Some thoughts and ruminations about fuel sources and ways of working that I wrote to get some clarity for myself. As someone with ADHD and a history of relying on mania to get work done, as well as working in fields that are prone to overwork and burn-out, I’m trying to figure out healthier, more sustainable ways of working. Thought I’d share it in case it resonates with anyone else struggling with this stuff.
Fuel Sources & Ways of Working
Relying on a manic state to produce work. Contributions include: time crunch, obsession, stress, lack of sleep.
Upsides: very strong fuel source, rocket fuel, effortless energy, feeling very alive, inspired, capable, quick-witted, need less sleep, things feel magical and connected
Downsides: totally unsustainable and dangerous, BIG crash and depression afterwards, can’t always ramp into mania, so it’s risky as far as getting good work done in a compressed timeline, bypasses learning healthier techniques, when I crash, I can’t enjoy the fruits of my labor as well
Spite (Fuck you, Dad! I am good enough!)
Using my fear of failure projected onto an outside source to fuel my work. Contributions: ruminating on my fears and letting them overtake me so that the only way out is a big burst of energy to punch through them.
Upsides: can be a strong fuel source, a shortcut if I’m feeling depressed and need a quick way to get energy, this can motivate without actually dealing with the depression in a slower, more sustainable way.
Downsides: unsustainable and shallow, doesn’t get to healing deeper wounds so I can come from a healthier, more sustainable fuel source. Reinforces anger and spite. Relies heavily on comparison which is rooted in shame and not helpful.
Fear & Shame
Energy derived from fear of failure and anger at myself for not being more productive. Contributions include: depression, brain assholes, comparing myself to others, ancestral trauma, capitalist society
Upsides: very few. This is a very shitty fuel source. Can motivate slightly, but its tail whips around and paralyzes me.
Downsides: Very bad and unsustainable. Makes me miserable and not fun to be around. Leads to anxiety, depression, and panic attacks
Compassion, loving kindness, radical acceptance
The antithesis of being fueled by shame or spite. The first step in accessing other, healthier fuel sources. There's a false belief that if I’m not stressed out, I won’t get things done. But I’m actively trying to switch fuel sources away from stress and towards embodiment, presence, and structure that bring ease and joy.
Planning and Organizing
Taking stock of my goals, zooming out and breaking projects down into manageable, detailed parts. Assessing everything and everyone I need to accomplish the goal or project. Setting deadlines. Breaking down those deadlines into manageable chunks.
Routine and Habits
Having a basic set routine for each day (with flexibility for work, appointments, and adventures) and developing good habits within that routine. Decision making is a huge energy drain. Habits are huge energy savers. Once an intentional habit is set, tapping into these healthier fuel sources is effortless.
Being fully present
Once a detailed outline is made of what needs to be done, It’s easier to relax and be in the present, knowing that I’m on track towards my goals. But even if I haven't done that work yet , I have the option of being present anyway, and that will make everything better.
Joy and fun
Prioritizing pleasure and delight both in my work and during downtime. Joy and fun are hugely energizing. If I find a way to enjoy what I’m doing, I find it much easier to get into it and stay in it. Collaboration and play with others adds to this.
Universe, qi, the divine
Rather than tapping into my reserves, accessing fuel from the divine. This source is infinite. Practices I can do to strengthen the pipeline are meditation, qigong, prayer,
Good sleep and good food
Sleep is non-negotiable for me. I can skimp on sleep for a night, but then I have to make up for it afterwards. Sleep deprivation can lead to psychosis. Sugar makes me foggy-brained and leads to energy crashes. Alcohol is also depleting. Good food makes me feel energized.
Positive inertia. An object in motion will stay in motion. Exercise gives me more energy and helps me push through mental and energetic blockages when I push through physical ones.
Whether it’s in the form of commitment to collaborators, support groups, friends, a therapist, or myself, these commitments to benevolent sources can help me meet deadlines in a way that’s not as dire and stressful. It makes me feel more supported and less alone.
Ways of Working
Outside Structure (school or job)
Coming into an existing fully formed structure to follow where I’m being held accountable by others
Upsides: I do really well in this environment for the most part. As long as I’m interested in the subject or job, and I’m allowed a certain amount of agency to mold the structure to my needs and a degree of creative agency. My productivity and organization is very high in these environments and I’m generally a very good student or employee, again, as long as there’s flexibility within the structure.
Downsides: If I’m not aligned with and excited by the subject/project/job, I can be pretty unhappy and feel restricted, oppressed, held back, unappreciated, and that my energy exertion is pointless. I sometimes don’t get as much creative agency as I need in order to feel fulfilled. Relies on other people’s structures, school is expensive, jobs often don’t give very much creative agency.
My Own Structure
Coming up with my own projects, creating a structure, and executing it on my own
Upsides: Complete creative control. This has been my goal. When it works well, it’s great, and I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing in my life creatively
Downsides: It’s VERY hard for me. And lonely! When I’m not succeeding in creating and executing my vision, I experience a lot of fear and shame. Fear that I don’t have what it takes to succeed, and shame that I’m not trying hard enough or am not disciplined enough. I’ve experienced severe depression when my own structure has collapsed
Sharing creative control and working with others to create structure
Upsides: When it works well, this is THE BEST. It’s my ideal, fulfilling my creative ambitions and relational needs, as well as filling in the gaps where I’m not as strong, and sharing in successes and setbacks with others. Enhances both experiences. I become way more organized and self-disciplined when other people are involved in a project, I’m less lonely, and I have more fun. Things can come out of collaboration that I never would have come up with on my own. Very sustainable if it’s a good collaboration with someone who I work well with.
Downsides: It’s very very difficult to find the right collaborators, and when it’s not right, it can be very stressful and disappointing. I usually want to have the majority of creative control, if not sole creative control on certain projects. It can be distressing if my vision is being compromised in a way that I’m not happy with. Can lead to conflict and creating work I’m not proud of, or abandoning projects because they’ve strayed so far off.
Being a Boss
Working solely with my own creative vision and hiring others to help me carry it out
Upsides: Maintaining creative control. Also helps me create and maintain structure because others are relying on me for direction. The benefit of working things out with other people as sounding boards or collaborative problem solving, my choice because it’s ultimately my work. It can be fun and feels less lonely than working by myself. If others are really on board and enthusiastic about the work, it can buoy me when I’m feeling more ambivalent or negative, and can keep me going when I feel like giving up. I seem to be good at it and people are generally happy working for me.
Downsides: Expensive to hire people! Especially at this stage where my work isn’t generating income (exception: tailoring work). I don’t really know how taxes and businesses work and am worried I’m screwing myself financially, legally, or in taxes. Dealing with problems with employees is difficult and stressful.