We sat across the table from the preschool teacher.
Stella was only three but when you pay for private daycare like we did,
you take these parent-teacher conferences seriously.
She wasn’t in trouble. She was just having difficulty on the playground, interacting with those she didn’t know.
This, of course, came as no surprise to me and I made some facetious joke about social anxiety and taking after her father. The teacher said more playdates would be a good idea.
Playdates? My worst nightmare.
Packing up a mountain of snacks and water bottles, trying to find commonalities with other parents, shuffling after the kids while staying within arm’s length just in case they fell off the slide.
This is not what I pictured when deciding to have kids.
It’s not like we didn’t have the opportunity for playdates. I just avoided those invitations as long as possible, squeaking out some excuse for why we’d have to postpone.
So it was surprising, even to me, last year as I entertained the idea of throwing in the towel — staying at home and alleviating some of the pressure I felt as the sole decision maker for my business, my clients, and my family.
Could forced chit chat in the park really be all that bad?
I’m Kim Wensel and this is Resentfully Yours, a limited series podcast where we examine, adjust, and reframe the expectations of a creative career.
The topics on this show explore how to avoid resentment when you’re feeling misunderstood, overworked, and undervalued. Because as a working creative the question isn’t IF you’ll feel this way, it’s WHEN.
This series focuses on how to get back to work that’s life giving, not life sucking; making your own definition of “making it;” and ditching the excuses that are keeping us from reaching our true potential.
THE PRESSURE TO BE PRODUCTIVE
In 2020 employees worked harder and took less time off than ever before. With the inability to leave the house — much less take the trip — we left almost all of our vacation days on the table.
Kids at home and computers in our bedrooms, work started to blend with life. We constantly reached for our phones to see what we were missing because focusing 8 hours straight was not an option.
I had to laugh a little bit, watching my husband adapt to the work from home life.
I warned him early on that the kitchen table would not be a long-term desk solution, but I guess he had to find that out for himself. He constantly had his computer open but never felt like he was making progress.
We all started to understand what work from home life is really like — not the glamorous “you get to work in your pj’s from Fiji!?” but the messy blend of work and life with no bright lines to distinguish one from the other.
It’s hard to walk away when you’re the only one in the office. It’s easy to get just one more thing done — to push dinnertime when an email comes in after hours.
We haven’t been taking time off because we didn’t want to just “waste time” vacationing at home. We’ve become conditioned to the idea that time off must be productive.
Productivity – ooh so much to say about this topic. We LOVE productivity.
Entire industries have been built around productivity culture. The productivity planner, articles pitching “15 home office buys to boost your productivity,” and even blog posts that tie productivity to improving your life.
As we work to optimize our life and boost productivity, we lose sight of fulfillment and flow. Productivity isn’t the same as organization. It’s not the same as focus. But we glamourize the term as we blindly strive for it.
For most people, I’d say productivity is about getting the most done in the shortest amount of time. It’s about maximizing our output.
But every time I’ve tried to maximize my output, I feel spent. The times when I’ve produced my best work? When I’m relentlessly focused on JUST ONE THING.
Our addiction to productivity leads us to the endless pursuit of goals. We set them, we reach them, we set them higher.
We don’t stop to reflect on whether we enjoyed the process or want to continue that work. We don’t recognize how far we’ve come or take time to recalibrate.
Most of us use our time off as a last resort. We double down to prepare to take off. And once we land on a beach with a margarita in our hands, we’ve so frazzled we can’t enjoy it.
We’re using time off as a mechanism to heal burnout, rather than thinking about it as preventative.
Two hands up over here.
I always get frustrated with myself when I throw myself into a tizzy preparing to be out for a week or less. “Is this even worth it?” I ask myself.
We trick ourselves into thinking we have to deserve the time and space away. Nothing lasts forever, so we grin and bear it.
So when I found myself at home with the world turned upside down that’s what I believed how quitting it all and just focusing on being a mom would help me – a last ditch effort to save what little sanity I had left.
WHY YOU CAN’T FORCE CLARITY
When my kids finally went back to school this past fall I thought I’d be more productive than I had been in over a year. A quiet house. A dedicated workspace. Sunshine pouring in through the windows.
So it was confusing to me when I felt all of the energy leave my body the second I returned from drop off.
I couldn’t read a book. I could hardly keep my eyes open.
I napped three times that week.
Oh and I felt bad about it.
I finally had the time I had begged for and I wasn’t using it wisely! What was wrong with me?
I couldn’t get motivated and I was feeling the anxiety rising. Here’s an excerpt from my journal around that time:
It’s another one of those days where I wake up feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve got a lump in my throat, a grapefruit-sized ball in my chest, and a well of tears ready to be released.
I just want to know what I’m supposed to be doing. Everytime I think I’ve got it I second guess myself. Fear sets in. I find a reason why it could never be possible.
This is when I feel like I shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. When the thought of selling – opening my heart to the world and getting rejected – just feels like too big of a risk.
