutermuth) is one I also use in the article “Work Life Balance: The Gift Of Too Much To Do” by Molly Gordon.
How we respond to having “too much to do” is to a great extent a matter of attitude, of framing.
In her article, entrepreneur coach Molly Gordon offers ways to think differently about it.
“On any given day I generally have more than enough to do. Sometimes I have so much to do that I hardly know where to begin. Yet the fact is that most weeks I work less than 40 hours.
“People are always asking me how I get everything done. How do I find the time to read so much? How can I travel and attend trainings while keeping up with my practice?…What’s my secret?”
She notes “There are many answers, but one in particular arose in the midst of one of my morning meditations. As usual, my mind was prancing around like a young puppy, willing to heel for only a moment or two before racing off to explore some enticing scent in the bushes.
“Also as usual, one of these enticing scents was my ‘To Do’ list. As I gave a gentle tug on my mental leash, I experienced a sudden shift in perception. It was as if I had slipped through the looking glass to discover that I was living in a world of abundant possibility as opposed to one of temporal scarcity.
“I no longer had the problem of not enough time and balancing my life with my work; I had the gift of more than enough to do.”
One of her programs is: “The Way of the Accidental Entrepreneur, The Practical Path to a Business that Fits Just-Right.”
Dealing with stress
In his article “One Approach to Apply Immediately When Stress is Affecting Your Professional and Personal Life!” psychologist Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. writes, “We are hounded with external pressures, overwhelmed with information overload, asked to deliver more with less, work longer hours, and have less personal time for renewal activities. What is the result?
“Self-inflicted attention deficit disorder, exhaustion, lack of focus, reduced health, and burnout. This leads to lower job satisfaction, morale, and productivity. Hardly the results we want.”
He is author of the audio CD “Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression.”
Stress is certainly a part of burnout, and I have found that CD helpful for relaxation – but more often I use the Holosync CD from Centerpointe Research Institute.
But also, as Molly Gordon advises, we can help ourselves by shifting our perceptions and thinking about having “too much” to do.
Motherhood and creative work
“I’d be in the middle of a sentence and someone needed to go to mall for new shoes, so the sentence would be lost.”
That is a quote by Amy Bloom, who has worked as a psychotherapist, taught at Yale University, and is Wesleyan University’s Writer-in-Residence.
In an interview about being a mother and writer, she commented, “When I started, I wrote late at night, after they were in bed.
“I could do that and get away with it because I’m not much of a housekeeper and I didn’t need much sleep.
“I liked my kids and didn’t care much about my house, so it worked.”
But, she admitted, “writing with children present is not productive. They really never go away. My daughter made a sign for my study door that says ‘Come in’ on one side, and on the other side it says: ‘Knock first, then come in.’ That’s a perfect description of me as a writer.”
From “Mothers Who Write interview” by Cheryl Dellasega, PhD.
See the Amy Bloom author page for a list of her titles.
In her article “The Special Challenges of Highly Intelligent and Talented Women Who Are Moms,” Belinda Seiger, PhD, LCSW, writes that in her private psychotherapy practice and her personal life, she has “known many gifted women who seem to possess what I refer to as the ‘rage to achieve.’
“They are constantly driven to learn, to create and to be intellectually productive even while raising young children. Many of these women face periods of frustration when the demands of family and their need for intellectual immersion collides.”
Seiger adds, “As one friend who was getting her second master’s degree put it: “mass chaos” ensues when one attempts to become immersed intellectually while simultaneously remaining attentive and available for family responsibilities…”
She notes that “Like gifted children and young adults; gifted adults are distinguishable not only by their IQ’s but by their intensity, multiple talents, high energy, curiosity and obsessive need to increase in-depth knowledge in subjects that interest them.
“Trying to ignore these qualities can result in a depressed mood, anxiety and feelings of being unfulfilled emotionally and intellectually.”
Those kinds of feelings and reactions may also be part of burnout from either attempting too much, beyond your emotional and physical resources – or being chronically frustrated at not being able to pursue creative ambitions, whether or not you consider yourself gifted.
A rage to achieve
In another article, Dr. Seiger writes about a client she called Weed Girl who liked to use pot because it “took the edge off of her brain.”
Seiger adds, “Instead of developing the essential coping skills for managing what I call a ‘rage to achieve,’ many gifted adults grow up doing exactly what Weed Girl learned to do, that is they learn how to ‘numb and dumb’ their passion and sensitivity by smoking pot not just once a day, but all day every day.”
