Every once in a while I stumble upon something that strikes a deeply resonant chord within me and my gut reaction is, "I can't wait to share this!" And this is exactly the reaction I had when I watched Shonda Rhimes' recent TED Talk, the gist of which is this: What happens when The Hum stops?
To get a good idea of what The Hum is, you should definitely watch the video, but in a nutshell, it's that feeling you get when everything feels right...when you're in sync with life... when you're in the zone. For Rhimes, it was that underlying sensation she felt when she was in the midst of the chaotic whirlwind that was her work — multiple shows in production, crews and executives in the hundreds relying on her, tens-of-millions of expectant audience members...you get the idea. It all made her feel alive. Her work was The Hum, and The Hum was her. Everything was perfect. Until The Hum stopped. She lost the love...the fun...the excitement. This is how she puts it: "What do you do when the thing you do, the work you love, starts to taste like dust?"
It's the sort of experience that can cause a real existential crisis. If the work is The Hum, and The Hum is you, who are you when The Hum stops? What are you? These are the questions that Rhimes had to address as she began to feel a disconnect from the very thing that gave her a sense of purpose. Along the way, she realized that she had been so into her work (and The Hum it brought) that she'd been oblivious to major changes in her life that were happening right in front of her — namely, her children growing up. She lost track of who she was because she defined herself by The Hum...only, she also lost sight of what The Hum was really about. Instead of the love it once represented, it became more about "the doing."
Not only did Rhimes need to find her way back to The Hum, but she also needed to redefine it. And the path to both of those things resided with her children — namely, her three-year-old daughter who simply asked her to play. You'll need to watch the video to hear Rhimes relate the experience of how she ultimately got her groove back, but one of the reasons it resonated so deeply with me is because I can absolutely relate to her experience. Over time, I had come to define myself so much by my work and my company that it was impossible for me to separate Betsy Capes from Capes Coaching. I was in it, day and night, and rarely did an hour go by that I wasn't either thinking about or actually doing some work. By the end of last year, I was overworked, burnt out, and feeling very little joy for what I was doing. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
And, like Shonda Rhimes, I began to discover that lost sense of joy through my daughter, Zoe. Looking at the world through her eyes and giving myself over to playing with complete abandon radically shifted my perspective. It made me remember where my priorities truly lie and what really makes me happy in life. And, the beautiful realization was that I didn't need to abandon my work — there was still resonance to be found there. I just needed to understand where the resonance came from.
Rhimes says it perfectly: The real Hum is "not work-specific. It's joy-specific. The real Hum is love-specific. It's the electricity that comes from being excited about life..." For Zoe, it's easy to tap into the real Hum — joy, love, and excitement are uncensored. They don't pass through the filters that we acquire along the way. For the rest of us, it's about keeping everything in perspective (and you don't need to have a three-year-old child in your life to remind you of this). When The Hum stops, take the time to look at how you're defining it. Make sure you're not mistaking the feeling you get from doing something for that actual something. The latter puts too much of a burden on whatever that something is, whether you're manning a multi-tv-show production company, making pastries for a bakery, or helping people do their taxes.
Another way of reconnecting to The Hum is by taking the time to fully interact with the things that bring you soul-level happiness. Family and friends are an obvious one, but when was the last time you spent a day indulging in the arts? Not your craft — I'm talking about reconnecting with the part of you that is a lover of the arts. I have some tips on how to do this in a previous blog post. Other things that may help you rediscover The Hum include a vacation (a real one — no work allowed), even if it's just for a weekend; meditation/yoga; journaling; cooking...you see where I'm going with this? The Hum is the joy, the love, the excitement, and it will ebb and flow throughout your life. It's not there to be worshipped, but rather respected. And as long as you do so, it will remind you of the resonance that made you Hum in the first place.