This was the first time I’d paused as a working adult.
For over ten years I had drifted through overwork and constant busyness. I didn’t have maternity leave. I hosted a retreat two weeks after leaving my day job. I was an expert in filling in the gaps.
And now, alone with myself, I had to feel it all.
It wasn’t as simple a fix as staying at home with my kids. It wasn’t as easy as getting back into the groove. I had used up my reserve tank and I now had nothing left to fuel me.
I follow a woman named Jen Hatmaker on Instagram. She’s an author, a speaker, and personality with the most relatable sarcasm. She recently posted a picture of her daughter learning to drive and the caption was too much. It went a little something like:
Let’s discuss corners and turns. Because as far as I can tell, slowing down here is optional. Let’s test those tires, the Child Drivers seem to be saying, give this power steering a real run for its money.
It made me laugh, because it reminded me of my own behavior. I always expect to make turns in life going 100 mph. This is why it feels so hard.
My check tire pressure light was on for the last two weeks. I offhandedly mentioned it to my husband but we both ignored it. I kept on shuttling around town. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I pulled out of the Barnes and Noble parking lot on Friday night and felt like I was driving in sand. I barely made it around the corner, off the main drag, and found the rim of my wheel on the ground. There was zero air left.
You can’t change direction when you’re bottoming out.
Our best work cannot be forced into the crevices or produced on demand. It will only come to us when we give it space to breathe — when we’re deep in the woods or curled up with a mystery or turning our shower all the way up to drown out the noise.
I got a question the other day: How do you get past writer’s block?
While I don’t feel equipped to answer this as an expert, by any means, I have spent my career producing my brain and others — putting language to ideas.
But I’ve also spent a lot of time trying to force clarity.
In my experience, when I don’t know what to say, I need to listen to what others are saying. And I DON’T mean this in a comparative way.
When I started thinking about hosting retreats, I was interested in advice others had who had hosted their own retreats. So where did I go? Apple Podcasts.
After some sifting I found one that looked reasonable enough. 15 seconds in and I was appalled. I wasn’t sure I could listen for five minutes, much less the full-length 30 minutes.
For the podcaster this wasn’t a problem. I was CLEARLY not her audience.
But it was also great for me to have this reaction because it showed me my point of view, my perspective on the topic, and what I had to say about it.
The connection to the world around us is what makes us human. We can’t just sit in our offices, cut off from the world and expect to produce the next big idea. We have to connect, talk about experiences, and see what others are doing to be inspired ourselves.
Even when you can’t answer the question, “who am I?” you can answer the questions, “what do I believe in?” and “what do I yearn for?”
To find your purpose, to feel passionate about something, you have to absorb as much as possible.
To create we must live.
CAN TAKING TIME OFF MAKE US MORE CREATIVE?
I once had a coach who gave me one piece of advice – you just need to take more time off.
That felt like the wrong advice to be getting from someone I was paying $27,000 a year for business strategy. I fought her like hell trying to get more useful feedback on structuring and selling my services.
I needed income. So walking away was the last thing I felt comfortable doing.
Two years later I can appreciate what she was trying to teach me. But it’s hard when you need income to live.
I think that’s what Liz Gilbert was talking about in Big Magic – not making your creativity pay the bills.
At the time I had two young children, had just branched out on my own full time and was picking up the slack at home while my husband worked a more traditional schedule.
I saw all of these people online appearing successful and I didn’t understand how.
I was comparing myself to them 1 for 1 when our situations were not the same. This is the danger of the internet – comparing ourselves to people we think are our “competition” and then feeling bad we’re not able to match up.
Our default is to focus on the “competitive landscape” rather than leaders who inspire us.
Who inspires you?
Is there someone whose work and journey you admire rather than envy?
Who’s set their priorities in a way that aligns with your own?
Who has the coolest hobby and allows it to just be a hobby?
Those are the people we need to be focusing on. Not just the people who sell similar things to us.
These are the people we need to be able to channel. The people we admire and want an ounce of their zest. The ones who make us feel bolder and more willing to step into the slightly freakshow version of ourselves.
The other day I got a postcard from a realtor I reached out to before putting our house on the market.
It reminded me of a theme that’s been coming up lately: It’s easy to be busy.
This rings true for life and design.
That 6×7 postcard had 600 words stuffed onto it. And yes, I did count because I was so horrified that any designer would allow this to be sent for print.
My eye couldn’t focus. I think I actually felt my pulse rising.
It’s easy to be busy.
Because when we’re busy we feel important. We feel accomplished. And we feel useful.
How often do we create busywork to feel this way?
Less is more, they say.
But it takes more than declining meetings to embrace this. It takes trust.
I saw an intuitive tarot card reader last weekend. If you’re not into woo-woo, I understand. I wasn’t either. Plenty of people think it’s a hoax. I see it as a way to bring to the surface things we already know to be true deep within ourselves. More on this in episode 10.
