I recently returned from a 5 week vacation travelling all over Mexico. (For anyone wondering, it was absolutely incredible and I highly recommend it as a holiday destination!) As I’ve settled back into normal life I’ve been thinking a lot about what this time off meant to me, and in particular, my creative practice. Turns out, taking breaks is absolutely crucial to my creative longevity.
Prior to this I hadn’t been on a long, proper vacation since 2010 (the year before I started my business) with the exception of 2 mini trips to Bali, which for Australians isn’t really THAT far to travel, and in my eyes, didn’t really have the same impact as taking a lengthy amount of time off. Over the years I’ve watched friends go on epic holidays, some taking months, even years off to travel. I always thought these kinds of adventures seemed unattainable for someone in my situation – there always seemed to be some reason for why I couldn’t do it too, mostly relating to my creative business.
“I even felt like I didn’t deserve a holiday, there was just too much to be done and I had to keep pushing or else I’d get left behind”
A big reoccurring reason was guilt. I felt that I wasn’t a legit business owner if I wasn’t constantly thinking about work, constantly hustling, constantly pushing, or being constantly available for my clients at all hours of the day even if I was technically off the clock. I even felt like I didn’t deserve a holiday, there was just too much to be done and I had to keep pushing or else I’d get left behind. Laying the pressure on thick don’t you think!?
I also felt a huge amount of FOMO. I felt that taking time off meant I wouldn’t be available for jobs or opportunities that might be around the corner. Because freelance life is unpredictable, you feel like you should always be open for business so you don’t miss out. I was stuck in my routine too. I had been on the grind for so long, working in the same way, in the same place, with the same habits. It seemed impossible to consider stepping out of this bubble and disrupting my routine for an extended period of time.
But eventually everyone reaches a breaking point. After 8 years I was so burnt out that I literally couldn’t work properly anymore. Travelling is one of my favourite things to do, and I’d restricted myself from it for way too long for the sake of my business. However, this hadn’t seemed to benefit my business or my creativity, in fact, being so relentless had been detrimental to me (cue creative burnout!). I desperately needed some time off, so I forced myself to finally make this a priority, despite my apprehensions. And I’m so glad I did.
As the dust settles after my holiday I have started to notice the ways that I have benefited from taking a break. One of them is the sense of freedom that comes from of breaking out of my bubble. It’s never a bad thing to shake things up and get away from your regular routine for a while. A change is good, even if it’s uncomfortable. As humans we can easily get stuck in our daily routines. At times I need a routine to help me feel more in control of my life, but not having one for 5 weeks was actually so refreshing. It’s made me appreciate and enjoy the day-to-day things again, as well as being inspired by the routines of the people I interacted with in Mexico. Before, I felt a bit like a rat on a wheel, stuck in the daily grind, but now I realise that if I start to feel that way again, I can just step off and shake things up once more. Or create an entirely new routine that suits me better.
Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and into a new unfamiliar place forced me to start thinking and seeing in different ways. As I soaked up new, unfamiliar sights, smells, flavours and experiences, I was deeply inspired. Now, new ideas are flowing in and I can’t wait to see how this influences my creativity. An interesting observation related to this was that prior to leaving I told myself I was going to maintain my creative output the entire time I was away. I didn’t want to fall behind. I packed heaps of supplies and a scrapbook, intending to make something every day. But almost as soon as I arrived I realised that making stuff was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I just didn’t want to do anything related to my design practice AT ALL, in fact, I felt the need to get as far away from it as possible for a while.
“As I soaked up new, unfamiliar sights, smells, flavours and experiences, I was deeply inspired. Now, new ideas are flowing in and I can’t wait to see how this influences my creativity.”
I feel so rejuvenated now too. Seems like an obvious benefit, but I didn’t realise how much I desperately needed a physical and mental break from my business and the freelance hustle until I was miles away from it all. I didn’t notice how much it had ground me down over the past 8 years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved my journey so far, but there’s no denying it’s been a long time between proper breaks! Ya girl was exhausted! The simple act of taking a break from it all has allowed me to recharge my batteries in the most amazing way. Sometimes when you’re smack bang in the middle of your bubble, it’s hard to clock that you need to get away. Related to this is how the simple act of getting some distance allowed me to shed the feelings of guilt that were tying me to my business. The guilt was quite ingrained, and it took almost 2 weeks for me to fully shed these feelings and begin to truly enjoy my holiday, but once I did, I felt amazing!
So, what have I learned from taking a break? Well, firstly, I should have done this YEARS ago, probably when I first started experiencing creative burnout, not years after. Instead, I waded deeper into the mud until I was stuck there because I feared that taking a break would make me fall even further behind. Instead, not taking one prolonged my burnout further.
Secondly, being a martyr to your creativity is not cool. It will not make you a better artist, it will just make you tired. People aren’t going to notice you more and give you more jobs just because you refuse to take a break and you work 24/7. You will only damage yourself, and your creative output will suffer for it. There shouldn’t be a stigma surrounding taking time off, it should be encouraged and supported, not looked upon as a sign that you aren’t doing enough.
Finally, my trip was incredible, but I may not always be in a position to go on vacation in order to take a break. I have realised that the act of taking a break doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same form every time. It could be anything - a weekend away, an afternoon off, an enforcement of designated working hours, lunch away from your desk, setting your out-of-office each night (and sticking to it), even something as intangible as a mindset shift. The crucial thing is that you allow yourself to truly step away for a while, to mentally and physically break. Your creativity will thank you for it.
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