While interviewing filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson for NPR’s Fresh Air, long-time host and executive producer Terry Gross took some time to do something she rarely does—discuss her own life.
Anderson’s latest film, Phantom Thread, has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Anderson for Best Director. After discussing a point at which the main character (played by Daniel Day Lewis) gets sick, Gross and Anderson touched on the subject of burnout and the importance of taking a break from time to time.
Anderson explained that the scene was partially inspired by a time when he was so sick that he had to be cared for, which served as a wakeup call. “I mean, sometimes it just takes us something to slow down,” he said. “I do have trouble sort of just putting pause on a little bit. And so it’s helpful to have something like that kind of smack you upside the head.”
Gross then explained that she used to work so hard that she would enjoy getting sick because it was her only chance to take a break. “When the show went national, I got sick once. […] I couldn’t host the show. And I was so grateful to be sick because I was so exhausted,” Gross said. “I was working so hard, and I thought like this is the only way I’m ever, ever going to get a rest because I was working through the weekends and everything […] Looking back on it, I think like that’s really a terrible way of looking at it. Like you shouldn’t like welcome sickness in order to have a break.”
Gross made some changes to her life. “I time my vacations differently now so that, you know, I always have like some break to look forward to,” she said. “So I don’t think like, wow, I hope I get a little sick, so I get a break. That’s like not good.”
Anderson explained that he struggles with pausing to take time for himself. “I still have trouble reading a book during the day because it somehow feels indulging,” he said. “This is how I make my living. I still feel guilty.” He tries to look at the situation with gratitude, saying, “I’ve sunken into the pleasure of it – to think, my God, I’ve got my life in a way where I can read a book in the middle of the day.”
Gross and Anderson are not alone in their experience of burnout. “Burnout–and awareness about its dangers–is now a front-burner topic, both collectively and individually,” Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington explained in an article in 2017. “It’s a part of our everyday conversation and, collectively, it’s finally coming to be regarded as the public health issue it is. More and more people are coming out to talk about their own wake-up calls, or how they changed their lives, or just about problems they’re having changing the way they work and live.”
They include Golden State Warriors star Andre Iguodala, Jeff Bezos, who spoke to Thrive Global about the importance of getting enough sleep and Selena Gomez, who explained how she took a “hiatus” after feeling burned out. These conversations are changing our notion of success. “Sleep deprivation has gone from something you’d brag about in a job interview to a giant red flag,” Huffington writes. Like Gross and Anderson, many people across the world are beginning to understand and address the dangers of sleep deprivation and burnout and the need for self-care and a more sustainable lifestyle.