Episode 8: Taking an Intentional Break to Get Out of a Rut

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In this solo episode, I talk about taking a break to recover after being in a creative rut.


Here’s what I discussed on this episode:



You’re listening to How to Be Creative, a podcast about what it means to be creative across different disciplines, industries, life circumstances, and career structures. You’ll learn tips for fitting creativity into your daily life and hear from a bunch of different people about how being creative has helped them reach goals, open doors, and live a more rewarding–or at least more interesting–life. I’m your host, Kat O’Leary, and I’m excited to introduce you to some of my favorite creatives, as well as to the tools that help me get my most crucial work done.


Okay, so today I’m going to do something a little bit different. So usually when I record these solo episodes ahead of time, I kind of sit down and write out a full outline of everything I’m going to talk through, so it’s a pretty structured approach. I don’t actually just, like, sit down and script the whole thing out because I think then it sort of sounds like you’re just reading, which can come across as a little bit unnatural. But usually I do have most of the beats of the episode bulleted out on a Google Doc, then I kind of work from that as I’m recording.

So this time I am going to be a little bit less official. So I have a small number of notes on my phone, but right now I’m in a place where the priority for me is just doing the thing and not worrying as much about the quality of the thing, whether it’s perfect–obviously nothing ever is perfect–but I want to focus more on adhering to a cadence of episodes that feels good to me, which is once a week or maybe will fall to once every other week, when things get a little bit busier, and in order to stick with the kind of once a week cadence for now, I decided it was more important to just get something out there versus waiting until I could do something that was a little bit more polished.

So today I’m going to talk about taking an intentional break to get out of a rut. So where this came from was that I was in a pretty serious rut for most of the fall. Toward the end of August, I came down with what at the time felt like a particularly bad cold. I went to the doctor; that’s what they told me it was. And yet something about it felt a little bit different from what a normal cold would usually feel like in my body. That said, I trusted the doctor; they gave me a prescription for some steroids which I took, and that made me really, really angry. And even though I was on meds that were theoretically going to help me get better faster ended up being sick for three weeks straight. Then finally, I was better for a couple of weeks and then it started up again, came back even worse than it had been the previous time. And so ultimately, I think what I had was actually a cold that had turned into bronchitis, and it just lingered for much of a two month period between late August and late late October.

And so, you may or may not have noticed that as a result of that, I took kind of a lengthy hiatus from this podcast. So I launched in late August. I had intended to make this a weekly thing. From that point forward And then there were just a couple of months where I straight up didn’t do anything. Um, I was lucky in that I had done a lot of batched work earlier in the year. I believe I recorded my first episode in April and then didn’t actually publish until August. So I had done a bunch of the groundwork in terms of recording episodes and editing them and setting up transcripts and, um, social promotion and things like that. But then I sort of ran out of things that I had already done.

And then finally I got better, but from that point forward, it was really hard to just kind of dig out from where I was, because I just felt so behind. Um, and it definitely didn’t help that one of the episodes I had recorded during that period while I was sick was with Kimberly Wilson, who is a psychotherapist and entrepreneur. You may have listened to the most recent episode of How to Be Creative, which was an interview with her. Well, that was actually the second interview with her that I recorded because the first one, which we did way back in September, I lost on my computer. Um, so that was just kind of another setback that I didn’t need at a time where I was really trying to restart things and it just felt like I was being subjected to this series of setbacks and one, you know, taken one by one, nothing would have been insurmountable. But in tandem, I’m it just felt really overwhelming.

And so finally, where I got to was that I just needed to take a break. And part of what help me kind of finally accept that was working with my accountability group. So back in July, I attended a retreat hosted by Nicole Antoinette, who’s the host of the Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette podcast. And since that retreat, the women who attended and Nicole and I have had this accountability group run by Nicole, where on a weekly basis we talk about our goals. We share information about what’s going on with our lives, where our setbacks are where challenges are and what’s really working for us. And that is a space where we hold really honest conversations. It’s a group of women who, although I haven’t I haven’t known them for very long, I feel like we all know each other in kind of a special, deep way that is different from the deep relationships than I have in my day-to-day life. And so they were really instrumental in helping me finally, except that I needed to take a break from trying to produce things.

