Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Burnout Inspires Positive Change

Burnout can lead to a better life.
(Photo © Matthew Wakem)

In a recent post on one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, guest blogger Melissa Gorzelanczyk of Peace and Projects wrote about how burnout can be beautiful.

This got me thinking about how burnout has impacted my own life. A few years ago, I was living in New York City, managing multiple projects at a highly deadline-driven publishing job, working on my first book, freelance writing, and on top of all that juggling numerous family responsibilities. I was also eating a lot of junk food, drinking too many glasses of wine, and wasn’t getting enough sleep. (Is the scenario starting to sound familiar?)

One night after work, my husband Matthew found me slumped down on the bathroom floor (the only place in our studio apartment that had a door) crying inconsolably. Nothing in particular set off the tears. I was just really tired and really overwhelmed—a classic burnout case. Thankfully, I married a very wise man who wiped my tears and said matter-of-factly, “You don’t have to live this way, you know.”

I like to think of that day as the start of my new (and improved) life. I left my job, left New York City, and along with Matthew, gave birth to one of the most creative projects in our lives. It wasn’t easy, of course. In fact, the Asia Spa Project was a monumental task that took two years to plan and another two years to complete. But it gave us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do what we love while devoting 9 entire months to healing—and by that I mean documenting healing techniques as well as healing ourselves.

I will be forever grateful to the beautiful locations who participated in this project:

Saman Villas (Sri Lanka)
Papaya Spa (Laos)
FCC Angkor (Cambodia)
The Gangsa (Indonesia)
Ubud Hanging Gardens (Indonesia)
Kayumanis Ubud (Indonesia)

I am also indebted to each location’s unsung heroes—the therapists, instructors, and wellness experts who work tirelessly every day to make the lives of each guest better for having visited. Thankfully, I have thousands of gorgeous photos to remember these people and places by. (View a PDF version of the Asia Spa Project digital portfolio. It takes a few minutes to download.)

Two years later, the lessons of the Asia Spa Project have stayed with me (and there are more Spa Projects in the works). More importantly, I now live a life that’s a lot less stressful than the one I lived before. I still deal with deadlines, but mostly just the ones I want to deal with. I eat a predominantly vegan diet. I get enough sleep. And I give my yoga classes equal priority on my calendar than any other high-priority event. My point: I wouldn’t have done any of these things if it wasn’t for burnout. I suppose sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to be motivated to find higher ground.


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