By Royann Dean

We are continuously trying to cram more into each day. There’s great advice on wellness and taking care of oneself, but the reality of demanding projects and looming deadlines can tilt the work-life balance scale. Last year my scale was titled hard on the work side and I burned out.

It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Returning to my home one late night after a grueling fifteen-hour day, in my state of fatigue I thought that the plants on my porch light were someone poised and waiting to break into my home.

I panicked. With my hands shaking uncontrollably, I managed to call for help. Fortunately, there was no one there and once the adrenaline wore off, I cried. I cried from shock, I cried from fear, but mostly, I cried from exhaustion.

[Related: The Secret to Work-Life Balance]

At the end of that project I knew I had to press pause, so I decided to take some time off. I traveled, saw friends, went to art shows, went to the theater, and gave myself some mental space, but I still felt stagnant.

During this time, I recalled a presentation that I saw at a creative conference called 99U that I attended a few years earlier. Yuko Shimizu, an illustrator, described how she developed her characteristic aesthetic and became an in-demand artist.

Yuko told the story of how, as a struggling illustrator, she would challenge herself to do small, new things to maintain her creativity when she wasn’t working on a project. It was a way for her to stay curious, to keep experimenting, and to sharpen her skills.

Her advice was to give oneself a small challenge every day. Feeling inspired, I decided that I would do at least one new thing a month for three months. I gave myself very basic criteria: The challenge needed to be something I have never done because of fear or a lack of opportunity. I had no idea what kind of adventures would be in store.

Over the course of ninety days, I learned to play golf while playing in a tournament and won a trophy in the process, completed a refresher SCUBA dive course and an open water shark dive without a cage, and presented collages that I make as a hobby to be critiqued by professional artists. Surprisingly, presenting the collages was the most nerve-wracking.

I had an incredibly fun summer and, by the end of my challenge, I found that I had grown in unanticipated ways that improved my personal and professional perspectives. Here’s what happened.

Increased creativity.

I am a creative person by nature, and when I can’t think properly, I experience a creative block. Learning something new was like a boost to the left side of my brain and new ideas started flowing.

[Related: Yes, You Really Are Creative]

Divergent thinking.

Sometimes when we get in a routine, it can lead to seeing things through a negative lens, making it more difficult to find solutions or make helpful connections. The challenge helped me to become a better divergent thinker by making me see problems differently and exploring solutions from a wider variety of sources.

Increased confidence.

Anyone who says they are not afraid sometimes is a liar. Everyone gets scared, but the brave among us face their fear and do things anyway.

This challenge gave me a little more backbone. Don’t get me wrong, I am still nervous about some things, but I take them on anyway. My new attitude is, “A shark hit me in the face with its fin. I got this.”

Decreased aversion to failure.

This was huge. Remember when I mentioned that I learned to play golf duringa tournament? I had to put the fear of missing golf balls and not getting the ball to go where I wanted it to out of my mind. I quieted down the peanut gallery in my head, listed to my friend who coached me, and hit the ball.

What does all of this mean to you? Stop working sometimes. Step away from the laptop and put the phone down. Admittedly, this has been the hardest for me to consistently incorporate, although I know it’s an important part of being well.

Society imposes a need for perfection, especially on women. We try to be the best owner/mother/employee/ leader/speaker who does the best in yoga/gym/music/language/art class and then goes home to cook something delicious and healthy.

If you can go all out all of the time, more power to you. The rest of us need to take the time to build ourselves up by turning things down. Pick up a paint brush, go bird watching, plant some flowers, learn another language, or better yet, find a pretty spot somewhere outside and just sit. Give your brain some time to breathe.

You will be better for it.

[Related: What is “The What?”]

Originally published at

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