From article Weed Girl – numbing her “rage to achieve”
This may apply also to a number of talented performers such as actors and musicians, who have additional pressures to achieve at a high level because so many people are depending on them to keep going, keep performing.
While Amy Bloom seems to have developed her attitudes and schedules to work productively and maintain her health, other artists may push themselves too hard.
“Writing furiously for a month can be exciting and a lot can be accomplished, it may also be a recipe for exhaustion and writer’s burnout.
“Also, what happens afterward? Are the novels and scripts getting completed? Or are they put back on the shelf when regular life takes over again?”
From my Inner Writer post “The Writer’s Circle” – about a program by coach Jenna Avery.
Our workaholic culture
In his article “Overwhelm & Clutter,” Brad Swift notes “When our lives are shaped by the fear and lack-based inherited purpose, many times we can get into a vicious circle of doing and having which leads to a life of overwhelm and clutter.
“Going down this path can lead us to a life filled to over-flowing with doing, doing, doing, which can in many cases result in a lot of having, having, having but at the same time a true sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and joy continues to elude us.
“To add fuel to the fire, we live in a culture where ‘workaholism’ is a socially sanctioned addiction, for which we get well rewarded with acknowledgement from our boss, overtime pay, and other perks until we finally burnout, still wondering, “Is this all there is to life?”
Read about the publications and programs of his Life on Purpose Institute.
Mania – Hypomania
Peter C. Whybrow, M.D. thinks “the technologies that helped create the 1990s bubble have also created a new world of…overload of everything from food to information…The new environment that we have created in America (which in the book I have dubbed The Fast New World) is compelling, but also unique in human experience.
“And most important, it is potentially toxic for the individual and for our nation. … Too many of us are now addicted to the treadmill we have created, and we are making ourselves sick. More of what we are doing is not enough…”
Comments from his site peterwhybrow.com about his book “American Mania: When More Is Not Enough.”
Related ideas are presented by John D. Gartner, Ph.D., who says “Successful entrepreneurs are not just braggarts. They are highly creative people who quickly generate a tremendous number of ideas — some clever, others ridiculous.”
He thinks their “flight of ideas, jumping from topic to topic in a rapid energized way, is a sign of hypomania – which can also include being “filled with energy… flooded with ideas… driven, restless, and unable to keep still… often works on little sleep… feels brilliant, special, chosen, perhaps even destined to change the world… can be euphoric…”
These quotes come from his book “The Hypomanic Edge : The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America.”
A Booklist review of the book notes when clinical psychologist Gartner says “hypomanic,” he “refers not to clinical mental illness but to a temperament, characterized by an elevated mood state that feels ‘highly intoxicating, powerful, productive and desirable,’ that can, and sometimes does, easily tip over into full-blown manic depression.”
Also see Gartner’s article “The Hypomanic Edge.”
Depression vs burnout
In her article “5 Ways to Bring Yourself Back from Burnout” (O, The Oprah Magazine), Martha Beck, PhD writes, “Scientists differentiate the two, and it’s a crucial distinction. If you confuse burnout with depression and address it only with antidepressants or therapy, you’ll overlook the behavioral changes you must make to restore your depleted physical and hormonal reserves.
“Left unchecked, burnout can be lethal. So if you’re anywhere between lightly toasted and totally charred, it’s time to chill.”
A description for the course Your Best Life in the Arts by creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD notes:
“Life produces stress, the artistic personality produces additional stress, creating produces even more stress, and living the artist’s life is the topper! Learn how to identify the stressors in your life and how to implement stress management techniques…”
From my information page: “Eric Maisel on Your Life in the Arts” – which includes a video interview with him.
Also see my list of articles on Stress.
Another book that could be helpful: “Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout” by management consultant and psychology instructor at UCLA and Harvard, Steven Berglas.
“Being more intentional, grounded and grateful is not just a good thing to do for the holiday season. It’s a way to live all year long. And not only that, it’s the quickest way to transform your life from ordinary to extraordinary.” Carrie Contey, Ph.D.
“If you aren’t intentional about how you want the holidays to go, you’ll be swept up in the rapids this time of the year.” Lisa Byrne, founder of the WellGrounded Life Community.
“So much research has been done on stress that we now know even if you cannot change all of life’s circumstances, you can change what stress does to you…and thrive.” Naturopathic physician Alan Christianson
The article includes videos about the above, and links to their online classes, plus other resources from a variety of coaches and psychologists.