Burn out: when the fire is gone

Sometimes, I have hated swordplay. This is something I truly love and has been an enduring passion of my life. But when the fire is gone a sense of resentment, frustration, or anger can remain in its place.

It can bring a tremendous feeling of loss; when something that has so readily fed you before seems now to have abandoned you.

Do I still enjoy this?
Is this still a thing for me?
Will my passion ever come back?

It is easy to burn out on something that you love. Even more frustrating, this can often follow a significant high —achieving a new rank, winning a tournament, being acknowledged by one’s peers in a special way — or simply come at the end of a large expenditure of energy. It’s normal and it doesn’t mean the love affair is over.

Journeys progress in ebbs and flows. At the beginning is a hunger to learn new things and find new challenges. The rewards of new discovery come frequently and easily. Yet, things cannot always be this way. The earth has to lie fallow for a time to yield new crops. Some of my biggest “ah-hah!” moments have come after a period of apparent plateau and frustration. Here are a few things to keep in mind through this period:

It is not the end

Give it time and know it is normal to feel disenchanted, frustrated, and stuck. That doesn’t make it easier to feel those things, but at least knowing it is part of the process might help you stay the course a little longer.

Rhythm is everything

Purposeful practice is important, but sometimes the purpose is simply to get there and keep a sword in your hands. Even small rhythms can make a big difference and they are often an important ingredient in working through what might be going on deeper in your psyche.

Share how you feel

Opening up about your struggles to your mentors or trusted training partners can help you move through these spaces. You’ll also be surprised at how many others have struggled similarly. I think it’s also important to let others know that you’re simply sharing where you’re at and not asking them to fix you.

Feed your passion

Sometimes it’s not just a phase but indeed a transition in your relationship with the art. Maybe it’s time to approach the discipline from a different direction. Step into research if you’ve tended to focus on tournament, work on competition if you’ve mostly been solo, change to a different weapon, or a different mode of fighting. Moving out of your comfort zone can often re-inspire those feelings you had when you first put a blade in your hand.

As time has gone by, I have taken a more zen approach with my process. I work to be present to how I feel but not lump any additional judgments about how I “should feel” or fears of falling out of love with my passion, on top of my existing frustrations. Feelings are fluid. Don’t focus on where you wish you were or where you have been. Give yourself some room to move and do your best to be present with who and where you are now.