How to Stay Inspired When the 9 to 5 is Wearing You Down
There is one summer night that I wont ever forget. I was stumbling in the dark under an audience of stars to find a hidden place of beauty.
As the sky's natural light ebbed away into a soft blue, I trekked a long ways, blinded by my poor night vision in search of this respite my friends swore would be worth it. The land was heavily forested and miles from civilization. And the stars? Beyond description. Swathed in delicate galaxies, the heavens glittered like drops of dew in a spider's web, dangling close overhead. I felt closer to the earth, closer to my heart in this simple, focused mission.
A little over an hour passed and after getting scratched by low-hanging branches and confused by dead ends, I began to doubt.
"Where is the hot spring?" I wondered. "Was all of this effort in vain?"
The twists and turns and detours through the soggy marsh around me intensified my impatience, but I had committed myself. There was no turning back in the dark.
When I first surveyed the spot we'd come to, it didn't look like much. Just a log-framed, waist deep gravel pit in the ground. A strong draft of sulfur made me take a step back, but I accepted it as an unanticipated part of this natural wonder. When I put my weary feet in, I finally understood. In went my calves and joyfully as much of my body the water could cover.
I closed my eyes, now submerged in the earth's thermal waters, and felt the softest current of air against my face, hardly wind, more like a breath. The conversation around me died to make way for a quiet moment. Under this veil of darkness, I found more radiance than the light of day. There wasn't an ounce of striving left. It was all peace in that single, transcendent moment. I'd practically forgotten I existed all together, but for the moments that I blinked.
Washed up on the shore of God's greater glory, I closed my eyes and felt whole again. Beauty had found me at a hot spring in the midnight hour. I share this memory is to evoke the kinds of moments I travel back to in my mind when the present feels less than inspiring.
The hot spring at midnight is the moment I long for in 5:30pm traffic. As I stare out my window at the inches deep exhaust pipe sludge on the concrete freeway barrier, I desire an experience where not a single motor runs or artificial light is visible. I remember the spring in the midnight hour. And maybe in your own way, you do too.
The weight of the 9 to 5 can weigh heavy on us.
While I love my job, the daily grind can feel oppressive at times. The constant back and forth, the limited rest, the draining of our creative energies and sense of duty and obligation. Sometimes it's all too much. And when the weekend is not a respite from the running—but filled with a tireless cycle of activity—we can begin to wonder if a place of respite is left in this world.
Where can we go to restore our wonder? How can creativity thrive hand-in-hand with the 24-hour news cycle? Can we experience wonder and inspiration in a meaningful way when our life is subservient to nine hour days (or more) on a Monday through Friday rotation?
Please believe me, there is a way, but it will require some effort to clear out, clean up, and refocus certain priorities. You can do each one of these things. They are simple, and will lend you the power you need to keep grinding through the work week with confidence, and even a lightness in your step.
Create a beautiful respite that's yours and yours alone.
Kids have tree houses and pillow forts. Adults have bathtubs and reading nooks. It's okay to cancel out all of the background noise to find your place of escape and stay there awhile. Resist the urge to bring your phone with you, and if you just can't help yourself— "airplane" mode.
Invite a good-smelling candle and your favorite blanket or turn your Spotify on to a nature channel. Cuddle up and forget about productivity. Tune into Jane Eyre, Nicholas Sparks, or whatever satisfies your urge to venture into the great imaginative beyond. Go ahead now, don't be shy.
Important note: keep this space clean, aesthetically pleasing, and clutter free. Like environment, like mind. Don't complicate it with stacks of knick knacks and things that will cause you to trail off and start cleaning. This is not the spot to dump clean laundry. Honor this sacred space and your time to recharge.
Start giving from your creative well.
Maybe you have a mad skill for salsa dancing, playing the cello, or drawing that you could use in a mentoring or teaching capacity. Giving from our creative well is when we're at our best. If others can benefit from a gift we possess—our sense of purpose comes full circle. Staying refreshed in the daily grind isn't necessarily about what we've chosen to do as a career or where we spend those nine hours—it's really about how we spend the other 15 that counts. Write an essay on physics to share in a peer-reviewed journal. Pass along your green thumb in the community garden. Bake scones for your neighbor. Teach a novice barista the ropes. You're the expert here, so figure out how you can be of use and start giving!
Pick your motivational color.
While this may sound silly, I'm serious about selecting one bright, beautiful color that makes me feel alive every year. For 365 days, I devote myself to studying this color in all of its lovely hues. It all started with a burnt shade of orange that I really liked. Then the year after that, it was cherry red, serendipitously aligned with my favorite Taylor Swift album. This year, it's chartreuse. Yellow is my color anthem for 2016, and yes, you can have one too.
Like a raccoon after shiny things, devote yourself to this motivational color for one whole year. If you see it in a store window, you go in that store. If there's an option to buy something in that color, pick it above the other ones. Discover new foods in your favorite hue. Can anyone say...curry? Picking my motivational color has been one of my most fun and treasured rituals, and when people inevitably ask for my New Year's resolution, I tell them about this mission.
Avoid stimulus that dull the senses. Engage the mind in your down time.
As lovely as it sounds to find your "nothing box" after work and binge watch Netflix episodes of your favorite shows—this isn't always the best or quickest way to recharge. In fact, it overloads our minds with a kind of stimulation that disrupts our attention span and our ability to sleep. In 2014, Pew Research Center reported that over a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. Now, I fear the statistic is even higher. On-demand TV shows, movies, and the 24-hour news cycle likely has much to do with this. I love how Warren Buffet, one of the most successful men in the world describes his priorities for the day. He says: “I just sit in my office and read all day.” If he has time to read, I think we all do.
Stay up late for what you love.
If you're tipping the scales of excess for something you are deeply passionate about— screw moderation. Edge out distractions and create art if that's what you're meant to do. And if you're trying to find the time, you never will. That's because you have to make it. Everyone seems to manage to brush their teeth and show up for work and do their jobs. If they can do that—then you have time to chase your passion. It's just the small sacrifices that we make out to be a big deal.
So what if you have kids. So what if your boss asks you to stay late. So what if you don't have time to make dinner. Sacrifice an hour less of sleep. Order a pizza. Don't miss the significance of making room for creating art or participating in a race. If it's important now, it will be important to you in the future. Create a habit of engaging this passion weekly, if not daily. Now is the appropriate moment to put in overtime to do something you love. Go after that needle in the haystack dream. Hunt down that spring in the midnight hour and find out what you've been missing.