And that was a little bit challenging for me, because when I make a plan, I really like to stick to it. And yet a lot of things that happened beyond my control and I had to admit that I just wasn’t feeling up to jumping back in full force in the way that I hope to be. Or maybe, if I’m being really honest here, I thought I quote unquote “should” be.

So I wanted to talk a little bit about kind of what that process looked like for me of taking a break so that I was set up well for what I did feel up to jumping back into things, and the reason why I thought I would talk through that a little bit is because I feel like it’s a common thing, right. Everyone has setbacks. Um, everyone gets in a rut Sometimes, whether it’s, you know, ah, life thing like, you know, losing a loved one, going through a break up, Um, suffering from depression. Um, I know for me, like seasonal affective disorder is a big one that I have to contend with. So I am in the process of figuring out kind of like looking at February, which was my worst seasonal effective month last year. What can I do this month so that I am set up with, um coping mechanisms so that this February doesn’t feel quite as bad as last February did.

And so I kind of wanted to talk through what this process looked like for me in the hope that maybe it’ll be helpful to some of you who are going through something similar right now or so that you can sort of book market and save it as a reference if you happen to be in a similar situation in the future. So I think the big thing and I’ve already touched on this a little bit was just getting to a place of acceptance. So getting to a place where I was willing to accept reality reality was I was not ready to restart my work. Um, what I really needed was to continue to rest. And, um, I think that was maybe the hardest step for me because, as I said, like, my projects are important to me. They’re things I really care about, they’re, you know, I allocate my time to them because they’re meaningful. They are some of the things that most fulfill me in my life. Um

And so when I’m not doing some of these things, it can be hard for me to find another avenue to find my life full to be fulfilling, which actually isn’t great, because that just means I am relying on external things to fulfill me, which is something I try to stay away from. But anyway, I’m human, and sometimes I do that.

So once I got to that place of acceptance, things got a lot easier. And from there I was able to identify some ways of making my life meaningful and fulfilling, even if I wasn’t doing the things that maybe I identify as kind of my life’s purpose. One of the things that I did was I started reading a lot more, and this started with, um, I had seen a few Twitter threads, I don’t know if you guys follow Rachel Syme. I think she’s @rachsyme on Twitter and Syme is S Y M E. But I’ll throw this in the show notes. But she’s always doing these great Twitter threads where either she’ll share a series of book recommendations or she’ll, um, you know, kind of crowd sourced them, and I had been adding a bunch of her recommendations and her followers recommendations to my good reads account.

And so I had this great list of books and particularly books about biographies of glamorous women that I was really excited to dive into. And so I started reading about, um, you know some some other people’s lives and kind of got out of my own head. And I think that helped a lot. Um, and another thing I think I like about reading biographies in particular is that I feel like it helps you identify the gaps between where you are currently and where you want to be. Or, you know, if I’m admiring something about a particular person’s life, um, then I can use that as a jumping off point for figuring out Well, what would that look like? Or could that look like in my own life? And then what’s an achievable first step toward that? I think that helps a lot.

And then the other thing or one of the other things was connecting with friends. Um, so for me, when I am so some of the feelings that being sick, um, kind of surfaced in me when I was sick were resentment, anger, depression, and then uncertainty about when I’d get better. And these are some of my least favorite feelings to grapple with. So, um, when those types of feelings arise, my natural inclination is to hide out. Um, I, you know, we’ll often just, like, cancel all my plans, stay in my apartment, Um, kind of hunker down, work on writing projects, whatever it is.

But maybe in part because I knew I wasn’t quite ready to start on my creative work again. I went the other direction, and I really focused on spending more time with friends. Ah, starting probably toward the end of November. And this meat really made a world of difference for me. um I value my friendships a lot. I had a very rough 2019 overall. I think it was a very uneven year for me. And yet by the time December rolled around, um, I had a pretty different perspective on it. And one of the things that really became clear to me by the end of the year was just how amazing and wonderful my friendships are and how much I value them and how they are really kind of the cornerstone of my life at this point in time.

