Do you experience burnout? And if so, how often? Though I love and appreciate my business, I can absolutely relate. A creative career is demanding!
Yes, I’m typing to you in my pajamas under a blanket on my couch next to a hot cup of decaf vanilla chai tea. The irony is not lost on me. But, I’ll say it again:
A Creative Career is Demanding
if you’re anything like me, you make it all up as you go along! You don’t know where next month’s paycheck is going to come from; you’ll figure it out next month. You don’t know what’s going to sell or what’s going to fail. You don’t know if you’ll get paid for the forty hours you’ve already invested into your products. It could be all for naught.
I know the feeling! I’m always creating my next move, and my inner-dialogue sometimes feels as frantic and high-pressure as a stock exchange trading floor. My family comes home from work and school, and sometimes I’m present, but other times I’m still mentally lost in the frenzy.
You know they feel that, don’t you? They know when you’re present, and they know when you’re more focused on what’s behind your eyes than what’s in front of them.
When you get so caught up in the frenzy and never-ending to-do list, you lose the passion and energy to persist. And that’s a dangerous place to be.
There are Warning Signs
My last bout of burnout happened last March. Back then, I was experiencing it every few months or so. Since then (and by following the methods I’m going to share with you today), I haven’t experienced a single day of burnout!
Look at what I said last February in review:
While my work hours were reduced, I had less time off this month. I usually like to take a family day (in addition to holiday + personal days), but since we had nothing scheduled and I had a lot of projects going on, I skipped it.
… I released Advertising and Exposure. I was exhilarated to have completed it, but I feel slightly burned out overall. There was a lot of production in my creative business this month, so it’s no wonder I’m feeling spent.
I’d been hustling for at least six weeks, and things had gotten wildly out of control. In addition to launching an e-program that month, I was also the full-time editor for another website and about to launch a collaborative project with yet another blogger (both side gigs produced reliable streams of income). My office was a mess, mail was piling up on me, and I had a million tasks spread out over multiple to-do lists. Can you relate?
By March, my burnout had become unsurmountable. I wrote:
In the last month or so, I have become too attached to email. To keep the computers in the house off for a week sounds like a vacation in Fiji to me. To not have to answer and check and find out and check and send a message and check … In other words, to just be in my quiet home with the day ahead of me sounds as peaceful and inviting as warm white sands and crystal clear waters.
Burnout breeds resistance, and it feels like running in mud. Everything gets harder and progress gets slower. It’s an emotional crash-landing, and it’s something we all deal with but rarely discuss.
How to Avoid Burnout
After my bout of burn-out last year, I started writing this article on how to avoid it. I drafted it in April of 2014, fully prepared to share it in the coming months when the next burnout hit.
Only it never did. Huge product launches came and went. I was more focused and working harder than ever before. I took on and completed *huge* challenges, and still no burnout. When I did my end-year review of income reports for 2014, I realized that the last burnout I had happened at exactly the time I was doing a lot of work I wasn’t passionate about.
While the side gigs that were causing my burnout were a guaranteed payday (and I was appreciating them as such), the projects weren’t reflecting my best work any longer. I’d outgrown them, and I knew I could do better. In review, I came to realize that challenging myself kept me energized and engaged, and at the time, I wasn’t feeling challenged at all.
Before we get started, grab a paper and pen and answer the following questions:
- What areas of life or business are feeling out of sync?
- What do you want the rest of the year to feel like?
- What isn’t working for you right now? What do you need to stop doing?
What I just told you is not to suggest that I’m 100% forward-motion every minute of every day. Quite the opposite: I’m still susceptible to the energetic and emotional highs and lows of creative business.
But, I am actively trying to learn my way out of the feast-or-famine cycle. For years, I’ve either been buzzing with energy or entirely burnt out. I’ve been prosperous or poor, overweight or too thin, on the fast track to success or on the edge of failure.
Extremes don’t bother me as much as boredom does. I love a challenge …
:: I can take off work for a week, drink wine for lunch and eat lots of cookies. I love cookies! I work hard for the money; let me feast!
:: In a few weeks, when I’m low on funds, hungover and feeling like a stuffed pig, I’m more motivated then ever to change my ways. I love a challenge; show me the famine!
If you can relate, here are five ways to cure burnout once and for all …
#1 Understand your own signs and symptoms of burnout.
Just before burnout hits, I’ll get snarky, overcritical, and addicted to disappointment. I’ll have bad dreams that I started smoking again (I quit over a decade ago). Deep in my subconscious, I know I’m relapsing on issues I’ve already fixed or corrected in my life.
I’ll have full-on arguments in my head with people that are bothering me. Have you ever done this? It’s the biggest waste of time + emotion in the universe. I’ll snoop on the social media profiles of people I don’t like. I’ll call a friend who’s known to talk about people … and not change the subject. I’ll become the friend known as “the one who likes to talk about people.”
I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions. – Augusten Burroughs
I argue in my head when I want to defend myself against disapproval. I criticize others when I’m lacking self-love and self-respect.
My true nature is not negative, sarcastic or critical. This disposition is a clear signal that I need to recalibrate, and the earlier I catch it, the better.
#2 Recalibrate your behaviors.
Whatever stage you find yourself when you recognize burnout, right your ways at an easy pace. If it’s early, start by asking yourself what feelings you’re craving and not receiving. A lot of my burnout is caused from feeling a lack of respect and approval.
Acknowledge the symptoms of burnout, but don’t do a sudden u-turn. It’s jarring, and will send you into famine which will just continue the cycle. Instead, gently steer yourself back on track.
I always start with some gentle self-talk. When I’m arguing with someone in my head, I’ll use Louise Hay’s affirmation: “I forgive you for not being what I expected you to be. I forgive you and set you free.” If it continues, I’ll firmly say to the person I’m arguing with: “You don’t belong here.” With that, I make a conscious choice to come back to the present moment and appreciate the here and now.
