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  • Writer's pictureLisa

The Book Backstory, Part 1

On my 32nd wedding anniversary, I had a breakdown. It had nothing to do with my husband, my marriage, or my failure to get him a gift or even a card. We're pretty laid back when it comes to celebrations, but June 3 was off my radar. For two months, I had been trying to ignore the fatigue, apathy, and a general feeling of failure. I should have recognized what was happening, but it was easier to blame the pandemic. Honestly, it's a chicken-egg thing. Did the pandemic cause burnout, or did it simply hatch what was inevitable? It doesn't matter. I hit the wall that day and ended up laying on the couch in my office from morning until late afternoon. I've never done this before. In fact, I'm the person who feels guilty if I sit on my office couch during the day. I don't even know why I have an office couch.

Burnout is a real thing, which is not something I believed until it happened to me. It's an easy word to throw around. Man, I'm burned out on pizza these days. We're burned out after a busy week, so we'll have to take a raincheck on the happy hour invite. No, it's not the same thing. Over the past two years, it's emerged as a sidekick epidemic to the pandemic. If you've experienced burnout, you aren't alone.

After eight years of running a nonprofit I loved with all my heart and soul (still do), I had been fighting to keep a level of passion for the work. I had ignored the warning signs that came with poor work/life balance and felt certain that working harder was the answer. The first time I noticed there was a problem, Kyle and I had taken a day trip to hike after a busy week. I had been juggling five sewing classes, preparing for two craft fairs, and working to secure donations for 30 machines that would go to our class graduates. On the way back from hiking, I sat in the passenger's seat of the car and sobbed along with Florence and the Machine's High as Hope album. The entire album. I still can't listen to "Sky Full of Song" without feeling like my stomach is turning inside out. I knew something was wrong with me, but I pushed it down and kept marching forward. This is mostly how I deal with things. Just keep pedaling, smile, and if you're asked, answer that everything is fine. But it wasn't fine.

Six months later, when Kyle came into my office that afternoon to make anniversary dinner plans, I was taken off guard. Then I remembered I was supposed to be celebrating. I didn't have the slightest idea how that was going to work, so I told him to order Asian food, throw a blanket in the car, and take me to the park. We sat on the ground eating Pad Thai, while he watched me cry and asked every few minutes, "You're sure it's not me?" When I could finally tell him what I was feeling - the hopelessness, sadness, and exhaustion, I realized this was serious. I would not wake up tomorrow and keep pedaling.

I'm still not sure how you can love something so deeply and yet feel like it's draining every last ounce of your energy. Burnout made me wonder if the past eight years had been nothing but a mirage or if my motives had been adrift from the beginning. The world looked gray, and I knew it was time to stop trying to dissect burnout and start the process of leaving. I called for help from our board of directors, and we put a transition plan in place. And yet, I couldn't admit to them that what precipitated the need was a burnout that had almost done me in. "You just know when it's time to go," I said, which was true, but my pared-down explanation left out the ugly details. Our board members, who are also friends, were gracious as always, and we completed an accelerated transition in four months.

It took time and intentional inner work to climb out of the fog and fatigue. When the skies cleared, I would still be part of Rising Village as founder, but I wanted to go back to the beginning. I've been writing since I could hold a pen, and editing since my senior year of high school, so I slid into the familiar with new energy. I began a collaboration with three other freelancers to set up a publishing business, but something about Rising Village felt unfinished. It came to me one morning on a run. I realized that someday I will forget the details of how this nonprofit came about, how it grew, the struggles, surreal moments, the children and mothers, and what it all meant. The stories could easily be lost, and I want to remember it all. Most people who know about Rising Village only know the story in snippets, but it has a beginning, a messy middle, and then the part where my role as director ended. In this swiping, scrolling digital age when we're struggling to hold our attention on one thing for more than five minutes, I want to write something that will hang around for a while. There is always a story behind the story, so I decided to tell that one. How hard could it be? Our publishing business, Storia, includes a writer, editor, book designers, and a tech whiz, so we could take this idea from start to finish. Which is what we have done.

Writing a memoir is hard, which I should know because this is not my first one. The other one is safely hidden. Two hardcover copies exist - one on my shelf, and the other tucked away in the desert of Arizona. That's another story, which I'll save for another day.

I survived the burnout. It gave me perspective and gave the nonprofit a new executive director who is the right person for the journey ahead. And it gave me the opportunity to write the book I needed to write and learn a few lessons (again) along the way. If you're in the middle of a creative pursuit of any kind, come back for Part 2, where I share my best tips for procrastination, self-sabotage, and talking back to the voices in your head.

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