Is Your Work Ethic Working You?
(If the answer is like a pole at a strip club, this is for you.)

By Axie Barclay

This month is the first of a three-part series devoted to something most of us spend a good majority of our lives doing: working. Whether it’s for creativity or profit, (why, oh why, do the two persist in normally being mutually exclusive?) work consumes a large majority of our lives, right up there with sleeping and long, hot showers… okay and my significant other has been out of town too long :).

The key with work and life is balance and when that balance gets out of whack, so do we. In order to have our paycheck and read, or write, our books too, it takes a little, that’s right, work.

The first part of this series is devoted to the five signs that you’re overworked and your creative life is suffering. Part two deals with the pressure to be creative and what to do about feeling not just overworked, but truly burned out. Part three tackles ways to prevent burnout, overwork, and general creative conundrums and still get your peaches canned in the meantime.

Work is defined as the “physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something” ( Work also usually brings income to the table, a nice thing for most of us who enjoy basic cable, bookstores, and, oh yeah, luxury items like electricity and food. Ideally, a job is eight hours a day, forty hours a week, and you have enough to provide at least for yourself if not also for your family, whether that family consists of a spouse and kids or keeping the chinchilla in toilet paper rings and corn chips. I recently added up all the jobs I’d been working over the winter and spring and came up with five part-time jobs, a nasty caffeine and alcohol habit, and an ability to spend forty-eight hours on my feet after a four hour nap for roughly six days in a row.

Needless to say, my creativity went to crap around Valentine’s Day.

It took a life altering event and my significant other planting me in a room for two weeks with strict orders to rest and read before I realized how truly burned out this lifestyle left me. I’m stubborn bordering on the physically masochistic by nature and “can’t” isn’t a contraction in my vocabulary; it’s a four-letter word. If someone asks me if I can work such-and-such a day, sure I can, and I will, but they’re asking the wrong question. And usually should I work is the better one.

So for the next few months, “Words from the Root Cellar” is devoted to helping those of you like me, who have a work ethic that works you and a creative side that pays the price when you’re just trying to pay for a few loads of hay.

How do you know you’re overworked or burned out? Signs include: attitudes of negativity; marked decline in efficiency in the workplace; feelings of generalized depression, anxiety, irritability, and frustration; losing your sense of humor; a lost sense of accomplishment, maybe even berating yourself for the things you didn’t get done instead of celebrating the things you did complete; feeling cut off from your relationships; using alcohol, sex, drugs, food, caffeine, or shopping to replace the feel-good feelings you lack in your job; cycles of insomnia and fatigue; and memory problems. I’d also add that feeling these things contribute to a significant drop in creative energy and output, whether you’re writing or making macramé hand puppets. Whatever “thing” you do to release that creative energy, isn’t appealing anymore, either because you “don’t have time, got a list this long, whoopteedo!” or because you feel too crummy from all the energy you’re expending to meet the minimal requirements of your other money-making obligations and still eat and sleep.

But don’t despair! This is good. Recognizing these signs in yourself are the first step toward realizing the problem, your creativity isn’t stunted, but rather the balance of work and creativity in your life has gotten out of whack. If knowledge is power then we’ve just taken the first steps toward realizing the issue and can now figure out what to do about it. Yay! Sometimes getting the hay in or giving a big presentation takes precedence over creativity, but that should be short term, not become a way of life.

Check in next month with “Words from the Root Cellar” for tips and how-to’s for getting your life and creativity back on track.

Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth inalternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, or where she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.