Creative Work and Burnout

One of my artists asked me a question about modeling this week that I had never heard before.  She looked up from her sketch in the middle of a pose and blurted out, “do you ever get tired of modeling?”

Burnout in creative fields is far more common than most people realize.

As a matter of fact, I do. There seems to be a belief that if you’re making a living from your art, then it’s not really work.  Everything about your job is fun because you love what you do.  But burnout in creative fields is far more common than most people realize.  

It turns out my artist was a retired dancer; she’d been a professional ballerina for many years before she took up art.  She loves dancing, and she still dabbles in choreography and teaching when she wants to.  But when she was dancing full-time, she used to get tired of it.  No matter how much she loved ballet, the hours were still long, the practice was physically grueling, and the profession remained extremely competitive.  She would get burned out from dancing—not just physically, but mentally as well.  

As a model, I think that have the best job in the world: I get to create art with other amazing artists.  I get to travel.  I get to work on my own terms.  But even the best job in the world is still a job. And I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes I still get tired of it.  

Some of that burnout comes from all the things that aren’t creative: email, scheduling, paperwork, taxes, marketing.  Part of being a creative professional is running a successful business, and running a business is always hard work, no matter what field it’s in.

But blaming creative burnout solely on the business side of things isn’t the whole story.  Creativity is real work, too. Creative professionals put in hours making a specific piece of art—be it the perfect photo or the best performance possible—and years to learn our craft.  We are constantly using our mental energy to solve interesting problems.  How will this pose translate onto film?  How will this choreography affect my audience?

Yes, of course we love what we do, so we generally enjoy putting in the effort to do our jobs well.  But even though it’s fun, it still requires time, effort, and energy, and those are all ultimately finite resources—no matter how much you enjoy spending them.  

It took me a long time to realize that I could burn out from too many good things.  To be honest, I’m still learning.  I see opportunities to work with amazing artists in all sorts of fields and leap at the chance.  I forget that I’m just one person, with only so much time and energy at my disposal.  I forget that I can’t participate in all of the good art that I see happening around me.  And when I do that, I try to do too much and I get tired and overwhelmed.  

I’m learning that part of being a successful professional creative is to respect your own time and energy.  And I’m finding out that it’s just as important as good marketing or accurate tax documentation. 

So if you’re a creative too, remember that what you’re doing is work, and don’t feel bad if you get tired sometimes.  We all do.  It’s actually a pretty good problem to have; it’s just one that’s not often talked about.