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2023 Sundance: Dealing With Burnout


From left, Tricia Hersey, Jonathan Majors, Ruth Reichl, and Adrian Tomine participate in a discussion on burnout on Saturday, January 22, as part of the Big Conversation series at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. (Photo by Momodu Mansaray/Getty Images)

By Vanessa Zimmer

If you were looking for The Big Conversation, you certainly found it Saturday afternoon in a deep and lively discussion on burnout, at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Actor Jonathan Majors (Magazine Dreams), food writer Ruth Reichl (Food and Country), and screenwriter and graphic artist Adrian Tomine (Shortcomings) joined moderator Tricia Hersey, a multidisciplinary artist — and, get this, an advocate for rest as a form of resistance — to talk among themselves on the topic Going Nowhere? On Burnout and Attention Crisis.

Hersey started off the weighty discussion by referring to the frenetic pace of the 11-day Festival and taking an assessment of the crowd: “Who’s tired?” Nearly everyone in the crowded room raised their hands. “I’m glad to talk to the exhausted people… How is your heart feeling right now?” (Majors confessed to “feeling a little vibrate-y.”)

Hersey maintains that burnout is a “personal and cultural phenomenon,” and that it causes actual trauma to the body. American culture preaches, she says: “To be worthy, you have to keep going.” 

Hersey and team offered some personal insights into avoiding burnout:

Slow down and listen to your body. Again, Hersey emphasizes, burnout damages the physical body. As Majors puts it: “The body keeps the score.”

“By honoring it, you protect it,” Majors adds. If you’re tired, rest. If your jaw clenches or your heart flutters, pay attention and contemplate the trigger.

When cartoonist Tomine’s book tour was canceled during the pandemic, he “should” have been concerned about sales. In truth: “I was kind of glad.” He needed to get off the hamster wheel for a while. As a man who makes a living primarily by sitting in a room by himself and drawing (or screenwriting, as for Shortcomings), his stress and burnout is “self-imposed,” he says. He tends to push himself from project to project. “I was my own taskmaster,” says Tomine. (And book sales have been just fine, thank you.)

As for a Majors’ tip: “I’m a napper.”

Don’t judge yourself by what others think. Majors avoids social media altogether. But Tomine says it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When his publishers asked him to do social media, he feared he might be staying up nights arguing with some person on Twitter. But he joined the Instagram platform and it has proved quite manageable. 

Set boundaries. Our culture is sleep-deprived because we don’t set boundaries, says Hersey. 

You don’t have to respond to emails, for example, she says. You can say “no.” 

“Perfectionism is a lie,” declares Hersey. Adds Reichl: “Perfectionism is an ego trip. Get over it.” Majors’ version: “Discomfort is not illegal.”

Instead, embrace failure. Learn from it and move on. “Life is life, Jack, and you got to take the crookeds with the straights,” says Majors.

Lower expectations. Accept that there will be stressors and things you do that you don’t particularly enjoy. “I may be drawing a picture for a company that I despise,” says Tomine. “But I’m drawing a picture.” 

“Know that you will come out of it,” adds Reichl. If you have to bus tables while working to get the job you really want, be the best damn busser that you can be.

Keep the passion. “I try to stay curious,” says Majors.

Community care, not self-care, is the true answer, says Hersey. Americans value individualism too much, she believes.

When Reichl and her husband were in their mid-20s, they decided time was more important than money. So they created a commune. Ten people lived in the commune for a decade, “on very little money.” Reichl worked six months, for example, and her husband worked six months, to contribute income. “That time of living communally has nourished me throughout my life,” says Reichl. 

Majors quotes the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, go with others.”

Walk your dog. “You want to be grounded?” says Majors. “Pick up dog shit in the morning.”

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