Motivation Monday: Burnt Out or Dry Well

How is it possible to feel absolutely passionate genealogy and struggle with burnout? I have been asking myself this question since January. I think I’m stumbling upon the answer. I am asking the wrong question.

When I searched for help with genealogy burnout, I found reference articles that didn’t articulate my problem. I’m not burnt out because I have been researching a brick wall and nothing seems to be working. The standard ‘set it aside’ recommendation to overcome the issue won’t work.

If I am not burnout what am I
What’s your problem momma?

What is my problem? Spreading myself too thin and not feeling fulfilled in all aspects of family history.

Ha! No wonder you might say.

The problem is there is so much that I could be doing in family history, primarily because I am the only one working on my lines. I wrote a book about all the things someone COULD do to help with the family history efforts in their family. However, I can’t do everything, nor should I.

My passion for teaching others is strong, and I have had many opportunities to help others get started or go in different directions. The chances have been enriching, despite any amount of time needed to prepare. However, I struggle to motivate those who are not self-motivated. Furthermore, I don’t like outside influences attempting to dictate my family history priorities. I don’t mind a challenge to try something new or try something small. When a big task is pushed, I resist. All of these competing factors for my genealogy free time has me spread too thin. In short, I have lost the joy of the process.


You might have thought I was going to say fun.

No! I know that genealogy is not always easy or fun. Well, okay, I do say that “If family history not fun, you’re doing it wrong.” But that definition of fun is synonymous with inspiring, captivating, or worthwhile. Not the definition associated with parties, balloons, or skydiving.

Joy is unique. It is an inner peace that even when the process is challenging, it’s enjoyable. Joy requires nurturing like a seedling requires care to become a tree. And a tree even needs the care to stay healthy and fruitful.

Burnt Out or Dry Well
How do I refill a dry well?

On my porch, I have this well. Soon many outside forces have taken the water out of the well, and it has run dry. It still likes being a fountain and mechanically works. Without water in the well, it can not be a fountain. As I wrote this post, I thought perhaps the question should be, how do I refill my well when it’s run dry?

The simple answer would be to refill with water. If this were an actual well, the answer would be to stop using the well until it could collect more water than is being used. But, I still need water. So I need to use a different well.

Let’s clarify the application to genealogy. If one area of the family history work feels like a dry well, then stop using that well until it’s replenished and use a different well.

  • If searching for new records is not sparking enthusiasm, start writing stories.
  • If the deceased ancestors are not inspiring at this time, work on recording the memories of the living.
  • Perhaps a little bit of genealogy service would be more fulfilling than working on your own projects.

Does this make more sense? I can still be involved in the work I am passionate about (family history), but I can draw from the wells that are full while I wait for the other wells to replenish. For me, this is a bit different than walking away from genealogy entirely

Well, it means that I scale back on my contribution to the FamilySearch indexing program. I challenge people to index A Batch A Week when they say they don’t have time to volunteer. Many folks have found a way to work in one batch in a regular interval. I need to follow his advice. I can not single-handedly index all the records available. I shouldn’t try to do more than is fulfilling. A batch a week for me would give me the freedom to work on other family history projects. It’s amazing how this challenging encourages more participation from those who are doing nothing but frees those who are contributing a lot to the pressure to keep up an exhausting pace.

It also means to look at the big picture and to celebrate the successes. I flitter from one project to another (a personal memoir, photographing memorabilia, keeping the family journal, writing the ancestor’s stories, researching more lines, etc.’.) and feel discouraged because I’m not ‘done.’ Changing my perspective to a broader view lifts my spirits. All of my projects are worthwhile, but not all will be fulfilling all the time. Some of the projects will become, in essence, like the dry well on my porch, while others will be operating perfectly releasing a calming sound as I sit outside. Instead of being upset that all are not running at peak performance, I’ll enjoy the ones that are and slowly take the steps necessary to refill the ones that have run dry.

Overcoming genealogy burnout
Refilling the well

If you ever struggle with something similar to genealogy burnout, but the recommendations to recover aren’t helping. Maybe you’re asking the wrong question. Perhaps you also need to ask, how do I refill the dry well?

6 thoughts on “Motivation Monday: Burnt Out or Dry Well

  1. I like your advice to try a different well. Many times I've enjoyed a blog only to watch that blogger disappear either silently or with a big announcement about being burned out. I've chatted with bloggers who feel they're done and have nothing more to say. Maybe they need a different well. I've scaled back on my own blog in order to work on this darn book I keep saying I'm going to do. In working on it, new ideas are coming to me. Indexing for FamilySearch also gave me some new ideas. You never know where the next inspiration will occur.

  2. It can be frustrating when it takes hours or days to uncover one little puzzle piece. Step back. Look at the big picture. Look how much of the puzzle you have assembled. Look how much you have learned & shared that you & your family did not know before and would not know if it were not for your hard work. Pat yourself on the back, treat yourself to a day off & then get back to finding the next puzzle piece.

  3. It is so sad when great bloggers say they're burnt out and stop sharing. It would be better to hear from them once a month rather than not at all. I think that's why I like to be diversified in what I do with family history. Not every part of this amazing work is inspiring all the time. But I'd rather dabble a little during a 'low point' rather that quit all together. It's much easier to start again when the inspiration strikes if I'm going from 20 mph to 50 mph than from 0 mph to 50mph. (I know…. know I"m going off with a different analogy!)

    So… A Patient Genealogist isn't quitting, but if some projects seem more inspiring to me right now more so than others, I shall be patient with myself and hope others will do the same.

  4. Oh Amanda… Glad to know I was in tune. Hopefully you'll feel inspired. I don't have the answer for everyone's situation but learning the concept of different wells helped SO much.

  5. Colleen, what a great thought. Genealogy is a puzzle and sometimes we need to do as you said… step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes we do need to take those days off. You're so right. Thank you.

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