How to Avoid Burnout

Lessons On Chilling Out

I know, you probably didn’t expect to be getting advice from the flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) today, but here we go.

If you’re familiar at all with these creatures, you may know that they’re quite famous for their flashy, brilliant displays. Glowing-in-the-dark, rippling dazzling lights, and larger-than-life colors and displays are all part of the deal for these creatures – after all, they’re called flamboyant cuttlefish!


Until recently, it was thought that these animals were always flashy and gorgeous, mainly because that’s how they were always filmed and/or displayed. Divers routinely photograph them looking amazing, so what gives? It turns out: the presence of the diver (or any threat or disturbance, for that matter) is what sets off the light show!

The reality is that cuttlefish reserve these flashy displays and shows for special occasions. In fact, they spend most of their time completely chilling out, camouflaged into their surroundings. They have the ability to dazzle, but they don’t force themselves to do it all the time for no reason.


Are you catching what I’m laying down here? Does it remind you at all of a valuable lesson about social media, promotion, or even just life, in general?


When I first started writing professionally (that is, for publishers, with contracts/readers, etc), I put a lot of pressure on myself to always be active online. I wanted to build an audience! To find my readers! To form real relationships that mattered! Like most people just starting out in creative and online businesses, I burnt out quickly.

It’s impossible to keep up with the light show of social media. Too much is fake. Too much is curated. And too much is…too much. We begin organizing our actions based on what other people are doing, and that comparison is a dangerous (and maddening!) game.

I wish I’d thought of the cuttlefish earlier!

With this thought in mind, how can we reframe our efforts to put our best foot forward, no matter what we’re doing? We can learn a lesson from the cuttlefish: save your energy for when it really matters.

It's so simple, it just might work.

Maybe this means you reserve your dazzle for when you’re sharing a fun, new product that you know is going to take a lot of your energy. Maybe it means you save some energy for the first day back at school as an educator.

Or maybe, it just means looking within every time you’re tugged towards a sense of urgency to be amazing and present and accounted for.

Do you really want to devote efforts to this thing right now? Are you making the choice to 'turn your lights on' because you actually want to? Or do you feel some sort of pressure because of what you see others doing?

Or, can you be equally happy taking your leave mentally from the situation, and staying camouflaged a little while, saving your energy for when it matters more to you? You don't have to answer every call to greatness to be an incredible, generous person.

Obligatory caveat: this isn't me telling you that it's a good idea to retreat away and never share your gifts or light with the world! We need you! But I am saying that it can be very easy to get into a habit of 'being on', even when your body, mind, or spirit are screaming for a break.

Do you read me?

We can’t be all things to all people, and we certainly can’t be a dazzling light show all of the time. However this message resonates with you – whether it’s regarding family duties, or creative work, or your job – hear it well.

You don’t need to be dazzling every single second; in fact, life will be a lot easier if you save your lights for when they have the most meaning to you.

In the same way that a tree can't bloom all year long, you can't expect yourself to be operating at your top, fullest, most beautiful and productive capacity every second. Take a page from the cuttlefish, and be mindful of the expectations you put on yourself. Take the pressure off, because you don't need to dazzle every day!

If this resonates with you, forward it along a buddy!

Take home message:
You get to choose where and how your energy gets spent. When in doubt, think like a cuttlefish and save it for when it counts.

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