Personal Growth

Learning to Exercise Your Creativity For Yourself

Within the last few years, I’ve come to realize that we, as creatives, tend to forget why we do what we do. So often we find ourselves stuck on the creative hamster wheel—running in circles for clients and forgetting to create for ourselves. This revelation led me to implement strategies that have helped me stay inspired and kept me from burnout…and I decided they are important enough to share with you.

This is an update to a post that I shared, quiet a few years ago on the same topic. If you'd like to you can check out the original blog post here.

Facing Professional Burnout

About seven years ago, I found myself unexpectedly unemployed (i.e. FIRED). I had spent the year prior to my unexpected unemployment in constant state of “hustle”, focused on creating tons of work for my clients and leaving no time for my own 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 the joy back into my creative process.

The Revelation

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. My creative inspiration was spent. I had nothing to offer my clients because I couldn’t even satiate my own thirst. 

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 in order to see improvement. In the old job, I was creating tons of content day in and day out, 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.

The Change

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 also challenge me to flex my creativity muscles.

I started making time for my own personal projects—even if it was only 30 minutes or an hour each evening. Spending even a few minutes creating my own 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 in the work I provided my clients absolutely exploded.

Another interesting side of 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.

The Takeaway

So, here I am, seven years out from that initial revelation, and I want you to know I still have to be intentional when it comes to filling up my well of creativity. It is SO EASY to get caught up in client demands and deadlines, and to let your own creativity fall to the bottom of your priority list.

Please, don’t do it.

I’d like to offer you three takeaways and I hope you’ll apply them in your own life:

  • Take an honest look at your attitude toward your work. Are 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 have the ability—but do something for 30 minutes that’s going to 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.

Who knows, you might even surprise yourself with what you can create from an overflowing well. The possibilities are endless!

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