“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.“ Abigail Breslin
“I must have been crazy to have donned so many hats.” Jennifer Westfeldt
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 made her comment above at a younger age (she is now 15), and has acted in a number of films since “Signs” (2002), including “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), and expresses the kind of polymath passion that many actors, writers and other creative people have.
Jennifer Westfeldt wrote, produced and acted in “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Ira & Abby.” For her new 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 movies.
“I must have been crazy to have donned so many hats,” Westfeldt said. “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 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 for this column, The Creative Mind, plus creating posts and doing technical web-master maintenance on a dozen or so of my other 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.
Well, that’s enough for now. To be continued.
[The Abigail Breslin quote is one I use in a related post "I Want To Do It All: Creative Polymathy" - and in my book.]
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Last reviewed: 30 Mar 2012