Archive | September 13, 2010

Thoughts on Creative Burnout

When I told my husband I was going to write a post about creative burnout, he told me I really should just talk about this show.  This demonstrates that: 1) he really likes the show and wanted to find a way to work it into my post,  or 2) creative burnout is a bit of a taboo subject that people may think is risky to admit having a personal experience of.  Personally, I think it is a little bit of both!

Seriously, I am thankful for this opportunity to write about burnout for creative professionals in our industry.  After Nancy read this post on my blog, she asked me if I would be willing to share a bit more here.

The good old days of the scrapbooking industry for creative professionals seems to be over.  If you think about it, the content consumed by scrapbookers is now changing constantly.  If you’ve been in this industry long enough, you will remember the days of waiting for two months for Creating Keepsakes Magazine to appear in your mailbox, because back then it was the only magazine for scrapbooking.  Over the years, as the industry has grown, so have the magazine options, followed by the online content.

In some ways, the early magazine days were the “good ol’ days.”   Fast forward ten years, and today we live our lives  plugged in.  Paper magazines still exist, but most of our information is found online on blogs, magazine websites, online forums, stores and galleries.  We are bombarded daily with emails and constantly streaming updates from Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

To me as a creative professional in the scrapbooking industry, it seems everything is changing.  While it used to be that a designer would work on a creative team assignment here and there, with six months lead time in advance of magazine publication, now we run all the time.  It is expected that creative professionals in the industry will submit to magazines, post in online galleries, blog about projects/products, and stream several daily bits of clever inspiration via Facebook and Twitter.  If you teach, you also have to be working in the background thinking about your next class or your next big project. Quite honestly – it can be exhausting.

I personally experienced creative burnout after assisting in an online class teaching digital photo organization simultaneously in five different software programs.  It wasn’t the people I was working with or the subject matter.  I loved the people I had the opportunity to work with, and I was even more passionate about what I was teaching when the class was over than when it began.  However, the timing of a realization brought everything I had done in the past three years into sharp focus right at that time.  As a result, my plate-balancing-act of balancing priorities came crashing down.

Leading up to the crash, I had a fun ride.  It started with my blog in 2006.  As my readership grew, and my opportunities increased, I felt I was riding a wave.  I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I created a curriculum and taught a Digiscrap101 class at Weber State University, worked with Digital Scrapbooking Magazine, had fun as a Wacom Penscrapper, and designed on creative teams for digital designers that I love.  I also created my website, Digiscrap101, and taught online at  Scrapper’s Guide and Big Picture Scrapbooking.

In March 2010, as I started working on my taxes, I looked at my balance sheet and had a significant and somewhat painful “aha” moment.  The costs to stay competitive teaching on the digital side of  this industry were staggering: software upgrades, website fees, hosting fees, travel, etc.  When I looked at all of the hard costs stacked next to the income I earned, I was sadly disappointed.

Beyond just the hard costs, I also began to look at the cost to my time.  There were all the hours spent working into the wee hours of the morning, and the time spent away from my kids and husband so I could complete assignments… As I stared at those two balance sheets, financial and personal, it was very clear in black and white that it truly wasn’t worth it!  It was a painful realization for me, to see that the work I had put my heart and soul into for three years had sucked so much out of me.  It wasn’t just taking my time, but also my money.  I decided to take a step back.

For most of the summer, I decided I was going to just be a “regular” scrapbooker again.  I immersed myself in personal projects, began organizing my digital supplies & photos, and scrapbooked just for the fun of it.  I scaled back the design of my website and went back to where I began – a simple blog that was upgraded with categories so my readers could quickly find the tutorials they were looking for.  I also followed my heart – only working on things that completely inspired me.  Most importantly – I set aside more time with my kids & husband.

At the beginning of the summer, I was completely expecting that I would walk away from the professional side of this industry forever.  However, after taking a break and spending some time just being a “regular” scrapbooker again, I was reminded of why I LOVE this hobby.  I also realized how refreshing and helpful it can be to take a break and re-evaluate.  After taking time off, I can see things more clearly, especially ways that I can be a lot more productive with my time and energy.

Nowadays I am spending a lot more time offline – being present in the moment with my kids and husband.  They are the reason I started scrapbooking in the first place.  Being with them keeps my life in balance and gives me so much inspiration.

I continue to blog on Digiscrap101 about things I am learning in my creative journey – things I would share with friends.  I guess you could say my  blog has turned into a little corner where I share things I am working on that aren’t completely ready to teach in a classroom environment yet, a sneak peek if you will.   This summer I realized that I missed the challenge of being on a creative team, so I recently took on an assignment for a designer that I love.

As for pursuing an income in this industry, I am still not sure where I will be going with that.  I learned this summer that a lot of my joy comes from sharing with others.  I am doing that now through various avenues.  I definitely have some class ideas in the back of my mind, but I am going to let them marinate for awhile before I run with them.   I also think it can be good to mix things up.  After spending two years working almost exclusively behind my computer, I recently accepted an invitation to teach Blogging 101 at the Standard Examiner’s Just for Her Conference. I am excited to experience the energy of a live audience again.

If I have one message to share today, it is that there is light at the end of the tunnel called creative burnout.  If I could go back and give the person I was in March 2010 some advice, I would tell her three things:

  1. Step back and immerse yourself in the experience of being a “regular” scrapbooker again.  Remember why you were excited to work in this industry in the first place.
  2. Dedicate some time to do work that you love – even if it means slowing down your professional assignments. This will keep you inspired and remembering what you love about this industry on an ongoing basis so burnouts are a thing of the past.
  3. Remember that publishing content just for the sake of publishing content isn’t worth it.  Look for areas of your business that aren’t absolutely necessary for your success and happiness.  Slow down in those areas so you can spend more time producing quality work you are excited about and proud to share.

I realize my answers might not work for everyone, but hopefully they will give others insight.  With things changing so much in our industry, I used to think that the person that ran fastest and the longest would win.  After a few years of that attitude, and an adjustment of what I see as the definition of personal success in this industry, I am beginning to see that sometimes the turtle truly does win the race.

Have you experienced burnout?  What do you do to stay fresh and avoid it?  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences – please – do share!

[Editor’s Note: Want to hear more from Kayla? Check her out on Episode 26 of Paperclipping Roundtable!]

Want to stay up-to-date on all the latest scrapbook news?