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10 years ago, I was on the verge of creative business burnout.
Which feels ridiculous, because I was only like… three years into owning a business.
It was my Spring wedding season, and I had a several-weeks-long stretch where I had a wedding every weekend, engagement sessions during the week, and I was absolutely drowning.
I could barely get one week’s work finished before the next week was upon me, but I couldn’t afford to slow down or take a day off because the thought of the work piling up made that ball of anxiety in my chest even bigger.
By the end of each work day, I was toast.
Shoot- eventually, I was toast at the BEGINNING of the work day.
I’d sit down at my desk, and it felt hopeless. What was the point of trying to make a dent on my to-do list, when it was going to be just as insurmountable the following day?
May as well go back to bed.
Burnout sucks. It steals your passion, your energy, your joy. And it can turn you into a bitter shell of your former artistic self, if you’re not careful.
So, here’s my one-two punch tonic for meeting burnout head-on, and kicking it to the curb:
My definition? It’s working too hard, for too long, for too little return.
According to this MayoClinic article, burnout can be the result of:
And for me, it showed itself in feelings like not wanting to answer emails or new inquiries, or not wanting to pick up my camera. I remember feeling disconnected from my initial purpose or mission.
Burnout can look like wanting to burn down your entire business because you’re just so tired of the grind.
If any of that sounds familiar with either where you are right now, or where you’ve been in the past, we need to figure out: what happened that we landed here?
Is it an issue of…
Once you’ve nailed down what contributed to you ending up in burnout territory…
…to help avoid the same issue in the future.
For example: if you’re feeling like you’re not earning enough to justify all the time it’s taking to complete a project, it might be time to raise your rates, or consider outsourcing part of the process.
Or if you’re feeling like your schedule is overcrowded and you don’t have margin to get creative, define what DOES feel comfortable for you, scheduling-wise, and commit to keeping yourself to no more than X shoots per week/month.
Making a plan for how to avoid the same situation in the future will help to lift your chin- it’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, to help you realize that burnout doesn’t have to be a forever-kinda-thing.
It doesn’t take the exhaustion away from this hour on this day, but it can put a bit of fuel back in the tank when you realize you won’t be running on empty for forever.
So you’ve assessed how you go there, you’ve pinpointed the issue, and you’ve made a plan for avoiding it in the future. That plan might not be bulletproof, but it’ll be better than your previous situation, and you can always tweak again in the future.
So now, how do we get your mojo back? How do you get back to a place of inspiration and creativity?
Get out of your usual environment for at least two nights, but longer if you can manage it. If you can get on a plane or take a long road trip, fantastic. If that’s not feasible, rent an Airbnb a few towns over, or go stay with a friend who’s an hour or two away.
You need to get some distance from your desk. Which means not bringing work with you.
Bring something to FILL your tank- a non-business book you’ve been wanting to read, a coloring book, a set of paints, a set of crossword puzzles, whatever. The point here is to get your brain to stop ruminating about work, to let your mind wander, and to rediscover creativity in something that’s completely un-work related.
My go-to location is a Getaway cabin– they’re not cheap (especially when you consider that they’re glorified trailers), but there’s something indescribably peaceful about sitting in a Getaway cabin with that huge panoramic window, no wifi, and just your thoughts, books, or art to keep you company.
This one is more long-term, but you need to find an outlet for personal work. As an artist, if your work is the only source of creativity in your life, you need to find a new way to play. This might be work-adjacent, like how my ballerina series is photographic, but it’s not directly tied to any of the commissioned work I do for brand clients.
Coming home from that fateful first ballerina session, I was buzzing with new energy. And that energy fed into and shaped my wedding work, and ultimately helped shape the AG brand itself. I thought I was just using my camera to connect with the years I spent in the ballet studio, but it turned out to transform me as an artist, too.
Maybe you’ve been thinking of taking piano lessons, or you have a guitar you haven’t picked up in years because you’ve been too busy. Maybe you have a neighbor who has a wood shop who’s offered to show you the ropes, or there’s a pottery class happening at your local community center. It doesn’t matter that the personal work is- what matters here is that you find time for PLAY that doesn’t need to succeed. It doesn’t matter that the product isn’t perfect- the restoration is in the MAKING, not in the final product.