Where have I been all these months? Although I came thisclose to moving to Singapore this year, I’m still here in New York, dividing my time between the city and the Hudson Valley. One thing I realized about my two-week silent retreat and a month-long trip to Singapore and Korea is that if I didn’t make any substantial changes in my life, I would go right back into the habit of overworking no matter how intensive or long of a “rest period” I gave myself. Something had to happen at a deeper level.
This spring I made the painful decision to wind down all my activity with Minds On Fire. It wasn’t until after the fact, when I started describing to people all the projects that I had been shouldering, that I realized how absurdly out of balance my life had gotten. Despite all my talk about self care (and my insistence that my young people care for themselves first and foremost), I was taking only very superficial care of myself. Literally and figuratively, I had stopped tending my garden and the signs of neglect became deeply rooted.
Let me reiterate an earlier statement, because I think I just typed it up with such blasé that I may have failed to communicate how life-shattering it was: This spring I made the painful decision to wind down all my activity with Minds On Fire. (That this decision coincided with the anniversary of my Dad’s death only made things more emotionally fraught.) If you know anything about me, you know that with Minds On Fire I felt like I was living the dream, as if I’d finally found my purpose. Through that work, I felt like I came into my own more fully than I ever had in grad school. I’d once written that leaving academia felt a little bit like dying, but man, leaving something that made me overtly miserable is small potatoes compared to walking away from something that just felt so right.
The problem was, of course, that I had come to be habituated to the rush of overworking that I had completely lost sight of any of the joy that brought me to the work in the first place. So, no, nothing felt right. I was just too busy to be aware of it until it laid me flat.
This summer has largely been about recovering and integrating lessons from this last year. Because it’s so unfamiliar to me, it’s been challenging managing my energy in response to internal states rather than to external stimuli. I used to be a pro at “standing at the center of the storm” whenever I had a bunch of meetings to attend, or a project to spearhead. These days I spend a lot of time either alone in quiet contemplation, or deep in conversation with someone whose company I value. I show up for myself every single day, I am more in touch with my body than ever before, and my heart is lighter than it has been in years. I can actually get through entire days—no, weeks—doing only what I want to be doing. This has been the tremendous gift of burnout.
The fact that I can talk about the gift of burnout is a good sign that I am out of the woods. I still maintain a light touch with my young people, and it’s wonderful having them in my life without needing to chase any of them down. (Tomorrow I get to see the lovely Maurice, who is being mentored by my husband in martial arts before he leaves for Shanghai to study abroad with NYU!) And, yes, I’m still dreaming and scheming about the future of Minds On Fire.
Oh, and I’m flying!