A Spring Sabbatical

Over the past month, I’ve been battling a wave of fatigue. It’s taken me a while to recognize it for what it is: burnout. 


As a creative, I was absolutely thrilled to finally have the opportunity to pursue my craft full-time when I left my office job back in fall 2020. Spokes & Stitches had been on the back burner for over a year at that point; a deferred dream due to the pandemic, due to my spouse’s career change and subsequent job search, due to my own fear of launching myself into the unknown in uncertain times.

I cashed in nearly two months of saved-up vacation time from my office job as severance, and got to work building my business the same day I clocked out of that job for the last time.

I haven’t taken much of a break since.

 

Ruby is shown in profile, sitting in her sewing studio, bent over her sewing machine.

 

Even when I’m “not working,” I’m on social media connecting with other makers, I’m daydreaming about my next project, I’m wondering if whatever I’m doing in that moment could be turned into some sort of “compelling content,” I’m scribbling down lists of future patterns, workshops, and projects in volumes I know I’ll never realistically get to.

And yet somehow, it also feels as though I’m never moving fast enough, I’m never actually getting enough done, I’m horribly unproductive. 

Frankly, I am completely worn out and exhausted from operating from within that headspace. 

 I didn’t really notice how hard I’d been going at it until my spouse pointed it out recently. 

“You’ve been working 6.5 days a week for a year and a half,” he observed. 

What? Really? It took me a while to grasp the reality of that. It’s easy to get lost in your passion and enthusiasm when it feels like you finally have the chance to do something you’ve always wanted to do. There is also a lot of pressure to “get it right.” 

I find myself measuring my performance by arbitrary metrics; striving to match my spouse’s full-time salary, to release as many patterns as some other companies (many of which have multiple staff members), to be growing my audience and sales at a higher-than-what-it-is-now rate.

The voice of capitalism is in my ear constantly, negging me, telling me that my work has no value unless I can prove it monetarily.

“Can I sell this? Is this project my next pattern? No? Well then, why bother? Why am I wasting so much time?” 

 

Ruby stands behind her cutting table, holding up a swatch of fabric with an abstract block-printed design across it. Swatches of other block-printed designs cover the table in front of her.

 

I noticed last week that I tend to do my best work when I don’t actually view it as “work” at all. It’s the personal projects, the “just for fun” stuff that really gets my wheels turning. Give me a free Saturday in my studio, and I am totally prolific. Let me “just mess around” and I’ll produce something lovely and interesting and unique.

But as soon as I start making to-do lists and imposing deadlines on myself, it’s like the creative juices just stop flowing.

It’s helpful to have some parameters, but I’ve been boxing myself in with a level of structure and rigidity that completely saps my joy. 

The artist within knows that good work is iterative, it builds through “messing around,” through trial-and-error, through play. The artist within knows that money is not the only measure of success, and that maybe, just maybe, if I can dial down the capitalist voice, and just focus on enjoying the process of creating, it will lead me in the direction of abundance and prosperity on its own.


Truthfully, I haven’t had the opportunity before in my adult life to listen to my creative voice without the pressure to make next month’s rent immediately. It’s truly a luxury, and also an opportunity I’m terrified of squandering, mishandling, botching. I don’t have a lot of practice disregarding that capitalist voice, and trusting the artistic one. 


I realized that in many ways, I’ve accidentally recreated the same workplace culture that made me miserable at my last job: the imposing structure, unrealistic goals and deadlines, constant pressure from the higher-ups to work harder, strive harder, be and do more for the company. The constant sense that I am unproductive and ineffective; a real disappointment.

Ruby is shown in profile, bent over her computer screen, looking at a stack of printed out papers that contain measurement charts.

No wonder I’m feeling stuck. If I weren’t working for myself, I’d be looking for a different job! 


But in this case, I am both the boss AND the employee. And, unlike in previous work situations, I am in control of the boss’s outlook and actions. I can be receptive, and adapt.


So where do I go from here?

I’ve been playing around a lot with the idea of “what do I actually want to do?” 

I know some things for sure: 

I enjoy designing sewing patterns, and I’m pretty skilled at it. 

I love to sew, especially for myself, and especially now that I’ve made peace with my body’s measurements and proportions.

I get a lot out of organizing workshops and educational events about topics that I care about.

I love having a spacious studio full of materials to play and create with. 

I could fabric-shop all day.

My excitement and enthusiasm for sewing and design is contagious, and I love to share it!

Ruby is rummaging through piles of remnants at her favorite fabric store.

But in terms of what’s next, I only know that a vacation is long overdue. 

Avidly attending business classes, support groups, and entrepreneurship webinars over the past year and a half, while helpful in many ways, hasn’t led me to any clarity in terms of what to focus on. Reading self-help books and talking with accountability partners also hasn’t provided the “fire” I need to get me out of this rut of fatigue. 

I’ve been overly focused on input and output, a friend recently pointed out. I’m not taking the time in between to rest, restore, and reset. Her insight struck a chord. I know that I need to take a step back, and reassess Spokes & Stitches from a bird’s eye view. I need a bit of distance in order to find some answers. After all, I never did take that nearly two month vacation I’d accumulated at my previous job, over a year ago!


That is why I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from now until mid-June. 

I still plan on working in my studio while I’m home, but instead of thinking about the business 24/7, I will be following my creative impulses, acting on whims, and trying to approach creating new things through the lens of curiosity and exploration rather than monetization.

This means that I’ll be putting a pause on new patterns, in-person and virtual sewing lessons, and new consulting work until then. 

I’ll also be taking a break from weekly Thursday emails, and posting less frequently to Instagram and social media channels. If I do post, it will most likely be personal life updates or occasional photos from my belated honeymoon trip to Ireland!

During this period of time, I’ll still be responsive via email for people who have questions about Spokes & Stitches patterns or want to work with me in the future. 

The existing Spokes & Stitches sewing patterns will be still be available for purchase and download on my website.

I’ll also continue to moderate The Sewlarium, my online Discord community for solarpunk sewists and fiber artists.

Ruby stands on her patio wearing an olive green Split Splat Apron over a gray Arm Candy Tee. She is holding a tray of seedlings.

 

I’m hoping to use this time off to practice living with a different mindset. A trial run to see if I can trust my creative voice to provide for me when the capitalist one isn’t around.

It’s a grand experiment, and I’m excited to see how it goes!

 

I want to give a big thank you to everyone in my life who helped convince me that this break was deserved, and a good idea! Travis, Katherine, Eva, Mom, Kelly, and my other small business friends and peers who didn't for a second indulge my fears and self-doubt that everything would go to shit immediately if I decided to do this. Your support, encouragement, and faith in me is one of the greatest gifts! 

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