Since I know these arguments come from a place of wanting respect and approval, I’ll replace the negative thought process with some positive affirmations. “I love and approve of myself” works wonders for me. Without knowing I’m intentionally repeating that saying, my family has commented on a noticeable difference in my demeanor when I replace mindless ruminations with meaningful affirmations.
I’ll also seek out a new form of entertainment at this stage. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d prefer extremes to boredom. I love to be entertained in the evening, and there’s a noticeable shift in my overall happiness when I’ve got nothing fun to do with my few spare hours before bed.
I mentioned a few times last year that I need more fiction in my life, and it’s for just those occasions. Knowing I have a good story to get lost in makes me a happier human being overall, and I think reading is such a clean and recharging form of entertainment.
#3 Take a digital break.
I loved reading Natalie Sisson’s experience with a digital sabbatical which, ironically, she titled How to Have the Most Productive Week of Your Life. She read business books and consumed information, which I always looked at as somehow cheating on my digital break.
It’s important to step away entirely from what’s causing you the burnout in order to cure it. It’s impossible to identify what’s causing the frenzy or lackluster dedication at the same time you’re involved in it.
#4 Identify the customers/paychecks you don’t want.
In January 2014, I was at a crossroads with my creative business. It was time to walk away or try harder, and I decided to try harder and track my progress. I publicly shared how I spent my hours + monthly income reports, and it was a wake-up call to how I was investing my time.
At the start of last year, I was collaborating in passionless projects. I was spending as much time guest posting as I was writing for my own site, and in hindsight, I can see where my burnout was really coming from …
I was afraid to invest in my own vision, and it was slowly killing my career.
I feel the same way about taking custom orders in my handmade business. There were designs I wanted to create, but when I accepted custom orders, I always put one-off customer requests first. I began to feel like I was working for a handful of customers rather than building my own business. I was so relieved when I made the decision to stop accepting custom orders. It felt as though I’d stopped working for a few and started designing for the Energy Shop again.
#5 Write an “If I Knew I Could Not Fail, I Would …” List
I wrote my first last April. By May, I gave up easy paydays to go after what I really wanted; to chase those things I would do if I knew I could not fail. I went all in on my own dreams: a group coaching concentrate, The Luminaries Club, and the upcoming Movers & Makers Summit are the result.
In achieving the dreamy goals on my list, I found a renewed passion + purpose for my work. It’s given me a professional confidence I’ve never had before.
Working toward MY vision, and mine alone, was the best medicine for burnout. Continuing to invest in myself was the best way to keep burnout at bay.
So tell me, dear creative, what would you do if you knew you could not fail? Please leave me a note and share how you handle burnout in the comments! Here’s to your success,
Great article! This is something I’m working on for myself. There is always a temptation for me to keep plugging away so my company can keep growing. Problem is that if I push too hard, the quality of my work suffers and I spiral. My goal for the year is to find a balance between work, relaxation, family and home.
Nice, De! I look forward to following along on your journey.
Lisa, you speak true words in this post. I hear them deep inside me. I have had several bouts of burnout in my life – the most recent one began mid last year and came to a head in December, when it brought me to a screeching halt, bedridden for two weeks with a “cold”.
I’ve learned that my body rebels when I pile on too much stress and busy-ness. I can handle so much, then I crash. And I crash hard! a simple bug immobilizes me. While I recover (sleeping tons and drinking gallons of tea) my mind wanders and searches for solutions.
January 2015 became a turning point for me. I’m re-evaluating my business and following a new path. I’m collaborating with another creative woman who was in the same spot as I was. Together we are making changes in our businesses. I am moving forward with deliberate steps and feel like it’s paying off.
Thank you for your openness and your positive outlook.
Thanks for adding, Noel. I hope you’ll find a nice rhythm to your reevaluated work flow. Best of luck!
My burnout was a hard crash for me and lasted almost a year. It was caused by 2 things. Creating things that others had ideas for, but couldn’t put into form, and watching others and comparing myself to them. The feeling of not being able to put as much time into my business was bad. I always felt compelled to read other blogs, etc. but it was the worse thing I could ever do for myself and my business. I recently felt myself slip back into that, but fought it. I also love a challenge and will overcome!
Yes, great add! Comparison is a huge factor in burnout and an incredibly defeating habit. Thanks, Kristine.
Great topic Lisa and one that needs to be discussed more. Having experienced a form of burnout when publishing my book and going on a book tour I now know how the effects last a lot longer than we ever realize and how easily you can relapse into a mild or full on form of it again.
It’s so easy to prevent and I hope a lot of people read your post to avoid ever experiencing it
I love this article! Its nice to know I’m not alone with the burn out problem and to see how you fixed it in your life. Thank you for sharing this!
Wow, I really relate to a lot of that. Feast and famine, extremes, frenzies.. oh yes, that’s me. I’ve not yet had burnout but peter on the brink of it almost daily. Oh and yes comparing yourself to others….guilty as charged. Being in the room with my family but mentally absent, yup, guilty again. Feeling like a hamster on a relentless wheel and never having enough time in the day for my business. Juggling half a dozen projects at the same time, yup again – guilty!
But hey, That’s why I am here. To re-evaluate and improve and move forward in a less chaotic way. But if I couldn’t fail, oh boy…I’d write comedy and historical fiction!
Hi, Lucy. What a great share! In my home, we use your metaphor regularly, asking one another, “Okay. Are you on a hamster wheel about this? How might you get off and move forward?” Thanks so much for adding.
Ah… this is so me, especially the feast or famine and it irritates me… Thank you for your advice! 🙂 x