Thoughts | Creative Burnout

A few months ago, the article “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” from BuzzFeed quickly went viral, as it perfectly summed up a lot of the struggles that Millennials (myself included) have been feeling. The author, Anne Helen Peterson, was recently interviewed on Jocelyn K. Glei’s podcast “Hurry Slowly” and it got me thinking a bit more about burnout as it applies to creatives. Anne talks about this in her interview, but burnout is much more prevalent because of the increase in intellectual labor, rather than physical labor. This is especially true for us “creative types,” as there is no distinct rest time—even once you’ve left work, your brain is still working, thinking, and trying to solve problems.

This is compounded by the speed at which work is now expected to be done—the United States itself has adopted a “start up culture,” which favors efficiency and outputs, and focuses on being lean and nimble. There’s nothing wrong with this on its face—but it has an effect on people much more than I think any of us really want to admit or deal with.

I talked a bit about this in my last post, but the focus on outputs when it comes to design and creativity creates a difficult situation. Personally, I can execute designs quickly, which leads to a higher level of output. But this efficiency doesn’t mean that the outputs are necessarily effective or my best work. Since technology has made everything so much faster, everyone’s timelines for accomplishing a goal or finishing a project have shortened—and oftentimes, that makes it more about finishing the project than enjoying the process and being happy with the end result. Even if we may be happy with the end result, sometimes we have to go right into the next project. To use a personal example, even though I was really proud of the ads I designed for the Capitol One Arena, I was not able to take the time to go see them in person, even though they were up for a month. What does that say about the value I place on my own work if I won’t even go five metro stops to see it? “I don’t have time,” I told myself, and now I wish I had made time. But the truth is, in my head, I was already onto the next project. The deadline had been made, stakeholders were pleased, project completed.

But when listening to this episode of “Hurry Slowly,” their discussion on not taking time to appreciate your work as a symptom of burnout resonated with me. Everyone is moving so fast that they don’t stop to appreciate even their own creations (insert the cliche quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off about life moving fast). Burnout isn’t something that goes away overnight, or comes on suddenly—I think it’s always kind of the wolf at the door, and you have to be cognizant of a lot of different behaviors—and work to change a lot of behaviors—to not let it in. Clearly this is not something that can be fixed on a large scale quickly, but I think it’s something all creatives (myself included), need to be thinking about.

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Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of any of my current or former employers.

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