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Protect Your Creative Energy
Creative energy is vital for a fulfilling life. But, if we aren’t careful, our environment can chip away at it more and more until we’ve got nothing left in the tank. It is a miserable way to live. This is a cautionary tale about my first real experience of having my creative energy drained daily. It impacted me so much that when I detect creativity drainers creeping into my life, I work to mitigate them immediately, and I hope you will, too.
Soon after college, I started my dream job as a dialogue editor in film post-production. I had just earned my BA in Theatre with a focus in Sound Design, so this job seemed perfect. When a movie is filmed and cut, dialogue editors are given the audio feeds, typically four or more, and we stitch the audio together cohesively. Unlike the camera work, which might cut aggressively in a scene, the audio typically needs to be smoothly edited to provide a foundation of continuity across the cuts. It was meticulous work. We’d watch an unscored film dozens upon dozens of times, listening for minute details in each scene, cutting and editing audio together, and working with the rest of the sound department to build the soundscapes and sound effects that make a movie come together.
I’d spend 8-10 hours per day in headphones listening to every audio detail. No music, no podcasts, no distractions: just focused listening. Each night, I’d come home, and I was so exhausted from work that I couldn’t imagine touching another pair of headphones. I lost my desire to listen to or play music. I wasn’t just drained of energy; I was drained of creativity as well.
Before this job, my primary creative work was in music and audio projects. I’d recently left the rock band I was a part of in college, but I still loved playing music and recording others. This was the early 2000s (around 2007-2008), and the concept of a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) was still pretty new. I was already an avid Ableton Live user; I had some decent microphones, a MicroKorg synthesizer, and a nice bass guitar and amplifier. These were skills I’d honed and tools I’d accumulated over years of creative work. But after I started that job, it all changed.
I no longer wanted to work on my little side projects; I had no energy to create music after I got home. And to add insult to injury, while I enjoyed the technical work as a dialogue editor, I wouldn't say I liked film post-production as an industry. It just wasn’t for me. I knew I needed to leave, but I wasn’t sure how.
My wife, Sarah, encouraged me to dig into another talent that I hadn’t put much serious thought into at this point: networks and computers. We always had network, storage, and computer problems at the studio. When I finished my editing work, I spent all my spare time diving into technical manuals, teaching myself how to get our site-to-site VPN working, or helping set up our Storage Area Network for our editing stations. I loved it, and I had a knack for this kind of work. So I dove in deep. I remember spending $300 (a big deal for us back then) on some CompTIA test prep course books and software. Within three months (and a few hundred dollars more in exam fees), I’d passed the A+ and Network+ certifications (these covered fundamentals for technicians in computer hardware and networks).
Soon after, I found a job at a local computer repair shop focused on small business IT work. This changed my life. I was making 60% more than my previous job, spending my day working on stuff I love working on, and I got to listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks again. When I got home from work, I had lots of creative energy left over. This led to many creative projects over the years in music, audio, and technology (the more I learned about hardware and software, the more creative computer projects also captured my attention).
Reflecting on this journey, I realize that protecting our creative energy is not just about avoiding burnout; it’s about making deliberate choices that honor our deepest passions and talents. Whether stitching audio for films or debugging code, remember that your creativity is a unique and precious resource. It’s the fuel that brings joy to our work and lives. So, I urge you to stay vigilant. Listen to yourself when you notice fatigue or disinterest. Find your balance, seek out activities that replenish your spirit, and never hesitate to pivot towards paths that reignite your creative spark. The world needs your ideas, projects, and, most importantly, the vibrant energy you can bring. Guard that creative energy fiercely, nurture it, and witness it transform your work and life.