How To Deal With Burnout as a Creative Entrepreneur
Oh burnout... I wish you didn't exist. But you do, so I think it's time to talk about it. I want to talk about it especially as yet another year is coming to an end (almost - we still have some time left!) 'Burnout' is a word we often hear in the creative community, and not just from people who run their own business or freelance. It's a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
Just this past week I experienced my first migraine. I've never had one before now and honestly? I truly believe it was my body screaming at me saying, "You're doing too much, Emma! Here's a little wake up call to slow you the F down." Literally. I didn't leave my bed for almost two days. As my body heals from this experience, I've had a little time to reflect on what is happening. Honestly, over the past few weeks I have felt really overwhelmed and unable to cope with the simplest tasks. I've felt unmotivated, helpless, and frustrated. My energy level has been at an all time low and I know it is because I'm on the verge, if not already there, of burnout.
I'm still navigating this new territory and hope that my own experience can help you deal and AVOID burnout in the future. This has been one of the most exciting years of my life as a business owner. I've hosted two incredible workshops, mentored others, grown my business significantly, and filled my calendar with weddings. I use the word 'whirlwind' on social media all the time, but that's exactly what it has been, a complete and utter whirlwind! It's been amazing, but it's also taken a toll on me physically and emotionally. If you are starting to feel burnt out, here are some signs to look out for.
Burnout is physical. You are constantly 'drained' and 'tired'. I've been there over the past few weeks. While I haven't been sick with a cold or anything like that (it could be coming...), when you are in a state of burnout, your immune system will react. You will suffer physically whether it's with a bad cold, the flu, headaches, or muscle aches. Sleep becomes difficult and appetites change. Do you find yourself breathing deeper or sighing loudly? These are all signs.
Can't win? Feeling hopeless? Do you have a negative outlook on anything and everything happening around you? Do you feel like a failure? Hey, been there... Emotionally you might feel completely detached or as if you are all alone. You're lacking the usual motivation and could care less about certain things. Your satisfaction levels have suddenly taken a nosedive. I don't like to get to personal about my relationships, but my burnout has been negatively affecting my loved ones. When I hit my burnout head on recently, I also felt the fight in me completely leave. I didn't want to argue and I honestly felt numb. I've struggled with depression in my life, but this was different. I wasn't SAD, but more than ever I just didn't really give a damn about anything because I just felt like it didn't even really matter. That's a really crappy head space to be in, quite frankly.
Suddenly hate being around other people? Are your regular projects taking WAY TOO LONG to get done? Like me, perhaps you've turned to food to cope. Some many cope with drugs or alcohol, but mine was and still is food.
If any of this sounds familiar, it's time to tackle your stress levels immediately. I felt mine come on strong and decided I had to do something about it, asap or eventually everything would really come crashing down on me. There were a few things out of my control recently like filling the necessary seats to an upcoming workshop I had planned in California. So many months of planning have gone into this event. Vendors were on board, sponsors ready, guest speakers lined up, etc. This was the ultimate trigger to my own wake up call that I was suffering from burnout. The normal and usual fight in me would NOT give up. I would go to the ends of the earth to keep things on track and make this event a reality, but I just couldn't. I knew that the upcoming weeks would be nonstop hustling and pitching the workshop trying to fill the necessary 10+ seats I still needed to make it happen. I felt defeated, alone, and really exhausted. I'd received a few emails from attendees backing out and made the final decision to pull the plug on the whole thing.
That was by far the hardest decision I've had to yet make with my business. I was devastated, but once I hit "send" on that email to all the guest speakers and attendees still on board, I felt instant relief. I felt a huge weight off of my shoulders. I believe in timing. I believe that things happen when they are supposed to happen and to my very core, I felt as if the timing on this event just was not right. I still could have put it together beautifully, but it would not have been the event it needed to be without a room full of women. This idea was my baby, and it was going to be spectacular. I wanted to bring women together to be vulnerable, to grow, take incredible photographs and to learn from one another. However, in order to make that a reality, I needed those seats filled and it just wasn't happening.
Once I pulled the plug, the feedback was incredible. Everyone found a way to completely lift me up and feel supported. Including this email from a friend and collegue:
This is one of MANY emails, texts, and calls I received after canceling my workshop. The support was, and still is, overwhelming. It proved to me once again that I am not alone in any of this, and there are people beside me (near and far) cheering me on.
This whole experience was truly my burnout wake up call that something had to give, and for me, that was the workshop. I feel great about my decision now, even though it was so difficult to make. So here's what I've learned and hope to share with anyone else who might be struggling with everything that comes with wearing the title of "creative entrepreneur" because it's a lot.
Be kind to yourself.
Hey, guess what? You are a HUMAN. And if you are like me - you are running your business by yourself 99.9% of the time. Remember that when things become a bit crazy. Give yourself what I like to call GRACE. I'm not saying it's not okay to get frustrated with yourself, but always be kind to yourself. Remember that we all have a tank and it's really hard to give from an empty cup. If your cup is too low, you need to be able to recognize that and admit that it's okay to step back and give yourself a little bit more.
Set more boundaries.
This is always a struggle, believe me. I've recently changed some things with my own business to set more clear boundaries. Here are a few:
1. No more free shoots. No matter what the circumstance... taking pictures for free is a sure fire way to feel devalued and burned out. I've been known to give my services because it feels like the right thing to do at the time for a certain cause but I've learned that doing that will only hurt me in the long run. It's not like I do this all the time (trust me, I don't), but I have brought my camera to random functions and then it turns into delivering a full gallery to family and friends. I just can't do that anymore if I want to keep my sanity, and my business.
