Everyone experiences burnout at some point in their lives and there is no doubt that it can be incredibly frustrating.
Fortunately, there is a way to overcome it. Like most things, it’s easier said than done. But with a little effort, you can quickly get back on track and leave your burnout in the past.
I believe that there are three steps that you can take to defeat burnout, or to prevent it before it happens.
I recently went through a phase of burnout and as awful as it was, I was able to walk away with some new perspectives on how to avoid it in the future. I hope that my learnings can benefit you too.
Step 1: Acceptance
“Am I burnt out?”
Ah, yes. The famous question. Here’s the thing:
If you’re questioning whether or not you’re burnt out, you probably are burnt out. And even if you’re not, you’re probably on the path to burnout.
Go with your gut feeling. Are you feeling tired, unmotivated, resentful, irritable, bored, or depressed? If you’re feeling any of those, you’re likely burned out, or close to it.
Accepting the fact that you’re burnt out is the hardest part of overcoming it.
You also don’t need to hit “rock bottom” in order to cure burnout. Being pre-emptive and preventing burnout is entirely possible and the sooner you get ahead of it, the easier it will be.
Embrace the fact that you need to make a change.
Step 2: Identification
The next step to overcoming burnout is to identify it. To some, this might seem obvious. But I want to challenge you for a second.
What comes to mind when you hear the word burnout? How would you define it?
Most would define burnout as being overworked and exhausted. However, there is a very common misconception.
The Association of Psychological Science studied over 400 people to analyze patterns of burnout. According to the report published in the PLOS ONE journal, there are actually three different categories associated with burnout.
Frenetic burnout happens when you endlessly chase success with a goal of self-betterment. You are overloaded by the work you’ve taken on or committed to and you’re approaching that work in an unsustainable fashion.
Worn-Out burnout has similar qualities to frenetic burnout, but it also comes with a feeling of neglect. Rather than chasing success, worn-out burnout is generally the result of being overworked by a company or a superior that fails to acknowledge the fact that you have an unmanageable workload. Worn-out burnout is the type that most people think of when it comes to burnout.
Here’s a curveball. Did you know that you can also become burnt out from not being challenged? Believe it or not, this is actually the type of burnout that most creatives tend to experience (and typically more than once!). It becomes a little too easy to slip into a monotonous routine, particularly once the honeymoon phase of doing something new passes.
Step 3: Taking Action
Understanding the differences between these three types of burnout should allow you to diagnose what type you are experiencing.
As a creative, you’re probably not suffering from worn-out burnout because you don’t have a superior. You’re more likely to be suffering from frenetic burnout or under-challenged burnout.
In other words, you are either overworked or underworked.
What to Do if You’re Overworked
If you’re overworking yourself, it means you have drive. No doubt, this is a good thing. You care about your success and you’re willing to work hard to earn it. The problem is that if you keep your foot on the pedal without letting the engine cool down, your drive will begin to work against you.
Get to a good stopping point and put it down for a while. I don’t mean for a couple hours. I mean for a week. Maybe even a month. You need to walk away and clear your head.
It’s really important for you to remember that you’re doing yourself a disservice by overworking yourself. If you are truly passionate about your work and your success, then you need to be able to put it down. If for whatever reason you cannot put your work down, then you need to dial back your output and alter your routine.
Being overworked means you’ve committed yourself to doing a number of things. Now is the time to take a step back and evaluate what commitments are actually serving you. This is really important, so I’m going to put it in a blockquote.
Take a step back and evaluate what commitments are actually serving you.
It can also be very therapeutic to speak with someone who cares about you. Explain your frustrations. Tell them about your goals and ambitions and what you’re doing to get there. They might be able to offer some invaluable insight that you weren’t able to see yourself.
Foster your passion — don’t ruin it. That’s the key takeaway.
What to Do if You’re Underworked
Perhaps you have experienced drive at some point in time that was fueled by the excitement of something new. This is very common with creatives. In the beginning, it’s fun and amazing. But the sparkle of something new will eventually fade and keeping yourself actively challenged and excited about that thing requires effort.
If this lack of challenge and excitement goes on for too long, things get boring and you might even end up abandoning your creative endeavors.
The hardest part of overcoming under-challenged burnout is combatting the laziness and lack of motivation. Unfortunately, there’s not secret answer to doing this. You just need to bite the bullet and make an effort. With a little momentum, it only gets easier
So again, if you truly care, you need to take action. The ultimate goal here is to have fun and challenge yourself. As a lettering artist, you could challenge yourself by learning new styles, using new tools, working in a new medium, or even working at new scales.
Setting appropriate goals is a great way to stay on track and avoid monotony. Aim high so that you’re always facing a challenge. And remember that you’ll grow fastest when you’re in a situation of discomfort or unfamiliarity. After all, it’s the familiarity that got you into this rut in the first place.
You’ll face burnout, but if act accordingly, you can often prevent it. If it happens (and it probably will at some point), you need to first accept it. Then determine if you’re overworked or underworked. And finally, commit to a change. Don’t let your passions go to waste — life is too short.