And so I was lucky to spend a lot of time with my friends over the holidays doing some of our favorite tradition. So instead of hiding out, I made a point of spending a lot of time with other people and particularly the people that I’m closest to during December and through the holidays. And I feel like that really filled me up in a way that, um, had been lacking in my life over the past few months.

And then once I started to feel better physically, I made it a priority to start exercising again. Usually, when I work out, I’m working toward a goal. It can be hard for me to keep up with regular exercise unless there is a particular thing I’m working toward. So, for example, with running, I don’t usually run unless I am training for a race, and I wanted to use exercise a little bit differently this time. And so Amanda and I made an accountability pact in early December where we we agreed that we would keep each other accountable on working out through December and through the holidays. So that on January 1st it wasn’t that usual thing of all right, well, I just spent the last couple of weeks being sluggish and eating holiday food. And now I you know, I’m gonna start making healthier choices again.

Instead, we wanted to kind of maintain our energy through the holidays. Not feel I mean, I physically feel terrible during the holidays. Usually it’s a lot of eating. It’s a lot of drinking. Um, it’s a lot of family time, which can run down your energy. Um, and I just didn’t want to feel that way going into 2020. So that really helped. And I set a goal for the number of times I wanted to run over holiday break. I sent a goal for the number of workouts over all that I wanted to do. And I’m happy to say that I was able to stick to those.

So that really helped me get back to a place where I had the energy to start thinking about doing my projects again. And once I got to the point where I started feeling that way, my usual tendency would be to kind of rush into just doing things, putting things back out there, and instead, I wanted to give myself a greater sense of safety. And so the way that I went about that was instead of just trying to restart everything right away, I decided that I would continue to take a break through the end of December. Um, with a couple of exceptions, one, I re-recorded the episode with Kimberly that that I had lost in kind of the mid to late part of December. And then, um, I decided I would get I would do the work to get that episode live for December 30th because Kimberly has a, um so her podcast is called Tranquility du Jour, if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, and she does thes Tranquility du Jour TJ live events their seasonal live Google hangouts for intention setting for each season of the year. And this seasons is going live tonight, which is January 5th, as I’m recording this, and I wanted to make sure that we had that episode out in time for people to hear about that and, um, sign up if that was something that they were interested in. And so that kind of gave me an official hard deadline, but in a way where it didn’t feel completely overwhelming to have to do that. So I allowed myself to have that small goal for December, but then everything else would wait until January.

So I did a tiny bit of planning over the holidays. I decided which episodes I would, um published on which dates. I figured out which episodes I still needed to record in order to stick to that schedule. And, um, I also started thinking a little bit again about social promotion on Instagram without actually doing anything, um, as far as publishing um, to instagram.

So, yeah, I think that’s really what the process looked like for me. I started by accepting that things were shitty and that I wasn’t in a place where I could be productive or work on any projects. I did some reading, which was kind of a low hanging fruit way of staying in touch with my creative self and using my imagination without having to actually produce anything. Connecting with friends, which was hugely helpful to me and I think illuminating in a way, in that going forward, I’ll be more aware that, despite my tendency to kind of become a hermit when I’m feeling shitty, it actually doesn’t help me that much. And I will usually feel more renewed if I actually just spend time with people I love and who love me. And then working out, but not in a hugely goal-centric way, more exercising for the sake of exercising and for the kind of feelings that it brings.

Overall, I feel like these are the things that helped me get back on track so that I was able to start 2020 with more optimism, grace and faith that things you know would would be able to get back on track and that, um, you know, I could kind of move forward despite losing a couple of months at the end of 2019.


So that’s this week’s episode of How to Be Creative. As always, you can find show notes, including a complete episode transcript and links to everything discussed at howtobecreative.org.

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