Burnout leaches into the walls of your hopes and dreams, depleting your time, energy and – worse – your will to do anything about it. The boundless, all-consuming nature of burnout feels insurmountable, and yet, the thought of it lingering for even a day longer seems unbearable.
If you’ve ever experienced burnout, you’ve witnessed your inspiration and motivation become greatly compromised. You might have outsourced an overwhelming amount of information as an attempted means to fight it. According to the award-winning speaker, social entrepreneur, and author of her just-released memoir, Beginner’s Pluck, Liz Forkin Bohannon, some of the most common, well-intentioned advice in the self-help ozone – including to “dream big” and “find your passion” – have arguably adverse effects. In her eyes, they’re feeding your burnout.
Forkin Bohannon challenges some of the most ubiquitous narratives in personal growth and development. In Beginner’s Pluck, she shares a refreshing perspective on passion, purpose, and potential, in a hilarious, honest way.
I asked her to weigh in on burnout, the steps to take to build a purposeful life, and other key takeaways from Beginner’s Pluck. Here’s what she had to say.
In your book, you challenge the notions of “following your dreams” and “finding your passion.” Tell us more about that.
As part of my work as the CEO of the socially-conscious fashion brand, Sseko Designs, I’ve had the privilege of traveling the globe — from rural Kentucky to Estonia, and connecting with tens of thousands of people about their desires to lead lives of purpose. I’ve interviewed and coached hundreds of social entrepreneurs and individuals seeking meaningful vocational opportunity. Through these experiences, I’ve witnessed first-hand how detrimental the ubiquitous narratives to “Dream BIG!” and “Find Your Passion!” truly are – and I’ve got to tell you, I think we’ve got some things very wrong. While I believe these messages were intended to offer encouragement and empowerment, they actually generate anxiety, fear, and serious analysis paralysis.
You ask readers to forget convention advice for “following your dreams,” and, instead, encourage them to “dream small” and “own your average.”
We have flipped this unhelpful, self-help, motivational mumbo-jumbo on its head by instead talking about the importance of “Dreaming SMALL” and “Owning Your Average.” The “passion gurus” are imploring you to go “find your passion,” but the truth is, you will never “find” your passion – because your passion and purpose isn’t waiting to be discovered. It’s something you build. That may just seem like semantics, but it’s actually an incredibly important distinction to make that fundamentality shifts your mindset out of a state of waiting and into creating. Beginner’s Pluck is all about teaching you how to do just that: build a meaningful life of purpose, passion, and impact.
Why do you believe curiosity is a powerful antidote to burnout?
Curiosity breeds freedom, which is the antidote to burnout. Curiosity gives us the freedom to ask interesting questions, follow leads, and explore and integrate. What’s remarkable about the journey and commitment to become more curious is that curiosity isn’t something you have to “achieve;” It’s simply a place you have to find your way back to. Whether you’re just starting out or well on your way to becoming an expert, curiosity is the art of becoming fully awake once again.
You’re an entrepreneur, a CEO, a mom, and now a published author. When was a time you faced burnout and how did you overcome it?
I might be controversial here, but I am going to tell you the honest truth: I haven’t ever faced traditional burnout. I’ve experienced serious smoldering, and definitely dangerous levels of overheating (laughs), but every time I begin to feel that way, I am very serious about consulting my life manifesto and my Very Important Promises (a chapter in my book that fully covers this topic!), reevaluating how I am spending my time and energy, and why.
I’ve also been relentless about pursuing and building community and friendships that have been an absolute lifeline of support and grounding force for me. Because of that commitment, in ten years (and through seasons of working like an absolute madwoman and making huge sacrifices and taking big risks and failing a lot), I have yet to reach a State of Burn Out Emergency. I am also committed to taking a sabbatical for the first time in my life within the next 15 months – because I am now able to foresee being in need of an actual break, emotionally and intellectually. I want to get ahead and plan now so I don’t end up in an unhealthy place. I am telling the Internet my plans to hold me accountable!
What can you do to spark curiosity when you’re feeling stuck?
