The Causes Of (& Cures For) A Creative Hangover

Wow, last week was a bit of a blur!

Finally launching Color Your Soul -- a project that was basically four months in the making -- was such a joyful feeling. It was so comforting and validating to know that this creative idea of mine was in loving, accepting hands with you guys. Your warm email replies (especially from those of you that unhesitatingly jumped on board with this first issue and became subscribers!) was an incredible feeling.

Today, though, I want to get REALLY honest about the emotional aftermath of launching a creative project like this, one where so much of your heart is invested.

Truthfully I thought about not writing this letter at all, sticking to some safer topic that felt less raw. But, after thinking it over, I realized that you guys don’t open these emails each Monday for the sugar-coated stuff. I’ve always tried to share with you the REAL emotions and real insecurities behind running a creative, values-based business, and so today I wanted to honor that promise by keeping it real.

So here’s the truth:

This weekend felt WEIRD.

Despite experiencing the highest high introducing Color Your Soul to you guys on Thursday and welcoming many of you as subscribers, I woke up on Saturday and felt strangely OFF. It was a feeling I haven’t had in awhile, not necessarily one of sadness or disappointment but just of confusion, like this beacon of light I’d been chasing all summer was no longer illuminated and I was now fumbling around in the dark.

This isn’t how this is supposed to feel, I thought. I made the thing I’ve been dreaming of making! It’s alive and in the hands of people who appreciate it! So what is this strange feeling?!

It’s not that I was questioning my vision -- I believe more than ever in the vision I have for this movement toward soulful, inspiring, thought-provoking content -- and as I look at Color Your Soul and the canvas it’s provided me to go on making this kind of content for you guys, there’s no doubt in my mind it’s what I want to be working on.

So, if it’s not the idea itself then, what is it? Where was this sudden slump coming from?

I spent all day yesterday trying to sort through these emotions. I took my token beach walk to ponder the meaning of life (that’s not a joke, I actually do that), and I got really honest with myself, peeling back the layers until I hit on something that felt real.

What I decided was this:

I was experiencing a creative hangover.

A creative hangover is the emotional aftermath of bringing a dream into reality. 

A creative hangover is the emotional aftermath of bringing a dream into reality.

There are two primary causes of a creative hangover. (Duh, bourbon and tequila. Just kidding... Or am I?? 💃🏽😉)

Creative Hangover Cause #1: The loss of your guiding focus.

For months I woke up and I had a clear purpose: to get ready for the launch of Color Your Soul.

I had a guiding vision that provided a structure for each of my days and gave me something distinct to measure my progress against. This made my creative spirit feel safe and purposeful.

My friend Steph often refers to this as “chasing the carrot.” When the carrot goes away, there’s a feeling of aimlessness that settles in.

This weekend, even though my purpose was technically unchanged (work on Color Your Soul), the big guiding beacon of “Launch Day” -- the carrot -- was no longer there. That absence no doubt contributed to my weird and aimless feeling.

Creative Hangover Cause #2: The dissonance between dream and reality.

When you pour your whole heart and your true self into an idea or a project or some kind of brave leap, when you spend days or weeks or (in my case) months daydreaming about it, you inevitably create a version of it in your head that feels real.

You spend so much time and invest so much of your emotional resources imagining it, that a part of you just assumes the reality will match the fantasy.

But, we all know that the reality NEVER actually matches the fantasy (that’s literally the definition of a fantasy -- it only exists in our imagination.)

When I experienced the high of launching last week -- a mixture of joy and relief and excitement and anticipation -- all of those amazing emotions fit the vision in my dream BUT they weren’t sustainable, not at those levels anyway.

After the high faded and my heightened state started to even back out this weekend, suddenly I became acutely aware of how my reality contrasted with my dream.

Think about it: we never fixate on visions of ourselves having a perfectly humble, mundane happy day; Instead, our dreams and fantasies tend to feel grand and elevated. It’s no wonder reality can often seem pale in comparison.

That dissonance -- the disconnect between the grand vision I’d fixated on for months and the happy-yet-humble satisfaction of reality -- caused a sort of emotional reverberation, my creative hangover.

This concept doesn’t just apply to some big project like I’m talking about, but I think it could be any big event in your life, any vision you’ve been working toward.

Once you reach that milestone and the high of it wears off, often you can be left in a strange emotional limbo.

So how do you work through it?

For me it was a matter of first becoming of aware of it and not feeling guilty over it. For a moment I thought to myself, “Snap out of it, Caroline, you made the thing you wanted to make and you should be elated!”

Criticizing yourself for your emotional response is never productive, at least not in my experience.

Once I recognized this creative hangover for what it was and realized it didn’t say anything about me OR about my love for Color Your Soul, then I just shifted my focus back to the long game. I let go of the fantasy of “Launch Day” and set my sights on a more sustainable, more reality-based vision -- one where I’m not building up some grand to-do or chasing down another carrot, but instead I’m reminding myself to aim for what’s sustainable. To recalibrate my emotional measuring stick to a range that’s much closer to the everyday kind of happiness that comes with doing work that’s deeply fulfilling.

It may not be the grand stuff that daydreams are made of, but it’s REAL and it’s rich. It can be that normal happy day where I get to continue to work on the thing close to my heart, serving people close to my heart (hint hint: that’s you!)

So my challenge to you this week is then actually just a question:

Have you experienced this emotional, creative hangover? A project or event or big leap that left you feeling a little lost or dazed afterward?

If so, how were you able to navigate that experience and how can you emotionally recalibrate your own expectations so that you find satisfaction in reality, however that feels? Let me know in the comments!

The reason I wanted to share these feelings with you all is to show you that no matter how long you continue to make things, no matter how many years you get under your belt running a creative business, there is always more to learn and further to grow.

Even if you do find the courage to MAKE THE THING (which is half the battle!) there will always be unfamiliar, often uncomfortable feelings to navigate, and that’s just part of the gig. Creativity at its foundation is an emotional pursuit.

Anyway, I hope this message came across in the way I intended it to. I want to be clear, I’m still 100% all in on Color Your Soul and I’m already so in love with the conversations starting and the community forming around helpful AND heartful themed content like this.

In fact, topics like this are exactly WHY I wanted to create it in the first place. I want to start conversations about the real creative journey, the one that’s messy and yes, WEIRD, and full of all sorts of tangley, disorienting feelings. Why? Because these topics are where the clues to living our brightest, most VIBRANT lives reside.

Hoping you had (and are continuing to have!) a restful weekend.