This is a system I came up with when I experienced the worst case of burnout in my life - professionally that is, there's been lots of emotional burnout along the way (yay).
These questions are especially helpful during times of overwhelm. So if you’re feeling like you just have way too much on your plate, the brain fog is in full force, maybe you're having trouble remembering simple things, and you might not even be able to decipher what you love doing vs. what you hate doing because you’re just so burnt out out and DONE.
If any of this sounds like where you’re at right now, I feel you, I’ve been there, and I highly recommend you take a few minutes to sit down, do the exercises, and complete the action steps that are laid out for you in this post as soon as possible. It’s imperative for your well being to do so.
You can get the worksheet that corresponds with this post here.
For in depth discussion about this topic:
So let me take you back to when I hit big time burnout. I was in the entertainment industry for quite some time (that should really tell you everything you need to know right there LOL). I was working a corporate day job on a studio lot full time, doing stand-up comedy part-time on nights and weekends, I was in the process of writing my second feature film for a network, was on an improv troupe, had just started a podcast, was going on auditions, had a product-based side hustle - I was an absolute disaster - like, if I didn’t keep a detailed calendar and schedule I would not have been able to tell you off the top of my head where I was supposed to be at any given time, what city I was supposed to be in for a show that night... that was just my life. I was perpetually scatterbrained.
Although I was having fun moments here and there with my work, I overall felt very lost, so disconnected, frustrated, just ya know...kinda depressed honestly. I was always a hard worker and I would usually get promoted at my jobs relatively quickly, but I just didn’t know where I wanted to focus my energy. So I felt like I was always working hard to benefit other people - or a company, but could not do the same thing for myself. Deep down I knew if I could just figure out what I really wanted to do, I had the confidence I could make it happen because of this work ethic I have. So, if you’re feeling that way, you are not alone. If you’re asking yourself how is it that I work my ass off, I’m competent at my jobs, so why the fuck can’t I figure out how to get compensated in the way that I want for my hard work, doing something I enjoy? It's such a frustrating place to be.
So at the time, I didn't know what I wanted to do, or at least I thought I didn't know. Truth is, I knew what I loved doing I just didn’t think in a million years I could get paid for it. What I loved doing was helping people with their creative projects and talking with my hilarious friends about deep shit - cut to 3 1/2 years later that’s exactly what I get paid to do with my coaching business and The Self-Helpless Podcast.
So my approach up until this point of complete burnout was just throwing a bunch of random shit at the wall - a very large wall covered in all my shit, and I was just waiting to see what was gonna stick. I figured whatever people seemed to like, or what made money - that would be the direction I’d go in. But, I had never asked myself what I truly wanted to be doing. I was willing to exclusively let external factors play a role in what I wanted to do with my life. I realize now that it was a very backwards approach I was taking - not to say experimenting is not important, it absolutely is. I’m all about trying things and figuring things out by doing, but by that point in my life I had enough information about what I enjoyed and what I didn't enjoy, I just wasn't paying attention. I wasn't aware. I wasn't listening to me.
I was stuck in this loop of letting other people dictate my choices. Whether because it was what they wanted for themselves so I figured maybe I wanted that too? Or, someone’s opinion of what I should do was logical so guess I should just do that?
I remember the exact moment my brain just kind of stopped working. It felt like a switch just went off and my brain was like NOPE, you have 10 projects on your plate - this bitch is closed. I was walking around on my lunch break at my day job and all of a sudden my mind just went blank. I would not have been able to tell you what time it was or what I was supposed to be doing when I got back to the office, I had even missed an important lunch meeting that I had planned - just totally forgot to show up and I was mortified.
And although that panicky feeling was relatively brief, it scared the living shit out of me. I didn't truly realize that overworking myself the way I was doing, and had been doing, could really have this type of consequence. That’s when I knew something had to change, it was no longer negotiable. I had to take a moment, sit with myself, and get some things off of my schedule immediately. I was overcommitted, over-scheduled, overworking, overwhelmed, OVER IT - all the frickin' overs in the book, and it was now affecting my health. Plus, of course I was getting sick a lot, felt very sluggish...ya know the way you feel when you’re working yourself into the ground?
