Updated: Aug 19, 2021
I have this crazy idea to write a book. Like a lot of people who set out to write books, particularly non-fiction books, this idea came from a place of pure desperation.
As you might have guessed, the working title for this book is Creative Burnout, and the more I talk about this idea with my fellow creatives, the more I’m starting to suspect that I’m really on to something here. So far, every time I’ve (sheepishly) admitted both that I am actively writing a book and that the book will likely be titled Creative Burnout, people’s eyes widen. “Yes!” They say. “Is it out yet? When will it be done? Can I have a copy?” They then start pumping me for any facts and secrets I may have uncovered so far, which I’m happy to share.
Burnout is more pervasive in our society today than maybe ever before.
It’s finally getting talked about outside of therapists’ offices, and even has its own official classification from the WHO. But creatives, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and anyone who finds themselves walking the road less traveled, feel and experience burnout in ways that aren't as easily understood. And these unique experiences don’t always get talked about in the broader conversations about burnout.
Creativity is a huge part of our identity as human beings. It is arguably what brought us down out of the trees, inspired us to make tools out of rocks, and compelled us to turn our heads to the skies to dream up pantheons of mythologies in order to understand to cosmos surrounding us …. But creativity is also the first victim when burnout sets in. It is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. It’s hard, if not impossible, to be creative when you’re burned out, and yet cultivating creativity is an important tool in keeping burnout at bay. But once burnout sneaks in and claims creativity as its first victim, our health, wellness, and sanity are not far behind. And for those of us who make our living by relying on our creative skills, burnout can be a career-ender.
Burn The Ships
Burnout and I are no strangers. In fact, it wasn't very long ago, during one of the worst episodes of burnout I’d experienced to date, that I sat across the table from my business coach and (not for the first time) announced my plan to “burn the ships.” I had had enough. I was fried. I was done. I was going to fire all my clients, start all over, and burn the ships behind me so there would be no turning back. Now, to his credit, my business coach did manage to talk me off the ledge and get me back to some degree of sanity. And I'm lucky. I’m really lucky that I have someone in my circle who can regularly talk me through some of the worst effects of burnout and refocus my energies on building my creativity and the business that depends on it.
But that round of burnout wasn’t quite done with me yet.
And, sure, I’ve waged war with burnout plenty of times before, but this time … it was set for the kill. Out of nowhere, I was having panic attacks and pain and tightness in my chest that terrified me into thinking I might be having a heart attack before 40. Those panic attacks were some sneaky bastards too. They wouldn’t happen when I was actually dealing with a crisis, which I guess I’m supposed to be grateful for, instead, they’d wait … patiently … choosing a moment when I think I’m safe. They’d wait for me to be doing something boring where my mind can wander, like raking leaves in my back yard, and suddenly, WHAM! The next thing I know, the ground is flying up to meet my face, my vision has constricted like some kind of reverse telescope, my heart is galloping a million miles a minute, I can't breathe, and then … it all ends with me puking into the pile of leaves.
This is where I picture burnout as some kind of smug little demon with horns and a forked tail, who upon seeing me heaving into a leaf pile with dirt ground into my palms, falls over in a knee-slapping belly laugh.
“Ha!” It says. “Gotchya! And you thought you had your whole life under control! Stupid human.”
Something had to change.
Since then, I’ve done a lot of research, soul searching and picked a lot of brains. There have been a lot of long conversations over too many glasses of wine where my friends in creative businesses shared with me their traumas, struggles, and occasional victories in the never-ending battles with burnout. They taught me so much about resiliency, healing, and the need to have a “why” always present in the forefront of our minds. Keeping that sense of meaning burning is like a torch in the dark, keeping the monsters at bay. Thanks to them, I realized early on in the book-writing process that working toward a sense of meaning was going to play a huge role in my plan to banish burnout for good.
Beat Burnout For Good
The good news is that you can beat burnout. For real. Once and for all. Yes, it will take a little bit of work, but the good news is that the more burned out you are, the sooner you’ll start to feel the results of your efforts.
There are essentially two main components of the beat-burnout plan; two questions that I’ll walk you through how to answer for yourself.
1. How did we get here?
2. What do we do about it?
The book will be divided into two halves to explore and answer those two questions. In Part I, “How Did We Get Here?” we’ll seek to understand how and why we burn out. We’ll do a deep dive into what exactly burnout is, and shine a light on all the insidious ways it snakes its way into our lives. Most importantly, we’ll learn to recognize that, far from being a death sentence, burnout can be a powerful catalyst for dramatic change.
In Part II, “What Do We Do About It?” we’ll take our knowledge from Part I and come up with an action plan. We’ll learn ways to put out the flames of all the things that contribute to burning out, both internal and external, and discover how to build up our “firewall” so we can insulate ourselves from burnout in the future. We’ll also learn some “burnout triage” techniques that can help us heal and get back on track more quickly. Most importantly, we’ll learn about how structuring our lives and careers around something larger than ourselves creates a sense of meaning. And meaning is the ultimate burnout antidote.
Burnout doesn’t have to spell disaster.
It can be an opportunity to examine the lives and careers we’ve built, close the gap between our authentic self and the self we show to the world, and start living a life of meaning.
This process of creating this book to share with the world; of diving in to understand both what burnout is and what we can do about it has been immensely healing, and enlightening, and I cannot wait to share it with the world!
In this blog, I’d like to play around with and explore some ideas as I consider where they might go in the book, and how they might help people in their creative journeys. Actually, I’m hoping you’ll help me with this. If something resonates with you, let me know. If some idea I come up with to help combat burnout is absolutely junk or feels tacky or fake, definitely let me know.
Let’s get to work!