2. I no longer travel for engagement sessions. I reflected on pain points in my own business and one of them became clear is that I am on the road too much. I looked at my calendar and a big source of this was from engagement sessions, and even family sessions up in the city. I was in my car way too much. I believe there is a high value in engagement sessions BUT going into the new year, I am only offering them to clients who can travel here to my town of South Bend to visit me in the studio and/or the ranch if they want an outdoor shoot. It's much easier for me to find help with Riley for an hour or two vs. a full day in the car up to Seattle or Eastern Washington. I'm excited about this change and can't wait to get more people down here to my neck of the woods! If clients are adamant about me coming to them, there is a new travel fee associated with any travel 30 miles out of town.
3. Saying no. I've talked about this a lot in the past, but I'm going to be better about it myself going forward after this recent onset of burnout. I have to say no, and feel good about it. I'm ready. I was actually recently emailed about a project with the high school here. The old me would probably tried to make it work but A- it was NOT in my line of work and B- it did not feel like the right fit for a project I want to take on. I said no and I got a super short response back which honestly sucked, but I stand by my choice and feel really good about it. You have to be okay with the "no's" and not let anyone make you feel guilty about it.
Make changes if you feel it's necessary.
Are there faucets of your business that JUST AREN'T WORKING? That's okay - change! I don't know about you, but I went into this business because I wanted to write my own rules. I wanted to answer to me, myself, and I. I can't tell you how many times I've mixed things up because I want to dabble with something else, or dropped something because it just wasn't really working. For example, several months ago I dropped logo design work from my services offered. I hate building logos, and that's the truth. But... I LOVE building websites! I took a leap of faith dropping the logo side of my business (and risk)... and honestly I thought I'd made a mistake because it was crickets for awhile but then suddenly the inquiries came pouring in for custom website design work! I was thrilled! People were starting to listen and starting to respond. I feel more confident than ever that dropping the logos from my services was the right move, and now my calendar is almost full through the fall for design work.
Give yourself a break - like a real one.
When my workshop was called off, I could have just cancelled my ticket, paid the fee, and stayed home. Instead, I paid way too much money to get Riley on the same flight with me and now we are having a girls trip to California. Instead of hosting a workshop, I will be relaxing at the house with my daughter and mom. This is my break. It's not here yet, but I'm still grinding until it gets here. I cannot wait. I'm not saying you have to go book a trip out of the state to take a break... but take a REAL break. Like for more than a day. Let it go. The emails can wait... get out of town or go on a staycation with the people you love.
Learn to switch it off.
I recently started putting my phone on "do not disturb" after 6 pm. This is helping me tremendously. I turned notification off of my phone quite some time ago, but this helps me avoid it all together. Who knows, maybe one of these days I will actually turn the dang thing off completely in the evening, but I'm pretty happy with the do not disturb mode right now! My relationships deserve more of my attention, and I know that I'm unable to fully be present when I'm looking at my phone. It's also been a pain point in my relationship with my husband. He's just as guilty as me when it comes to staring at the phone, so we are both trying to be better about this and so far it's going really well.
Don't be a slave to social.
This goes in line with above, but social media can serve as a fast track hand in burnout. I don't know about you - but it is a huge part of my life and business. However, I've had this wakeup call recently to just knock it off and stop obsessing over it. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest... all of it. Do I need social media to run my business? Heck yeah, I do. However, I'm learning to set more boundaries with it. I no longer scroll through IG the way I used to in the past. I no longer sit aimlessly on Pinterest except when I log in once a week to schedule all my pins and one other block of time to actually read articles I've pinned.
Find a new hobby.
I love this! Find a new hobby! I'm still working on this... I texted my sister recently telling her I'd really like to try rock climbing. She and her Husband are big climbers and I just want to try it. I sat down to think about things I might like to try, and that popped in my head right away. When I was little, I was always the girl climbing things and the first up the climbing wall at summer camp to ring that bell at the top. I also want to learn how to crochet. I'm still working on this list, but it's my goal as we get into a new season here to find a hobby that I love and something that is completely new and out of my normal routine.
Lean on your people.
If you're like me, I find myself feeling lonely sometimes thinking things like, "Ugh, nobody gets it." But the truth is... SO many people get it! So many people are going through EXACTLY what you and I are going through, but maybe they just don't put it out there the way I do. I've found that being vulnerable has helped me grow significantly. If I'm unable to keep it real and talk about the pain points that come with this journey then I don't really know what I'm doing here. If I don't share the RAW and REAL shit that comes with running a creative business, I wouldn't feel fulfilled. I want anyone reading my blog to feel like they can not only trust me, but get me on a deeper level. It's a beautiful journey, but it also has it's own set of challenges along the way and I want to share those bumps along the way.
Did I mention be kind to yourself?
Self care is a buzz word but one that is so important. Part of being kind to myself means that I also need to start taking better care of myself and my body. I've been down this road before but more than ever my body has given me a full on wake up call that it's time to make some serious changes. This means that I will be carving out more time to exercise, eat better, and do the things that make me really happy like yoga. I'm on a journey of self love and that starts with cleaning up my act. I turn to food when things are hard, and they have been really hard for awhile now but I'm done making excuses and ready to fall back in love with myself.
And at the end of the day, this girl right here in my reminder that the emails can wait and sometimes you just have to ignore it all to be present in the moment, whatever that may be. She needs a mama who is in the best emotional and physical state and I'm going to do a better job of that as winter sets in and we get closer to another new year.
This is one of those posts that's really difficult to write, I won't deny that. However, like I said above, I believe that being vulnerable helps you grow. Every time I share my heart like this, I'm overwhelmed with the feedback and response and hearing that I'm not alone. Community is powerful and I hope that by sharing my own story, I reach others who might be going through the same things. I am here for you.