So here's the 6 step process I took that led me down a much better path. A path towards healthier boundaries, authentic relationships, improved health, work that I love, free time, and making good money.
1. WHAT IS YOUR IDEAL DAY-TO-DAY?
The first thing I did after collecting myself after the burnout breakdown, I took a piece of paper, and I asked myself this question (I didn’t pose the question this professionally, I’ll be honest), I actually asked myself, what the fuck do you actually want?
All I knew is that I wanted to work from home, set my own schedule, and do something creative that I loved.
That was my big goal. You might not know what your big goal is until you ask yourself this question. I didn’t start with a specific job as my goal, it was all about how I wanted to spend my time. That’s all I had. It wasn't tangible. I knew I didn’t want a corporate day job where I was working 9-5 in an office, but I also didn't want a typical performer lifestyle where I’d be gone on nights and weekends either. I wanted something kind of in the middle? Not too structured but structured enough where I could utilize my skillset and interests? Felt like an impossible thing to achieve, especially because I didn’t know what the thing was. So it’s ok if you don’t have a crystal clear vision of what you want, it's ok to go with the feeling for now.
If you do have something specific in mind, whether it’s a career, a lifestyle, etc. - great! Write it down. Your ideal day could also just be as simple as the opposite of what you hate doing. Maybe you want to be in nature more, or you want a less stressful day job, or you want kids, or you want to launch a passion project. Write it down.
This is the most important part of this exercise: do not edit your answer. Do not judge yourself for your answer.
Give yourself permission to write that shit down. If you want to be the most famous neuroscientist in the world, write it down. If you want to live in the middle of nowhere and have 17 rescue dogs, write it down. If you want more time to hike, write it down. If you want to feel creatively fulfilled, write it down. If you want a rich husband, but you feel bad for wanting that, write it down. This want could be professional, personal, financial, lifestyle, wellness-related, or all of the above. Don't be a dick to yourself. If you can’t even allow yourself to write your own thoughts on paper, shit’s not gonna get easier for you.
No answers like well, I went to law school and that took a lot of time and a lot of money therefore I should use my degree, so I’m going to write down open my own law practice even though I hate every second of it (PS if you love law, that’s amazing this is just an example). Basically, if you could make a full-time living doing this thing you want to do with the snap of your fingers, or you’d feel good about having this thing you want because it was super attainable like, tomorrow, write it down! If you could have anything and it was guaranteed to work, what would it be? Don’t let this answer be something you think you should want, get rid of the shoulds - shoulds are assholes and they usually stem from something you’ve been told, not from what you actually want.
Now that you’ve uncovered what you want, we’re gonna call this your goal. So you can circle it, you can summarize it and write it at the top of your paper, or if you have the worksheet there’s a spot for you to fill it in. This goal is going to act as a compass for you.
2. WHAT IS CURRENTLY ON YOUR PLATE?
Now I want you to write down alllll of the things you currently do. Whether these are projects, jobs, other responsibilities like chores or taking care of your children, whatever you want to take stock off. You can create one big master list of everything, or you can separate these into categories (I think I just heard the extra Type A’s grab more paper). And if you have the worksheet, this is laid out for you already.
My list was very professionally focused since that's where I felt I needed the most relief, so here's my original list:
Writing second screenplay
Writing packet submissions
Dicks by Delanie
Make your list.
3. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THAT'S SUPPORTING YOUR GOAL?
You might already be taking steps towards your goal - for instance, if your goal is to be a full-time dog walker, perhaps you're already walking dogs on weekends as a side hustle. Awesome! Once I was staring at my list, I was relieved to see that at least a couple things were supporting my goal in some way.
I was recording a podcast with my friends that I absolutely loved doing (shameless plug for The Self-Helpless podcast), and if this podcast were to grow and start making money, it would be a flexible, creative job I enjoyed that I could basically do from home.
