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I Finally Watched “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and Cried Over a 13-Year-Old Witch Putting Burnout Into Perspective for Me

"If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life," yeah, no, stop saying that.

Kiki's Delivery Service

Spoilers for Kiki’s Delivery Service

With anime being as big of a media powerhouse as it is, there are a number of titles I’ve missed out on, especially ones that were released in a time when my access to anime relied on “whatever’s on TV,” “whatever I can afford at Suncoast with my high school paycheck,” and “hopefully that one friend has it on a burned CD.” Now that I’m older and anime is more accessible, I have moments where I want to go back and check out what I didn’t get to see back in the day. The last time I did this was with Perfect Blue which was QUITE the trip.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is not nearly as traumatizing, but it does hit in a way that’s so impactful that all I could do was sit on the couch and cry for this 13-year-old witch who really was just trying her best.

Film synopsis

From the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away and Ponyo, and Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki, comes the beloved coming-of-age story of a resourceful young witch who uses her broom to create a delivery service, only to lose her gift of flight in a moment of self-doubt.

It is tradition for all young witches to leave their families on the night of a full moon and fly off into the wide world to learn their craft. When that night comes for Kiki, she embarks on her new journey with her sarcastic black cat, Jiji, landing the next morning in a seaside village, where her unique skills make her an instant sensation. Don’t miss this delightfully imaginative and timeless story of a young girl finding her way into the world.

Kiki’s burnout and turning what you love into a job

Initially, it feels like an absolute dream when Kiki figures out a way to take what she loves (flying) and turn it into a business of sorts. Flying is something she’s been working hard to perfect and she’s even made her own broomstick to travel with. However, each job she completes has a moment where things don’t go as smoothly as she wanted. The recipients of her deliveries aren’t the most grateful customers out there, and Kiki always faces some sort of dilemma in the middle of a job that ranges from “very angry crows” to “the weather turning against her.” Still, she tries to do it all with a smile, because this is her big moment to prove herself as a witch.

As I watched her struggle, I realized that her experiences were mirroring my own in regard to my career because, well, I’ve been wanting to be a writer since I was, at least, 9-years-old. My mom has the old construction paper storybooks I made to prove it. As an adult who will be 40 next year, I watched Kiki and realized I was watching myself on the screen, flying through the rain and protecting a basket of food with my own dress. Even if Kiki’s got Jiji, and even her own clients, telling her she can stop, she keeps going. Why? Because this is her job. But it’s not just any job, no, it’s a job that she loves, and that adds an entire layer of exhaustion that makes you push through the obvious signs of needing a break.

So, in a way, maybe it’s not that Kiki doesn’t recognize burnout, it’s that she ignores it until it, well, forces her hand and she loses her powers.

The impact of feeling burnout with a job you love

There’s this idea about work not feeling like work as long as you’re doing what you love. I used to cling to this idea because I love writing with my entire heart, which meant that whenever I’d get tired I’d keep it to myself. Because, to me, it felt like I wasn’t allowed to be tired because I was doing the job I’d wanted to do since I was a kid. Like. I get to talk about pop culture. For work. I get to watch anime for a living. How could that possibly stress me out?

With that, though, comes this notion of seeming ungrateful if you say that your job is exhausting. I would have people who were close to me telling me how “lucky” I was that I got to “sit at home all day and write.” When I would travel to conventions to sell my work as an indie author (lol I wear multiple writing hats), I would have moments where I would say I needed a vacation, only to be told, “Don’t you already take vacations? You travel all the time.” My response? A smile and a nod.

In hindsight, it’s not like I agreed with those statements, but I definitely told myself that I was supposed to agree with them because I had the “job that I love.” So when I watched Kiki’s body straight up tell her “no” and she lost her magic and broke her broom in the process, I just … cried.

The importance of taking time for yourself and understanding that this is normal

Eventually, Kiki gets her powers back, but not before she has the chance to walk away from everything that’s stressing her out. Ursula, the artist she meets in the woods, explains what she’s feeling, showing Kiki that she’s not the only one who experiences burnout. Again, I think Kiki had a sense of what burnout was, at least to the point of knowing that she was tired from something, but Ursula gave that feeling a name.

The fact that Ursula is an artist has to be intentional, as creative fields are far too often thrown into the “fun” category and, therefore, people expect them to be stress-free (ugh) and easy (UGH). Creative fields also, notoriously, are spaces where it’s REALLY difficult to not turn everything you do into content. Like. How do I watch/read/play anything … and NOT turn it into content? Burnout and creativity go hand and hand for a reason. It’s not just because it’s hard work, but because it’s hard to find that thing you do to fight burnout when all of your “fun” options are tied to work.

For me, personally, I’ve been working to find things within this space that don’t end up becoming content. There’s manga I don’t review. There are games I play that I don’t write about. I sometimes remember my fanfiction account and spend thousands of words putting a ship in a coffee shop AU. My point is, we all have things we do to deal with burnout, which is why I appreciated that the grand solution to something as supernatural as “witch powers fading” was “go to the woods and chill for a bit.”

A job is still a job, no matter how much you enjoy that job. I love what I do and still have lofty dreams of taking it even further, but as soon as you turn anything you love into a job, that creates the very real possibility of getting burnt out from it. It doesn’t mean you hate it, nor does it mean you want to give it up or don’t appreciate the things you’ve done with it. It just means you need a break, the same way anyone else with a job does. There’s a reason why jobs, ideally, have sick leave and vacation days. There’s a reason why Osono, in her infinite wisdom, tells Kiki that she has to get PAID for the work she does—even if she likes doing it.

After I finished watching Kiki’s Delivery Service I realized that this is the kind of film that I wish I would’ve seen years ago. That’s not to say it would’ve had me making sure I did things to prevent burnout. Burnout still would’ve happened to me, and it’s still a thing I’m dealing with today (after all, we all are working through some extremely difficult circumstances right now). What I think it would’ve done, though, was provide some clarity about things that I couldn’t quite explain, like why I didn’t like it when people told me my job was just “fun” and left it at that, or why it bothered me when I got called “lazy” because I wanted to take a break from “the grind” that comes with being a creator.

Even if I’m late in seeing how phenomenal this film is, I’m glad I got to see it and understand this message now. It will forever be on my list of movies to watch when everything is too much to deal with.

(Image: Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)