I also have a whole chapter addressing this question in Beginner’s Pluck – but my short answer is this: My favorite way to spark curiosity is to role play and pretend to be a journalist, in assignment of your own life. Act as a cub reporter, new on the beat. Start looking around and ask interesting questions, not needing to confirm your pre-existing biases. You don’t need to prove to everyone around you that you’ve got it all figured out. In fact, it’s infinitely easier to learn when you know you don’t. Show up with a pure, truth-seeking, nothing-to-lose sense of curiosity and I all but guarantee you’ll start to reawaken to wonder and curiosity.
You dissuade from thinking there’s a finite destination to finding passion and purpose. How is this helpful to facing burnout?
The view that you will “arrive” once you’ve “found” the destination of your “passion” is so incredibly toxic (and just plain stupid) and if you believe this narrative, there is a 100 percent chance you will eventually face burnout – because you’re hunting for a unicorn that doesn’t exist. Not only will you never “find” it, but if you stay truly curious and awake, you will constantly be evolving, and that passion and purpose will grow and develop along with you. The other really unhelpful part of that notion is that when you finally do “arrive,” it won’t be difficult and all your problems will be solved. While building a life of purpose and passion will transform your life, it won’t make it easier, per se. You will still have problems, but they will be infinitely more interesting and meaningful.
What advice would you give to others who feel like they’re not doing enough for their passion or purpose?
Truly, read my book! I could answer you fully here, but I’ve already written 60,000 words on this exact question! I wrote this book for anyone who feels stuck or scared; who feels not enough or too far behind. You are not alone! Become a Plucky and you’ll find a community of other people (myself included) who are in this with you. All of us on this joyful and gut-wrenching and life-giving and courageous journey of not finding but building lives of purpose, passion, and impact.
What has been the most rewarding part of writing your book?
This project has been absolutely one of the most intellectually challenging and vulnerable things I have ever done! But that is why it’s been so incredibly rewarding. Writing a cohesive narrative and book required me to clarify and refine my beliefs about how to build a life of purpose and impact – down to the very letter, and required me to face the most self-doubt and noxious self-talk I’ve ever experienced. I’m on the other side of it now, saying to those incredibly hateful voices in my head, “I am still here. And while it may not resonate with every human on planet Earth, my story and these beliefs matter. So shut the hell up, the bar is closed, go home.” And that feels really, really good.
Tell us about a time you went from surviving to thriving.
The last ten years of my life have been this journey on a meta-level and micro-level, experiencing this cycle of surviving to thriving for probably every 60 days and sometimes from morning to afternoon! Ha! Frankly, writing this book was just barely surviving. I had a six-week-old baby when I got the call saying that my editorial deadline had been bumped up by several months, and I had about 30 days to finish writing this book. I wrote Beginner’s Pluck with a newborn baby strapped to me, bloody nipples from breastfeeding a tongue-tied baby, and completely sleep deprived. While giving birth to my son, I told myself during contractions that I can do anything for 90 seconds. There will be a break and then an end. This isn’t forever.
Similarly during this season, I was constantly reminding myself that this, too, shall pass. I can do anything for 30 days. I asked for help. I called in the troops. My toddler ate a lot of mac and cheese (he was in heaven about that, let’s be honest) and I mainly saw my husband when I’d come home from writing at 2 a.m just in time for the next feeding and we’d pass each other in the hallway, bleary-eyed, and half awake. I knew I wouldn’t be my best self and I asked for forgiveness in advance and loads and loads of grace. During the most desperate nights, I honestly thought a lot about the absolutely incredible women (and men) across the globe that I’ve had the privilege and honor of meeting and recalled their stories of perseverance and grit. I thought to myself, if they can do that, surely I can do this… and I did! My kid is alive (and survived his very difficult mac and cheese withdrawal). Once it was done, I started prioritizing things, like exercise, sleep (as much as possible with a newborn!), and relationships again.
I don’t think the feeling of just barely surviving is actually bad, so long as there is an end in sight, and you can see it and claim it and then rest. I think absolute balance all the time is overrated, actually. Good things are hard. It’s okay to lean into the hard, as long as you take a break before diving in again.