The Energy

Hey all, Kole here. I'm sorry this entry is so late. Easter happened (or "hop"pened).

This entry might come across as a little whiny, but it's about something that's a real issue (I think). We frequently get compliments about our shows. Usually it's about quantity, sometimes it's about quality, but most of the time it's couched alongside a variation of the following sentiment: "I don't know where you guys get the time or the energy."

I don't know either.

Bloodborne came out a couple of weeks ago, and it was important that I beat it as quickly as possible. So I took a week off of work to mainline it.

I've mentioned it here before, but during the day I work for a company called Epipheo. We write and produce short animated marketing videos. As a "Story Lead", I work directly with clients to learn what their company does, figure out an effective way to explain it, and then I write a script and direct the people with actual talent. We make videos like this. I manage 15-20 projects at once, and it's an incredibly stressful job on its own, but they're cool enough and flexible enough to let me take time away to handle my side business.

As great as Bloodborne is, playing 45 hours of it within seven days is taxing. It takes a chunk out of you. But when the credits rolled and real life resumed, I was stuck with shows and emails that I'd neglected, and the hassle of picking up projects at work that I'd foisted on my colleagues.

I haven't recovered from that yet. I'm still exhausted and wired at the same time. None of my usual tricks have worked. A GTD mind sweep left me overwhelmed, cleaning my house was a hollow gesture because I'll be moving soon, I've been too distracted to read, and sitting down and minding my breath felt futile. Normally I'd play games, but... that's what got me here in the first place. Walking outside helps a bit.

I'll find my equilibrium eventually. I usually do. But I'm left in a state of protracted procrastination where I look at the work ahead of me and don't even know where to begin. Thank god I already paid my taxes.

When I feel bad about this, I have to make a conscious effort not to beat myself up over it. Across the network, people are very, very busy. Gary is balancing full time schoolwork and a job. Dennis works a job more stressful than my own, and taking care of his infant son. Ben works doing genius-maths for a game company. David is pursuing his PHD. My brother, Kris, just had a whole bunch of life upheavals.

I recognize that it takes some gall to complain, but all the same, I'll find myself not leaving the house on weekends. I'll inadvertently ignoring texts and calls, and not realize I've done so until hours later because I've been engrossed in something or another. Sometimes the energy just isn't there.

Still here? Cool. This is where I stop grousing about my personal issues and talk about the creative work that goes into producing our shows. Sorry this was a bit of a hike.

A while back, running this network stopped being all about an unbridled passion for the subject matter. This is a good thing, I think. Passion alone burns like sugar. Passion alone can dry up when the audience doesn't show up. Passion alone is inconsistent and unreliable. The passion for games, and talking about them, was augmented and added-to by a necessity to produce consistent work for a waiting audience.

For any company or creative endeavor, maturation means laying some cement and making sure your success is repeatable. The work doesn't stop. Long before we hit "Publish", we're already planning for the next episode. You've gotten glimpses at the apparatus that holds this network up, and it's absolutely necessary.

I'd say that a big part of what drives me forward -- where I get the energy -- is knowing that I have a "duty" (loaded word, I know) to keep the machine rolling forward. If you want to accomplish anything at all, give yourself a budget and a deadline. Since we traffic solely in time here, those two are pretty much one in the same. Nobody will yell at me if we slip a date. In fact, I won't yell at anyone if they slip a date. I don't have the right. But those deadlines are important to me because I know that I wouldn't do any work without them.

Audience affirmation is nice, but it's an inconsistent motivator. As we grow, we open ourselves up to more criticism and dissenting voices. Which is fine. They say mean things, but I think mean things about myself all of the time too. It's a problem. At the risk of tripping the Douche Alarm so hard that the DoD scrambles its jets, I'll admit that I've pursued mindfulness practices over the past several years in order to get my head right (cue "Samsara" goof).

This has been successful (insofar as I'm no longer dependent on pharmaceuticals), but it comes with a fundamental mindset shift. By rigorously trying not to identify with the feelings that arise when I read feedback about our shows, I work hard to not let either good news or bad news affect me too drastically. You leave the good, and you leave the bad, and you make note of any constructive changes you can make. Then you leave behind anything that isn't actionable. If I'm going to work hard to say "This person said my personality is gross, and I won't let it stick to me", then I can't turn around and say "This person thinks I'm funny, and I'll hold onto that forever."

Feedback and interaction, whether it's positive, negative, or adding content to our shows, isn't a reliable motivator for me. It might be for you, but it isn't for me.

I suppose I'm dancing around the topic of burnout. There's a very poignant Onion article that I've printed out. I keep it in my messenger bag. It's titled "Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life". It's perfectly incisive, utterly devastating, and a great snapshot of the absurdity of the disparity between how we spend our days, and what fulfills us. It's this disparity that causes us to burn out. Our minds are in one gear, while our efforts are in another gear. If your day job and the creative work you voluntarily pursue are two entirely different things, the only place you'll find any "give" is in the necessities of sleep, eating, social time, relationships, or leisure.

By this definition, I suffer burnout very frequently.

All of this may arise from the fact that I'm spreading myself way too thin. Which makes me a terrible source of advice for how to fit extracurricular creative work into your days. It's likely that I'm wound too tight. But as of this moment, it's not financially possible to jump in headfirst. I didn't touch a cent of my network money until very, very recently because I was terrified we'd need it to stay afloat if the Patreon didn't work out. I wake up most mornings thinking "Today's the day it all goes away."

The other day, my boss asked me what the endgame of this podcasting stuff was. I told him, very frankly, that I wish I could do this full time. I would be an independent business owner who focused all of his efforts toward developing new shows, honing existing shows, pursuing my interests and curiosities through discussion with smart people, and making my audience happy. I told him I felt goofy/guilty/bad admitting to my boss that my dream job lied elsewhere. Of course, he was cool. Everyone at Epipheo is ridiculously supportive of what I do here.

But it's one of those situations where I'm being drawn in two different directions. Lots of stuff is getting lost in the pull. And everyone all around knows it, even me.