I also had this hobby called Dicks by Delanie where I painted penis cartoons on coffee mugs. I would turn people, characters, and celebrities into...dick mugs. For example, if someone ordered a Harry Potter dick mug, I would call it Hairy Peter and it would look like a Harry Potter cartoon except the body and feet of the cartoon would be the shaft and balls of a penis - anyway this is officially a tangent we don't need to go on LOL. I made these mugs for friends, family, friends of friends - just kind of on the down-low for fun, but people seemed to enjoy it, and I did make money from it, it just hadn't been a focus of mine. But, when I looked at Dicks by Delanie through this new lens, I realized it also checked off all the boxes for my big goal: creative, flexible, could do it from home, be my own boss, make my own schedule, it was fun, utilized my skillset - COOL.
So I had 2 things on my list that, if they worked, could give me the day-to-day that I really wanted.
Look at your list and make note of the things that you’re already doing that support your goal. Feel like nothing you're currently doing is supporting your goal? Don't worry, this will be addressed, just keep going. :)
4. WHAT'RE YOU DOING THAT'S NOT SUPPORTING YOUR GOAL?
Let's keep going with the dog-walker analogy from the last section, shall we? So you want to be a full-time dog walker and you're walking dogs on the weekends, yay. However, let's say you're also cat-sitting once a week and you are NOT into it. Not so yay.
Determining what tasks are eating away at your time, and draining your energy, is incredibly important. We need to free up as much time as possible, so you can either double down on what's already working, or implement something new that will support your goal. This will lead to more excitement, energy, and most importantly - more of the shit you actually want.
So here are the things that were on my list that were not supporting my goal of having a creative, fun, flexible job that I could do from home:
Stand up comedy: the schedule for stand-up is polar opposite of what I really wanted. This job requires you being out on nights and weekends (I'm a homebody), a lot of travel (I hate flying), being on stage (I'm an introvert with stage fright - seriously wtf was I doing), and even though I had enjoyed the rush and the excitement of this craft a few years prior, it just wasn't doing it for me anymore.
Writing my second screenplay: I hated this process so much. I am very much an instant gratification type of person. If I write something, or I have an idea, I want to get it out into the world as quickly as possible, and if you've ever written a script (or book, or other large body of work), you know that's not usually how that shit works. Although arguably this was a creative job with somewhat flexible hours, it did not tick all my boxes and I did not like it.
Auditions: most auditions I was going on were things I didn't want to get. I remember going on auditions for roles like "pop culture host" even though I don’t know shit about pop culture (I can’t tell you who sings what song on the radio - pretty much ever, I don’t know the name of all the 3,000 Kardashians, I’m the worst for this position), yet I was trying to force myself into these roles. Why?
Writing packet submissions: I had submitted a couple packets for late night TV stuff, and I hated it. If I write a joke, I'd rather film it or tell the joke on stage, and I wasn’t even a comedian who enjoyed writing topical jokes or political jokes in my act ever. I was forcing myself to do these because I thought that's what I had to do, since I took on this identity of comedian, performer, writer.
Improv troupe: this was actually pretty fun, but if I had kept going, it just lead to the performer lifestyle and schedule that I really didn't want, and was just very done with. I didn't want to be busy anymore.
Day job: I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing, but I didn't hate it. It provided the structure and income I needed. Knowing how much money was coming in each month and having set hours freed up a lot of mental energy opposed to the gig work that I had done prior (figuring out where your next paycheck is coming from can drain you, and can leave you feeling unmotivated to create sh*t).
If you're looking at your list, and you're having a hard time deciphering what is supporting your goal, and what isn’t supporting your goal, here are some questions I like to ask myself when I'm trying to determine whether I'm doing something for the right reason (and by right I mean what my true self really wants):
Do I hate doing this, or do I love it?
Does it drain my energy, or does it give me energy?
Am I excited to do it, or do I dread it?
Am I doing this thing out of obligation or guilt, or am I doing it because I want to?
If I didn't have to do this thing, would I feel relieved or disappointed?
Am i doing this thing out of fear that if I stop, opportunities will disappear? Or am doing it from a place of security?
Would I be doing this thing if couldn’t tell anyone about it? (this answer can usually tell you if you’re acting out of ego or If you’re acting out of authenticity - ego isn’t always negative but it can cloud our judgment)
Would I do this thing for free because I love it, or hell no I'd only do it if I’m getting paid? (I’m not saying you shouldn't charge for work you enjoy, of course you should, but this might help you gage if you actually love what you’re doing.)