Miss JT Star — yes, this is her name and she’s amazing and based in the French Quarter — she told me that one thing that was clear was my need for Selah – for space. She asked me to release what is no longer serving me – to break up with the programming of hustling and grinding. To live more passionately. To enjoy the fruits my labors had already provided.
I’ve been seeing more and more people on LinkedIn declaring that they’re taking much-needed time off. And what do you think one of the most common responses is?
“You’re so lucky! I wish I could do that!”
I was on a call with a prospective client the other day. And her final question was, “How much time do you think this will require?”
We have such a funny relationship with time. Fear of not having enough but also filling it to the brim.
Luck has no role here.
It takes courage to invite spaciousness and to figure out what we’ll find when we don’t have our work to fulfill our identity.
There are creative ideas sitting inside of you captive, waiting for the space to be released. But breakthroughs don’t just appear. Creativity cannot exist in the margins.
So whether you’re struggling with writer’s block or searching for your bigger purpose, you must first get to know yourself.
Most of us have never spent enough time alone exploring what would allow us to thrive. When you’re responsible for someone else’s livelihood or vision, sometimes you need a break to be reminded of how to be responsible for yourself.
Right now I’m in a stage of life where I’m responsible for others. I’m surrounded by little people who need to be fed, bathed, and shuttled around. When I haven’t had enough time to myself I feel like I’m losing myself.
The resentment starts to creep in when I feel no freedom. The self doubt. The feeling I’m getting behind.
It’s only when I’m alone that I can start to disentangle my own wants from others’.
My first job out of school was as an admissions counselor for colleges. I would travel for 8-9 weeks straight, acting as the university’s ambassador, recruiting and explaining the application process.
While that sounds fun – wow, free travel! – the truth is that I spent more time in my car than sightseeing. What that time in my life did teach me was to be comfortable with solitude.
I ate out by myself. I went to the movies by myself. And while it felt awkward at first, I learned to crave those quiet moments.
Today I take solo retreats twice annually — renting out a hotel room and working on the vision. I order in, go to the spa, and unload all of my sharpies on giant post-it notes.
I’m even planning a solo vacation – one where I don’t have to worry about what anyone wants to do but me. I can write. I can sit all day. Or I can explore. But I get to decide.
How often are you dedicating time to just BE? Not work on your own personal projects or think about your next move.
This is an important distinction. Until recently I defined time off as time not spent on client work. But my brain was still on.
I had packed my schedule so full that I could always count on having something to do.
I’m still working my way out of this. It’s hard as something who loves to create. I’m endlessly reading and learning. And I want to share it. I don’t really have much just for myself.
I’m investigating my phone use and how often I check my email. While I’ve built slowness into my schedule, I still have a long way to go.
The goal is to intentionally spend more time on the things that used to bring me joy without any promise of return. These are things like cooking and walking among the trees without documenting the walk.
Reshma Soujani, the author of Brave Not Perfect and founder of Girls Who Code, talk about how important it is to get back to the beginner’s stage. She says that for women, especially, we don’t do things we aren’t good at.
She gives the example of men and golfing. There are plenty of men who are terrible at golf and still love it. You know them. I know them. Maybe this is you. If so, mad props.
How many things are we doing on a continual basis that we’re awful at?
Developing this childlike ease doesn’t mean you have to play as kids do. Trust me, I don’t do child’s play at my house. That’s reserved for my husband.
But if we look at the definition of play it simply means doing activities for fun or enjoyment. Not progress. Not revenue. And not status.
I’d encourage you to find your play. The thing that can shift your focus away from work and allow you to hear yourself more clearly.
When you’re driven it’s easy to feel lost when you don’t have something to anchor you. So find your thing. Your go-to.
For me it’s my Peloton. Anytime I feel stuck I know I need to move my legs.
When you find your thing you’ll find relief and release. This will be the breeding ground for your best work yet if, and only if, you take the pressure off to figure it out.
I’ll end with this. If you’re an ideas person like me you probably don’t have a lot of patience to wait when something comes to you. You want to put it out in the world and share it with others.
And sometimes life just isn’t set up to support you in the way that you want.
You have to put your work on hold.
You have to cancel calls.
You have to take care of parents and babies.
And it feels like your time will never come. I know.
I felt that for seven years as I worked in my day job and my business. Growth was pretty flat. I wasn’t known for any one thing.
And then I had to remind myself of how much time I had. Not everything had to be accomplished when my babies were small and my husband was changing careers and so was I. Just because an idea comes to you does not mean it’s the right time to pursue it.
I mean that’s part of why I put my first podcast on hold. I decided I was ready to share my best work, not just a constant stream of work.
I’m sure you’re seeing people right now who look like they’re killing it. But are they also killing themselves in the process?
Here’s where a little parenting advice is applicable to our work – The days are long but the years are short.
You’ve got time. I’ve got time. So let’s not miss out on life along the way, okay?