When I get burnt out, I begin to panic and think: “I should do something. I should give things up. I can’t do so many things at once. I should choose.” Part of this is wise. At the end of last year, I really was trying to move too fast on too many fronts (moving, work, creative projects) and it was helpful to remind myself that I didn’t need to get everything done at once. Things could progress slowly over time. So, I dropped or delayed many things.
The unwise part of this thinking for me is the part that says I should choose. “I should teach mindfulness full time.” or “I should do product management full time.” or “I should drop some of my creative projects.” This limiting belief that I have to let go of parts of me is there on any given day. I practice observing it and smiling at it. But it gets loud and difficult to manage when I get burnt out.
In my experience, burn out sets like a thick fog, and makes it hard for me to see the right path forward. When burnt out, in addition to feeling horrible, I’m also having difficulty understanding what to do about it. I have the sense that my system first needs to heal and settle, and the fog needs to lift before I can see the good path forward. But that panicky voice wants me to do something, anything, right away.
This is why the last 3 months of 2020, I agonized over this question: Which of my work activities should I let go of?
This question is painful to me because I love ALL of my work activities. I love product management, I love teaching mindfulness, I love writing. I don’t want to give up any of them. In fact, I want to take on more! I want to design and teach more mindfulness courses, build more communities, get trained in dance therapy, get trained in conflict resolution, take creative writing courses, and the list goes on…
All of my different work actives meet and satisfy different needs. Product management speaks to my analytical mind, gives me the rush of creating products and innovating with a team, and brings me financial stability. Teaching mindfulness grounds me, connects me, and gives me an amount of meaning I had never experienced before. Writing sets my heart on fire and cools my entire system down. They are all me. They are all parts of me. I am lacking if I don’t have one or the other.
So in that angst of “I should choose”, I had to get really curious and look deeper. I found some old wisdom in myself. I wrote down these sentences in my journal over and over again: There may not be a problem to solve. There may not be a decision to take. The waves of angst and haze continued on the surface of the ocean, and on the inside, I waited it out. Finally, the fog started clearing up, I saw it again clearly: I want to choose it all. I choose all my interests and passions. I choose all my interests. I am multi-passionate. The right question for me isn’t “Which one do I choose?” It is “How can I manage my multi-passionate life with more ease and trust?“ In other words, what tactical and practical measures do I put in place to organize my time and energy? How can I design a life in which I follow all my curiosities?
My intention for 2021 is to stay focused on this latter question. Inevitably, my mind will go back to the old limiting belief "I should choose”. When it does, I intend to remember to refuse to choose and begin reflecting again on the organization of my time and energy. The years 2018, 2019, and 2020 were about accepting my many interests. I would like the years 2021, 2022, and 2023 to be about getting good at the practical and tactical management of it.
I already have some ideas on what doesn’t help me: Rigid daily schedules. Discipline. Routine. Expecting every day to look the same. If I write well in the morning one day, I don’t the next day. If I have 3 focused hours of product work one day, the next day I might have too many meetings.
I also have some ideas on what does help me: “Finding the beginning of a thread,” as my dear friend Kening said the other day. “Noticing it when a life energy begins to arise, an energy that wants to create.” We had a long and beautiful conversation about how so many (if not all) things we do happen thanks to this life energy arising organically and staying with us for a while. The question is: Can we notice this energy when it arises? Can we stay with it? Ride the wave?
We all know the difference between eating when you’re hungry vs. forcing yourself to eat, sleeping when you’re sleepy vs. going to bed when you’re not sleepy, cleaning your home when you spontaneously get very motivated to clean vs. cleaning because "you must”. Nonetheless, we all tend to force life energy. Our global cultural conditioning is to control life energy. We try to fabricate it, prolong it, shorten it. We keep thinking I must, I should, I have to. If we were to respect the spontaneous existence and absence of life energy, if we were to focus on creating the necessary environmental conditions for the energy to arise, wouldn’t we experience flow more?
I intend to investigate this these next 3 years. Can I get better at noticing the beginning of a poem? Can I catch it before it slips away? Can I find the beginning of a product roadmap? Can I ride this strategic and analytical energy while it’s alive? Can I clean my inbox or Slack notifications when it feels good? Can I teach mindfulness from the journeys that are already alive within me or within my community? Can I commit to respecting the absence of energy? Can I be in a state of flow more often than not?
“The child inside every stressed person needs attention every time you’re feeling harried, frazzled, and rushed. And if you’ve tried to cure burnout by taking time off and doing nothing, you know it doesn’t work. Boredom doesn’t cure emotional exhaustion, especially for Scanners. But when you get the hurt out of your system, you’ll find the space in your life to do something you love. Creativity and learning cure burnout. Involvement in a fascinating project will heal you.” - Barbara Sher, “Refuse To Choose”
One thing that has helped me the past few years in leading a multi-passionate life is creating a community of people around me who do the same. As humans, we model after one another. We feel stronger and more grounded when we are in something together. I have been collecting public figures, life coaches, and authors, as well as friends and colleagues. Some of my multi-passionate humans are:
- Marie Forleo (who coined the term multi-passionate entrepreneur),
- Barbara Sher (who authored Refuse To Choose),
- musician, athlete, and pharmacist Serenad Bağcan,
- a French president and an art collector, Jacques Chirac,
- my partner Etienne who is a UX designer, entrepreneur, and a builder of things (furniture, bicycles, websites…),
- my friend Jess who is doing marathons/triathlons and looking into starting a sexual health training for adults while working full time,
- my friend Aaron who is a successful entrepreneur, poet, and coach,
- my friend Özge who has 5 different resumes for her 5 different careers (dancing, sociology Ph.D., pilates and yoga instructor, fashion designer, entrepreneur),
- my friend Mehmet who produces and sells olive oil products while also running a hospitality business in Urla (he calls himself “multi” for short, which I adore),
- my friend Hüsne who is an entrepreneur in museum education and a children’s book author,
- my friends Ece and Nazlı with whom I have a blog and podcast, 3 Kadın 1 Dünya (Ece is a full-time marketing manager and a part-time photographer, Nazlı is an academician in behavioral economics),
- my friend Ayça who is a QA engineer in tech and a professional pastry chef,
- my ex-manager, mentor, and friend Aslıhan who is a senior marketing executive while getting trained to be a psychologist.
For Your Reflections
- Do you consider yourself multi-passionate? Do you have more than one interest, passion, curiosity?
- Do you feel any judgment, shame, or fear about being multi-passionate? Do you feel any pressure to pick and focus on only one of your passions?
- What practical and tactical measures do you put in place to do all your activities? How do you organize your time and energy?
- Who is in your multi-passionate community? Which figures or friends do you look up to for how embrace all things they love doing?
Continue reading this series: Joy
Go back to the beginning: Fundamentals