It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Burnout

boundaries burnout christmas gigging holidays Dec 03, 2022
front of an old truck with an evergreen wreath on the grill

I used to love the holiday season.

When I was little, my mom and I would drive up and down the streets looking for the most festively-decorated houses, shouting, "Oooh!" every time we would see one that was particularly spectacular.

We would decorate the tree with a variety of ornaments (as a violin teacher, she could always could count on receiving ornaments from her students every year), then take an evening to string popcorn and cranberries instead of using tinsel.

Singing Christmas carols with my family was always special, because we would always have four-part harmony. Even if we didn't have all the voice parts singing, my mom or one of my aunts would break out their recorders to play the parts we were missing.

On Christmas Eve, I would go to sleep dreaming of Santa Claus and reindeer, and the next morning, I was excited to find my stocking was stuffed full of goodies - well, mostly oranges and toothbrushes - but the point was that it started off empty and then magically became full.

When I was a kid, the holidays were all about magic.

Then I got older and started gigging. Growing up with two musician parents, I had always known that the holidays were the busiest times of the year, so when I started earning money with my voice, I was excited to capitalize on the opportunities that good old Yuletide cheer could bring me.

I caroled at street fairs. I sang at church services. I performed in every Messiah in the tri-state area. There were years when I was so booked between Thanksgiving and Christmas that it wasn't even about not having any days off - that was a given - but my average day would have at least two gigs in two different towns 50 miles apart, sometimes with a costume change in between.

I was making more money on average between November and December than I would for the entire rest of the year.

And it was turning me into a Grinch.

I had no time at all for myself. I couldn't take the time to decorate my house with evergreens and cranberries. I had no time to cook for myself, much less bake cookies for a party. Not that I even had time to go to any parties…I was too busy getting paid to sing at other people's events.

I began to resent the twinkly lights, the 24/7 soundtrack that I had to regurgitate on demand, and the overly cheery elves at the mall. Watching other people enjoy the season only left a bitter taste in my mouth, knowing that my hard work was making the holidays bright for everyone…except me.

This year, as the post-COVID* holiday season kicks into high gear, I have noticed all the performers and arts organizations rushing out to do as many in-person concerts as they can. It's only natural, after a few years of isolation, for us all to try to get back to the lucrative days of yore. And there's nothing at all wrong with taking all the gigs you want!

But as someone who has done all the gigs I possibly could during many holiday seasons, I, for one, am not looking for another chance to burn out.

This year, I decided to do something different. I am not taking all the gigs.

I'm only taking the ones that I want to do, not the ones that I feel like I should, or that will get me the most money.

I'm making a list (and checking it twice) of all the things that I love about this season, and I'm making room in my schedule for pure enjoyment. I check my calendar daily to make sure that there's enough room between appointments for me to rest.

I am sure that this is already a busy season for you, too. So I invite you to take some time now, before we get too far into December, to take stock of the gigs you are doing and why you are doing them.

Get intentional. If you are already feeling anxious and overwhelmed by all the commitments you have made, try to look for joy in the little moments.

Maybe, as you're driving back and forth between gigs, you will pass through a neighborhood with some fancy decorations, and you can shout, "Oooh!" to nobody in particular.

I know I will be doing that.


*COVID is still around, by the way, even though people are acting like it's all in the past. So is the flu, and RSV, making 2022 a tripledemic year. Please wear your masks when you can and get all the boosters!

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