Creative burnout is that feeling of exhaustion and lack of inspiration that comes from pushing yourself too hard for too long in too many directions.
It’s that frazzled state when you feel simultaneously at a dead stand still and also like you’re a lost chicken running around with your head cut off. You know the feeling I’m describing, right?
The longer I’m in the game of running my own business, the more I’m starting to understand the patterns that emerge when it comes to burning out. In my personal experience, this feeling can come from a few different places:
- Overwhelm – Trying to do too many things at once without a clear plan of attack can leave us feeling completely paralyzed, and in turn, exhausted from trying to mentally sort and prioritize.
- Hyperfocus – Intense focus takes willpower and when you’re engaging your willpower muscles for too long without a break, it’s just like when you get a stress fracture injury from repetitive exercise — that willpower muscle needs rest.
- Boredom – As creative people, we need stimulation. When we find ourselves in the same routine loop for a while, the lack of new energy and spark can actually leave us feeling drained.
- Comparison – This is a big one and I’ve found it’s my own silver bullet route to feeling burnt out. It starts innocently enough by going down the rabbit hole of similar websites to mine but before long I’m feeling completely uninspired by my own work because I’m comparing it to so many others.
Do any of these burnout sources apply to you right now?
The first step to battling burnout is knowing where it’s coming from, so if you’ve identified it, you’re already on the right track.
But, my question for today is…
Is it possible to actually prevent burnout? Can we create lives in which we never allow ourselves to get to the end of our ropes in the first place?
In the past I thought the secret was simple enough: Just take more breaks. Manage stress better. Be present. Rest.
However you want to say it, I thought this issue could be solved with a walk around the block or a Saturday spent in bed with my favorite book/Netflix binge session.
But after mulling it over this weekend, I’ve realized it takes a lot more than that.
Preventing burnout is not about taking more breaks.
Preventing burnout requires a complete mindset shift in the way we operate as creatives, and especially as business owners.
Instead of framing work as a sport where we’re one player in an endless sea of other players trying to grab the same prize (success, money, visibility, legacy), we have to think of work as a game with only TWO players: ourselves and our craft.
What we do is not a highly competitive sport; it’s a highly personal craft.
The ultimate goal of this personal game then should be to make sure that the actions we’re taking are aligned with who we are at the core level and that we’re practicing our craft in whatever way that feels congruent with that core self.
To me, that’s not a recipe for burning out, that’s a recipe for burning bright.
This mindset shift creates a few very important distinctions that protect us from burnout:
- It renders comparison futile. If we picture everyone playing a different game with a different set of rules, what’s the point in comparing ourselves to them? The truth is, that person you’re comparing your work to has a different definition of success, a different ideal lifestyle, different values, motivations and goals.
- It keeps us in control of our pace. Part of what often traps me in the overwhelm/hyperfocus/comparison loop is this constant urgent feeling that I need to stay ahead of the curve, that I don’t want to fall behind. But again, this thinking is predicated on the idea that I’m in a race against other people. If I recalibrate and think of life and work as a highly individual journey where I’m the only player, it’s no longer a race and there’s no longer a need to feel rushed.
- We get to rewrite the rules at any time. Whether we’re bored or uninspired or feeling like a certain path isn’t working, if we’re playing our own game then we have the power to write and re-write our own rules. Mix it up, take a hiatus, change directions whenever you want and don’t listen to what anyone else tells you about whether it’s a good or bad idea. They’re not playing your game; you are.
If I’ve learned anything about avoiding burnout, it’s that while a morning ritual or vacation days or breaks from technology can help, these things can’t solve the underlying problem.
We have to retrain ourselves and our minds to see our path as separate from those around us.
But you can’t just flip the switch and start thinking this way. It requires a DAILY reminder that you are the master of your own game and you get to decide how that game gets played.
Focus on burning bright — on doing whatever feels best to you on your terms — and if you manage to stay in your own lane playing your own game, I truly believe you can avoid getting burnt out.
This week I challenge you to a week of burning bright.
Create a reminder for yourself to keep playing your own game — whether it’s a post-it on your computer or a Google Cal reminder, or today’s Abstract Affirmations print below — and pay attention to how it feels after one week. Did you feel more jazzed about your own path and your own craft? Did you come back from the edge of burnout? I truly hope so.
Wishing you a week filled with inspiration, energy and light!