Would I do this thing if it were my last two years on earth? (If you had two years left - one year you get to do something you love for money, and the following year you get to retire and do whatever you want with the money you earned, what would you do?)
5. WHAT DO I WANT TO TAKE OFF MY PLATE, OR EASE OUT OF?
Here are my examples, and the exact action steps I took, for each thing on my list that I didn't want to do anymore:
Stand-up comedy - this was something I chose to ease out of instead of immediately taking off my plate. It was bringing in an income that I needed at the time, and I knew in order for me to be ok with leaving, I was going to have to create something before I left. I had been doing it for 6 1/2 years, it was a big part of my identity, and I kinda wanted something to show for it? I was a person who liked getting a certificate, or the graduation ceremony, at the end of something, and with stand up - you don’t get that shit. I had to gift it to myself in order to move on. If I hadn't, it would've felt like a lack of closure. My practical action step was to, not only to do way less shows in general, but to also produce my own comedy special and then, I would leave. And that’s what I did. I whipped something together in a few months, which was quick, considering when most comedians film a special, they’ve been doing the material for several years. Most of my special was new jokes, which was scary, but I didn’t care anymore. I just needed to be done. I filmed this crazy idea I had, with the help of producer Corey Craig. We filmed it, he edited it quickly, I uploaded it, and I left stand-up. The special is called Love At First Cousin - that was my self-imposed culmination of comedy.
Writing the screenplay - this was not something I needed to ease out of, I was done and ready to go. My action step was emailing the point person for this project and telling them I didn't wan to move forward, I thanked them for the opportunity and told them I was freeing up time for other things. One email was sent, and it was off my plate. Byeeee.
Auditions - I stopped going. I called my manager and told him I wanted to take my career in a different direction, thanked him for taking me on as a client, but I no longer wanted to be submitted for any further gigs.
Writing packet submissions - I stopped halfway through a packet. I was in the process of writing one for a network show and I just...didn’t send it in. Didn’t even email an explanation since it was an open invitation to several people. I. just. stopped.
Improv troupe - I sent a group text to the troupe, told them I had a blast performing with them, but that next show would have to be my last. One text, and it was done.
Day job - Had to keep it for now, but I wrote down the action step, keep this until you don't have to, and it just felt better at least having a plan for this, instead of aimlessly wondering around my own life.
I'm sure these actions steps are coming across very nonchalant, but I was very uncomfortable and nervous making these moves. But, I was more nervous and uncomfortable by the thought of NOT making these moves and instead continue what I had been doing. I remember pacing around my room while making the calls, and the texts and emails.
The relief I felt after getting out of all this shit was incredible.
Look at your list and write down 1 action step that you can take for each thing on your list that is not supporting your big goal.
6. WHAT DO I WANT TO FOCUS ON AND IMPLEMENT?
I wanted to focus on two things: The Self-Helpless Podcast and Dicks by Delanie. Those were the things that could lead to the lifestyle I wanted. I figured if I used the energy that was being distributed amongst allllll these other projects and commitments I had, and instead, I poured that energy into these, maybe something awesome could happen?
My action step for Dicks by Delanie was, I'm going to take this hobby and turn it into a real business.
My action step for Self-Helpless was, I'm going to leverage my skillset to help this thing grow.
Of course more specific action steps came later - like send that email, experiment with different materials, and so on. But, I actually had a goal, and a plan.
And that’s what I did. I narrowed things down from 8 projects to 2.
I was able to leave my day job in less than a year.
If you feel like nothing on your list is supporting your big goal, add 1 new thing today - whether it's signing up for a class you’re curious about, doing something you enjoy like sitting in a park somewhere, or calling a friend you’ve been missing. Incorporate things you like doing until your schedule has more things you look forward to and less things you dread. Don't know wtf you like doing yet? That's ok! Try something. Literally anything. Ask yourself during, or after, if you enjoyed it enough to do it again. If you didn’t, you don’t have to do it. If you did, keep going until you have more information about what role this thing will have in your life.
Your goal will change over time, and that's ok. When you reach your goal, you'll have even more information about what you want to work towards next. Remember to celebrate every milestone, big and small.
COMPLETE 1 ACTION STEP ON YOUR LIST TODAY.
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