The only way I can do my work in a healthy way is out of joy and in a playful state. What do I do when there is so much more work to be done even when I have used up all my joy? In other words: How do I maintain my joyful being in the long run? 

And: How do I protect healthy boundaries over a long time even if PEOPLE wear them thin???

Dear Long-Distance Joy Chaser, 

Congratulations on realizing that working from a state of joy and play is the healthiest way you are able to do your work. I’m pretty sure that is the ultimate goal of any work we do. 

You have asked what to do when there is so much more work to be done and you’ve used up all of your joy. I’m going to pose an existential question: 

If joy is a state of being, how then can you use it up?

If you are not dead, it stands to reason that you are able to continue to have access to joy. This brings me to a second question: 

Why are you allowing yourself to not feel joy?

You next wonder how you are able to prolong the feeling of joyfulness for the long haul. How do any of us do anything for eternity? We don’t. If you stayed in any one state for any length of time, you’d never be able to realize that you were in that state. There would be nothing special about it. Just as we don’t stay sad all the time, we cannot stay joyful all the time. 

Finally, you wonder how to protect healthy boundaries when PEOPLE (all caps) wear those boundaries thin. To answer this question, you’ll need to pinpoint what things happen over the course of a week that pull you out of your joy state. Take a month to pay attention to all the people who drain you. Notice how you feel after you eat something indulgent or filled with empty calories. Jot down the moments your attention gets turned to the needs of someone else and takes you out of what you were just doing for yourself. PEOPLE (all caps) can be an easy scapegoat to excuse why our boundaries break down over time. 

But PEOPLE aren’t making you do anything. YOU (all caps) are doing the boundary-breaking all on your own. Try looking at the individuals who come to you needing your time as boundary strengtheners. Rather than weakening your resolve, see them as a call to engage and firm up your boundaries. But a warning, if you have an ounce of compassion in your heart, this is extremely difficult to do. To care for others is often to put others first. But, in overdoing this, it sounds like you are realizing it is sucking all the joy from your being. It stands to reason that the firmer you can be with your boundaries, the more joyful you will be able to remain. And it sounds like when you are joyful; you can be in the highest service to others. 

There is always going to be more work to be done. There will always be more joy to be had. Sadly we cannot access our joy on demand when the weight of work weighs us down. If you were to look at your work obligations and your joy on a scale is it safe to say that when work is overwhelming you, joy is less likely to be finding you? Is your level of joy off the charts the more you are in a flow state of working (and/or on vacation)? This brings you to this question to ask yourself:

How might you get the balance of work and joy to be more evenly keeled?

Looking to answer the above questions will give you useful data. You will begin to notice what is pulling you out of the space you ideally would like to work within. The more you practice noticing, the quicker you will be able to catch moments, requests, and that one item too many on the to-do list that will cause your level of joy and play to run away. Over time I believe this practice will enable you to have PEOPLE (all caps)become people(no caps) again. 

Because you like to keep an element of play in your work, here’s a game for you. The next time you feel your joy disappearing ask yourself what the smallest possible tweak you can make in order to make the task at hand the tiniest bit more pleasurable. For example:

If you need to watch a work related training video at home,

can you put on a face mask and pamper yourself while you watch the video? 

Need to take a call with a difficult client?

Light your favorite scented candle. 

Have to do arduous paperwork?

Put on a great playlist or make a cup of your favorite tea. 

Waiting in a painfully slow line?

Text a “thinking of you” message to a few friends. Or organize your bag. Or meditate.

You get the idea. 

Saying you are not feeling joyful or not able to play will reinforce the truth of those feelings. Doing something to move yourself back toward joy and play will up your chances for them to return.