First, let’s define burnout.
Actually let’s define occupational burnout. That’s what we’ll focus on here. Occupational burnout is “characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and also may have the dimension of frustration or cynicism, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace.”
If there’s anyone who’s qualified to talk about occupational burnout, I’d like to nominate myself. I have dealt with, and subsequently conquered it, occupational burnout more times than I would like to count.
The truth is, in the world of freelancing, we often feel that burnout comes with the territory. We are pushing ourselves to support a business, a family, a household, and more. We have to work insane hours for half the money that the ‘normal’ workforce receives. In my first business class as a young creative entrepreneur I was told this, “If you want to run a business you better not hope to have a relationship, family, or friends. Business and personal never mix.”
Of course this was from a staunch old professor who probably needed a vacation.
Occupational burnout happens when we push ourselves beyond the limits that or mind, body, and creative spirit can handle. This happens more than we’d like to admit and often I find creatives are working in a constant state of burnout but don’t realize because it has become their new normal.
For me, it would always start the same. I’d begin a project…wait until a month before it was due and then stress while working 20 hour days. Toward the end I wanted to quit and would vow to never pick up a crochet hook again. I would want to announce my resignation, I would hate my business, and take a month off only to backup into the next deadline causing another wave of burnout to kick in.
The terrifying thing is that it became part of my creative process. This led me to feel uninspired and lost if I didn’t have a deadline pushing me toward a goal. I needed to have that deadline in place and I needed to feel that stress in order to feel like I was accomplishing something.
Occupational burnout can be compared to running a marathon without training. It is dangerous and can leave lasting negative effects on our body and mind. When we force ourselves to create, we are not only losing the artistic integrity within the creative process but we are producing work that is often not to the standards we would set if we were not under those stressful deadlines.
Whether the deadlines are self induced or given by a company that you’re working with, knowing your limits and finding them is the only way you can conquer the uphill battle of occupational burnout.
In 2014, I set a new record for myself. I designed and personally stitched over 100 designs. This was astronomical. I rarely slept. Exhausted myself. In the process, producing work that was not up the level it should have been.
I had little to show for the effort and it did little for sales. Sure, I was highly published and the visibility was great. It helped the business grow quickly. However, I often wonder if that growth would have happened much more organically and at a reasonable pace had I simply pushed myself to my limits and not so far beyond.
That is the true key to dealing with burnout efficiently. Once you know your limits you have to stick to them.
In the last four months I’ve had a few deadlines. Each of those came and went with ease. I knew my limits. I got honest with myself. If I could see that I wasn’t going to make a deadline, I asked for an extension. One that was realistic.
Now, an extension isn’t always feasible and you’re going to have to learn from trial and error. It happens to the best of us. It is in these moments that we’re able to truly see where we can make changes.
However…like my Nana always said…its always easy to start a diet on Monday morning, but you have to make it through Friday.
In those moments of stress and burnout, it is easy to swear we will never put ourselves in this situation again. We have to keep ourselves in check. That, is the only way we will ensure that we ward off occupational burnout. We have to make through Friday.