This is an update to a post shared quite a few years ago on the same topic. You can check out the original blog post here if you'd like tooriginal blog post here.
Facing Professional Burnout
About seven years ago, I found myself unexpectedly unemployed (i.e., FIRED). I had spent the year before my unexpected unemployment in a constant state of “hustle,” focused on creating tons of work for my clients and leaving no time for my creativity. I spent day after day and weeks on end working in production design and cranking out copious amounts of logos and other content at a breakneck pace. To say I was exhausted is an understatement.
So, it should come as no surprise that this unhealthy pace led to professional burnout and even resentment toward the work, so much so that it was years before I reentered the field of branding again. I knew this way of working was inherently flawed, and I needed to find a way to bring joy back into my creative process.
By the time I landed my next job as a UI/UX designer, I was determined to fix what had been broken. During the “dark days of burnout,” I would often tell myself, “I’ll feel better if I take time this weekend and create a few new illustrations!”
And yet…the weekend would arrive, and I would create nothing.
I realized I was trying to drink from an empty well. I had nothing to offer my clients because I couldn’t satisfy my thirst. My creative inspiration was spent.
When you think about it, creativity is like a muscle. You can’t just go through your day using it and expect it to grow—you must intentionally stretch and exercise it to see improvement. In my old job, I was creating tons of content daily, yet my creative well was empty because I wasn’t doing the things that would fill it.
I wasn’t exercising my creativity. I wasn’t stretching my inspiration.
When I started the new job, I became intentional with my creativity. I began picking up a few freelancing projects and quickly realized this would challenge me to flex my creative muscles.
I started making time for my personal projects—even if it was only 30 minutes or an hour each evening. Spending even a few minutes creating my ideas and visions allowed my creativity to flow, sparked my imagination, and filled up my well so I could create enthusiastically for my clients. My joy for and satisfaction with the work I provided my clients exploded.
Another interesting side of the effect of flexing my creativity was this—showing people what I was creating in my free time often led to landing well-paying freelance deals.
So, here I am, seven years out from that initial revelation, and I want you to know I still have to be intentional when filling up my well of creativity. It is SO EASY to get caught up in client demands and deadlines and to let your creativity fall to the bottom of your priority list. Please, don’t do it.
I want to offer you three takeaways, and I hope you’ll apply them on your own if
- Take an honest look at your attitude toward your work. Are you feeling creatively spent? Do you feel uninspired at the end of the day?
- Set aside time each day—even if it’s only 30 minutes—to do something that stirs creativity within you. Write, draw, paint, listen to music, play music if you can—but do something for 30 minutes that will fill your well.
- Remind yourself that this is not a “one-and-done” activity. Commit to setting aside time for yourself at least twice a week (but I hope you’ll slowly incorporate more sessions into your routine) to flex your creativity.
I hope this helps you realize that creativity, like a muscle, most certainly atrophies when not in use. And I hope it inspires you to spend some time creating something solely for yourself.
You might even surprise yourself with what you can create from an overflowing well. The possibilities are endless!