I did it. I took two full weeks off from everything.
Over the holiday break, I didn’t do any work. I didn’t open or send emails. I didn’t read any scripts. I didn’t edit any Dear Producer articles. I didn’t compile this December digest. I didn’t wish you all a ‘happy holidays.’ I didn’t do an end of the year ‘best of’ list (Honey Boy is my favorite movie of 2019 if you want to know) and I didn’t do one of those “10 years ago I started the decade…” posts.
I’ll be honest, for a few days I did feel a little anxiety. I had a very quiet holiday and could have used that time to get ahead. But instead, I reminded myself that the work never goes away unless you put it away. So for my own well-being, I decided to put the work away and chose to watch a ton of movies, read books, and take naps. A lot of naps.
The 2019 dictionary.com Word of the Year was “Existential.” If I had to pick the 2019 Word of the Year for producers, I would have picked “Burnout” (though “Existential” is also appropriate). It is the word I heard most often in conversations with producers and a state-of-being I was suffering from myself.
Burnout comes in many forms. For me, burnout isn’t a lack of energy, it is a lack of motivation. When I hit peak burnout, I don’t want to do any work and I loose interest in just about everything. When I hit burnout, you’ll find me on the couch looking out the window at the squirrels with my cat or taking my time in the grocery store even though I hate grocery shopping. You’ll notice I haven’t returned your phone call, email, or even your text, which is not my style. I just want to turn it all off while simultaneously feeling guilty that I want to take a break.
Given that producers are the ones who have to keep the train moving and keep everyone motivated, burnout can become a big problem. I manage to push through it, but I’m just going through the motions, which is not how great work gets accomplished.
So over the holiday, I gave myself permission to take a break without the feeling of quilt. I immersed myself in storytelling and I took naps. Because when I nap, I daydream. And when I daydream, I think about good things. And when I think about good things, I believe I can make things happen. And when I believe I can make things happen, I start to become interested in the world again. And when I’m interested in the world again, I want to tell stories, not just appreciate other people’s stories. And that is when my motivation returns.
You may not have had as quiet of a holiday as I did. Maybe you had kids running around and multiple sets of families to visit. If that was the case and you are feeling even more drained than you were before the holiday, find a way to fill yourself back up again. Learn to take care of yourself in addition to your filmmakers. Burnout is completely common. The key is knowing how to recognize and combat it. Figure out how your burnout manifests and take the necessary steps to reverse it – it’s not too late.
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