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My 5 Keys to Preventing Creative Burn Out

Opening my email this morning, there was a title that immediately caught my eye, ‘Love Something Other Than Yourself’. It was from James Victore’s ‘Burning Questions’ — an inbox delivery from one of my design heroes giving open & honest advice to creatives.

Over all the other emails that statement attracted me immediately, because it is exactly how I think. We are creative professionals, we can become totally and completely engulfed (swallowed up) by ourselves. I know in the past I could anyways - okay, I still can from time to time.

About 6 years ago, while walking around Prospect Park in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, it hit me — I don’t want to be controlled by my work. I mean, I did’t want my ego to be controlled by my work and vice versa. I decided then and there to love something other than myself (aka my work because I had no differentiation between the two). That translated into preventative care. Preventing what you ask? Preventing burn out and an inflated, or deflated ego! That’s what.

Are you up checking email the moment you wake when your partner is next to you? Does everything you do have to do with work — or a potential gig — or with trying to get ahead? Are you missing out on your family and friend’s important days? Are you forgetting to call people and say hey? Is your pet longing for a walk to the park, or some play time? Do you go out at night to party — so that you can vent all your intensity bulked up from sitting in front of a computer all day (and night) without face-to-face human interaction? I can hear you already, “but I NEED to get ahead”. I know how you feel. I have been a freelancer off and on since I was in my 20’s. Its not easy. Sometimes its amazing. Other times its exhausting at best.

This is the life we signed up for when choosing to go freelance and most of us are learning as we go. Its a hustle.

That said, if you answered yes to any of the questions asked up there I encourage you to take some measures to prevent burn out. Here are some of the things that, over the last 15 years, have worked for me:

  1. Exercise. This is the single most important thing I can think of that will balance you out. I do a rigorous yoga routine, and go for 3 mile walks outside and uphill, every other day. I also stay open to any other activities I can manage into my busy schedule. I hike regularly, I bike sometimes, I jog a bit, I kayak, basketball, and yah… I play the life-sized Fruit Ninja interactive video game with my partner Michael’s 10-year-old son whenever I can. You get the idea. Move your body any chance you get. Play.

  2. Meditation. Yes, yes, I’m one of those. I’m with you — sometimes I’m not sure what its doing for me either, but then other times — its crystal clear. The gains of meditation are numerous and best felt over time. So, buck up and start with 15 minutes a session, and take it from there. I’ve tried a few different things and have found I’m most capable if I break for three 15-minute intervals each day (morning, afternoon, evening). Then I follow this practice up with a 30–45 minute session once per week and I’m preparing to attend my first weekend retreat. The idea of doing more is very appealing to me, but I’m not there yet and I don’t beat myself up over it.

  3. Gratitude. I can hear your stressed mind thinking — “Yah duh”- but seriously now. How often do you stop and smell the roses? You’re alive right? Do you have a roof over your head? Did you get an education? Do you have good health? Are you loved (even a pet will do here)? Are you going to eat a meal this morning, today, tonight? Do you live in a ‘free’ country? Well guess what? You’re doing pretty damn good compared to most. You are better off than the majority of the earth’s population so how about limiting the complaining and putting your focus on that reality? Bam! Start for a day, then aim for a week, and hell — take it to a month! Watch your world vision shift into something you never even thought was there, a better you in a better world, a better friend, a better family member, and a better creative.

  4. Reach out. Gah! This has NOTHING to do with working. OMG. How is it people have the time to be present? Well newsflash — YOU have the time to do this. This tactic can argueably be networking, but I encourage you to avoid that approach. Reach out to others, with the simple concept of growing as a human being and learning from the people who you choose to reach out to — not to get something for yourself. Ask yourself, what can I share with this person? And listen.

  5. Shut off the creativity. Okay, lastly something that has helped me stay fresh and able to stay working as a creative professional for over 15 years and still not be burned out is… drum roll please… dedicating my time to things that are not creative! AAAAHHHHHH! Can you even believe I said that? So crazy. I must be a hack. I must not be good at what I do. No seriously c’mon now. Get a life! Some of the things I get into outside of creative stuff can sure… inspire me (cause how you turn that engine off — I really don’t know, and if you do please share that bit o’ info with me in the comments) but mostly I just take time to fill my brain with uncreative things to think about including reading the news, reading philosophy or anthropology papers, watching soccer, playing records, singing out loud in the car, entertaining others, writing, traveling (exploring local areas), gardening (Michael and I thoughtfully landscaped our entire front yard last Spring), and volunteering for the AIGA and other organizations. Yah some of those things are still kinda creative in a way — but if they involve other people, and they mean I am not strategizing a creative project from start to completion - on a hustle, and I’m able to just let loose and have fun (without the aid of substances), then for me — this is taking a break from being creative. Hell cleaning the house can be getting more of a life than some of you out there have who are working on a project every second of your waking days. I know you’re out there — cause I was that way too. Eventually you will break (and I did 6 years ago in NYC), so why not keep the flow going and balance instead? The less drama, the smarter your ideas and the better you can manage a creative team.

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