Emerald Rue

A Tale of Burnout & Back

  • Jen Martodam
  • Mar 19, 2018

How did I get where I am today? A few years ago, I was here:

I’ve long been one to take on too much, but I didn’t know the breadth of this until I tried to teach 4th & 5th grade full time, while shooting 10-15 weddings, numerous families and seniors in a year. It led right where you think it would, friends, major burnout. By the end of my second year doing both, I needed a break. Overworked, unhappy and physically and mentally unhealthy, I got out. Of it all.

How I Reached Burnout

Throughout life, I’ve worn many work hats and each experience left me with valuable perspective and knowledge. I’ve babysat, made pizza, worked retail, served and bar tended, stocked shelves overnight, taught elementary, done marketing for commercial real estate, and ran my own photography business.

Since middle school, I’ve had the drive to work and earn my own cash. However, I always thought quantity to be the way to you made it in the world. Work, work, and more work til you get where you want to be and you’ll be happy. However, constant hustle is not sustainable for any human being, especially when your time is being spent on tasks that don’t feed your spirit.

Let’s Back Up

College brought me to Bemidji State University, where I majored in elementary education. During my senior year, I took a photography class and we worked mainly with analog film cameras and darkroom processes. It was my favorite class and my creative side was ignited.

After graduation, I moved to the Minne-apple with hopes of landing a teaching job, where I’d live my days out to retirement. This is what my naive young self thought adulthood looked like: college, job, husband, babies, retire, travel. Now there’s nothing wrong with this path, but I panicked. I was fresh out of college, in my early 20s and already I was planning my retirement?  This couldn’t be it, right? I felt unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

I looked into attending Art Institutes International, MN, with little money and no full-time job to help pay my bills (again, naivete paid off). There’s a beauty to the amount of crap you’ll put up with when you’re young – living in close-to-condemned apartments on tiny part-time paychecks, schooling & working non-stop and using limited free time to hang with friends and live life in the fast lane. But man, was it exciting and damn fun.

After AI, my gigantic family came in handy. I photographed my cousins’ weddings, children and family events.

As time went on, I built a reputation as a solid wedding photographer and ran my business for eight years while substitute teaching on the side. When a long-term subbing gig led to a full time teaching job, I took it and ran. This is where the burnout came in.

After getting out, I took an entry level marketing job that didn’t require nightly homework and just existed for a while. I can’t say these past years of merely being and not working toward something have been great. I have a longing to create, to build, to succeed. I won’t ignore it anymore.

Fast Forward to Today

Now I bust my butt for what I want to do and the goals I have for my life. I’ve let go of what others think and am going with my gut. Over the years, I’ve realized being happy doesn’t have to do with hustle or money or things, rather with time and what you fill it with. I choose to fill my time with activities that inspire me and fill my soul with warmth. One of those activities is creating photographs and films and following through on ideas I have, no matter how far fetched they seem. I’m learning to live by listening to my feelings and internal pushes & pulls.

I want you to know that I don’t have it all figured out and I don’t plan to ever have it all figured out. It’s a constant struggle balancing work and personal life and the guilt that goes into choosing one over the other. It goes both ways, that guilt. I’m learning to deal with it and am far from balance.

As we’re all navigating our way through this thing called life, let me know if you have any tips about living in the moment or if you saw yourself in my story. I’d love to hear from you!