As a burnt-out CEO, I took a 30-day break in Paris to recharge and rediscovered my creative spark.

As a burnt-out CEO, I took a 30-day break in Paris to recharge and rediscovered my creative spark.

Finding Rest and Reigniting the Creative Spark: My Journey Inspired by James Baldwin

Iamni Ellis

Between life and running my company, CultureCon, I felt burned out. It became clear that I needed to take time off and create space to reignite my creative spark. I’ve just returned to New York with a clarity I haven’t felt in a very long time.

I have a confession: Until about a month ago, I had never mastered the art of sitting still. I was always moving from something to something and truly believed that rest could wait. As a recovering workaholic and former athlete, I assigned intrinsic value to my ability to produce consistent results. Therefore, rest felt foreign to me, shame-inducing even.

Earlier this year, I decided to leave a full-time role in corporate to run my company, Culturecon, full-time. Although I was living in my purpose, something felt off. I was tired. Not “take a nap and keep going” tired, but creatively stunted and “need to sit still for a month” tired.

It became clear to me that I needed to create space to just think. So I decided to do what James Baldwin did in 1948. I decided to go to Paris. Instead of planning a vacation, I produced my very own creative residency— a dedicated time to think, play, and rest inspired by the acclaimed novelist and essayist.

Imani Ellis

Rediscovering Playfulness and Spontaneity

Why Baldwin? Well, he’s always been a North Star for me. I loved his ability to assign language to the deeply complicated feelings I had always known as a Black woman but couldn’t articulate, including my feelings about the Black experience, identity, and social critique.

My ultimate goal for the trip was to find a way back to myself and reignite the creative spark that I once had. I wanted to emerge as my most rested and abundant self.

We all need dedicated time to think and reflect without distraction. Here’s how I crafted my creative residency in case you want to create your own.

In 1948, Baldwin arrived in Paris looking to escape the racial discrimination he had experienced in America. With the French city as his playground, he experimented and unleashed his creativity and imagination.

Inspired by this, I visited cafes and restaurants that James used to frequent. I also made the first part of my trip all about centering child-like wonder and the art of play. It was so refreshing to take myself a little less seriously, on purpose.

Here’s what play looked like for me: – Saying yes to activities that sparked joy – no matter how small. If I wanted to say no, but had no true reason to, then I’d say yes; – Actively seeking moments of playfulness and spontaneity; – Resisting a rigid agenda and allowing myself to wander from one activity to the next.

Imani Ellis

Embracing Rest and Stillness

From 1970 until his death in 1987, James lived in the South of France. He seemingly flourished in silence and spent his time hosting guests and writing in his studio.

Inspired by his chapter on quiet, I left bustling Paris to visit the small provençal town of Cadenet. I challenged myself to spend more time being still. In my free time, I created an inventory of my desires, worries, and hopes. When I started to get restless, I came back to the fact that rest was on the agenda. I wasn’t being lazy; this was the plan. I reminded myself that rest isn’t earned. It’s my birthright.

For me, stillness looked like this: – Morning walks without any music, prayer, and spending a good amount of time in nature; – Carving out substantial time to read books — by authors such as Baldwin, of course, and Deepak Chopra — and journal; – Daydreaming about the future, reflecting on the past, and checking in often with how I was feeling.

Imani Ellis

Redefining Values and Creating a Balanced Life

For the final part of my creative residency, I returned to Paris, ready to look forward. My goal was to take everything I had learned so far about myself and transform those learnings into actionable steps towards a clearer future.

Refining for me looked like this: – Revisiting my values and asking myself, “What is important to me? What do I hold sacred? Does my life reflect this?” – Detaching from specific outcomes and instead visualizing the most true and fulfilled version of myself. Then I identified habits I could start to get there; – Identifying and shedding any unnecessary emotional weight I was carrying.

I’ve just returned to New York City with a clarity I haven’t felt in a very long time. My time away not only allowed me uninterrupted time to develop my daydreams into a new reality but also encouraged me to enjoy the art of doing absolutely nothing — a feeling so unfamiliar to me that it took some time to acquire the skill.

The biggest shift I feel now is a calm path forward. I no longer feel rushed to constantly produce but am confident that when I produce, it will be born out of the truest, most peaceful version of myself. And if I choose to never produce anything again, I would still be worthy, valuable, and loved.

Imani Ellis

What I learned most during my creative residency was that going forward, I needed dedicated time to be alone with my thoughts so that I can revisit what I really desire for my life. I realized that whether I had taken a trip to Paris or sat in my living room at home, the first step was deciding that rest and reflection were going to be a priority for me moving forward.

I went halfway around the world to come back home to myself.

Whether you’re building out your own creative residency abroad or taking time to prioritize rest where you’re sitting now — you are worthy of time to just think and be still. So take it and return to your truest, rested self.