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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!]

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48 Responses to Thoughts on Creative Burnout

  1. Denise September 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    I don’t have enough time to scrapbook to get burnt out so I won’t have to worry about this. :)

  2. Robin Anderson September 13, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    I can relate, though on a much smaller scale. I am the primary instructor at a local scrapbook store, and I also have a “regular” job, and am the mom of two tweens. I find it so hard to keep on top of the latest trends and to keep classes fresh. Sometimes I just don’t have a creative thought in my head and nothing works. We need to remember what scrapbooking is about in the first place. A way to remember special moments – and if we’re too busy working on our next project or on our computers all night, there are fewer special moments to remember.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

      Love what you said, “if we’re too busy working on our next project or on our computers all night, there are fewer special moments to remember.” You hit the nail on the head – glad to know I am not alone!

  3. Debra September 13, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Hi Nancy and Kayla,

    Thanks so much for this, it’s much appreciated.

    Debra

  4. Jennifer Rogers September 14, 2010 at 4:13 am #

    Hello, Kayla (and Nancy!) I am a “real life scrapbooker who is not in the industry”, to paraphrase PRT, and would like to compliment you on your eloquent honesty while commenting from a different point of view. I have just attended our annual Scrappers Conference and coming down from that high am inclined to think Professional scrappers “have it all” and moan about my job, although I am self employed in an extremely challenging & exciting niche. So– I send some warm empathy your way instead of the usual naked envy! More power to you– scrapper in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

      Thanks Jennifer!

  5. Doreen Page September 14, 2010 at 7:36 am #

    I’m not “in the industry” professionally; but I have experienced burn-out as well. I get so caught up in “surfing” the blogs and websites, that I don’t actually get any scrapbooking done. You have inspired me to take a step back – back away from the computer that is. I’m going to limit my internet time each day and up my actual scrapbooking time each week. I want to get my life’s story down for my boys to have when I’m gone and also to enjoy while I’m here. I love watching them look at the scrapbooks of our lives. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

      Thank you! I love the idea of stepping away from the computer – it is just so easy to get sucked in! :)

  6. Paula September 14, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    I completey agree with Kaylas comments on doing her taxes and finding that all her time and effort did not pay off especially considering the sacrifices her family made. As scrapbook professionals we often get caught in the emotion and exictement of the project and feed off the energy of our students or collegues. It sometimes takes a crisis to come to the realization of what is happening. This industry is fuelded by dedicated and passionate individuals who inevitably come to this realization then take a step back, e.g Stacy Julian, Lisa Bearson, Becky Higgins. It would be nice if at least after we have paid our dues and proven our value, if the industry would pay and play fairly instead of feeding off the next passionate talented scrapbooker who is willing to sacrifice her family and time for little or no financial compensation. I recognise money is not everything, very few scrapbookers are going to get rich or even get by in this industry, all they ever want is fair pay for the work they do, both visable and behind the scenes.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

      I guess that is one thing that has surprised me about this industry is the fact that it is fueled by creative and passionate people who truly work for the love of what they do. Coming from a business background, I am amazed at what people do in this industry for little or no financial incentive.

      That said, I also think we are lucky that we all have something like scrapbooking to bring together so many caring and creative people. I can honestly say that I believe there is no other industry full of so many kind and helpful people willing to help just to help or because they love something so much. I really believe with all the good people we have in this industry we also have a huge opportunity to really make a difference in the world.

  7. Jennifer Earley September 14, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    Thanks for sharing your story and experience. I’m glad you have found some balance and that you can, and are, spending time w/your family. That is what’s most important. God bless and keep up the good balancing act :)

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

      Thanks Jennifer – the balancing act is ongoing. :) Always keeping those plates in the air. :)

  8. stumpedagain September 14, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Very well written article. Always wondered how the creative side “endlessly” creates! I would think that a step back would also enrich those things you create as well, instead of forcing creativity out. Congrats on finding your way out of the tunnel. That seems to be one of those “wisdom” nuggets that only comes from experience and age. More reasons to tap into our parents and grandparents instead of thinking we know it all.

  9. Melinda Brooks September 14, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    I recently opened a store with 2 other partners. I work a full time job, my husband travels, I have 2 kids, 10 and 7, and maintain the family ranch when my husband is away. WOW, as I type this, what was I thinking????? I just went through a burnout last week. I felt like there was no part of my life I was being successful in… everything was or had fallen apart. I had a long talk with my husband and later my business partners. I felt much better about our plan of action. So, I went to the store on Sunday and created 6 boo-tifully, spook-tactular cards. I saw the inspiration again, which I hadnt seen in about a month. I wasnt a “card maker” before the store, but I have gotten pretty good…lol. I just need my hard work to pay off, i.e. someone take the class. That is the worse when I have spent X amount of hours planning and creating something for a class and no one shows up. Changing trends are so hard to keep up with. Thanks for the advice and its good to know that I am not the only one.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

      Wow – you have a lot of plates to balance! It is good to know none of us are alone in this! :) Thanks for your comment.

  10. anonymous September 14, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Kayla, thank you for the honest assessment. For me, your lessons learned tie right in with the recent Round Table #36. Zen Habits can certainly be applied.

  11. Ann Johnson September 14, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    This is what I just needed to hear about and apply it to my everyday life. I am always so worried about what I want to do next that I forget how to enjoy the moment. I have taken so many scrapbooking classes because they looked fun and never finished them or did them. I always think about having a balance sheet for scrapbooking but I am very afraid of the reality. Thanks for everything you do. I still am intrigued about Lightroom but I better finish what I started before I start another project. ~Ann

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

      I am with you – oh the classes and books I want to read and the tutorials I want to do! :) Thanks for your comment, Ann! :)

  12. Andrea September 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    What an awesome post, Kayla. This was such an inciteful article. I fight burn out, too. Sometimes, I just take a few weeks off and then I see something that I love, that inspires me and I’m back! But I did have to cut down on my design team commitments to avoid being overwhelmed and to maintain the balance that works for me and my family. It seems I always think I can do more then I can, lol! Which, honestly, I could prolly do more, but who will suffer? The family would if I try to do too much. So it’s def a balancing act that has to be tweeked for each individual. I’m so glad you have found your balance – you’re such an inspiration to many! Thanks for the awesome article! :)

    P.S. Nancy, I love this site – you do such great work here! :)

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

      Thanks Andrea – as creative as you are I would never think you experience burnout! Good to know I am not alone! :)

  13. Lain Ehmann September 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Fantastic post — thank you so much, Kayla!
    I wrote my own thoughts on the topic in a post on my blog: http://www.layoutaday.com/creative-burnout-whats-the-cure/

    Thanks again, Kayla!
    Lain

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

      Love your thoughts Lain – especially the marathon example. It is so true! Thanks for continuing the discussion. :)

  14. Michelle September 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Thank you so much for the honesty in this article.

    I closed my online kit club earlier this year and it was the best decision I have ever made. It was all consuming, taking too much time away from my family. I wasn’t scrapbooking (which is what led me to the business anyway) and the financial aspect wasn’t worth all the hours and effort.

    I barely slept, I was short tempered with my family while giving 110% to my customers (now how is that right?). I was consumed with finidng the next goodies to fill our kits, packing kits, shipping orders, managing a web site and a design team, and trying to build a business, while having a full time job and 2 very little boys who really needed more of their mommy.

    Since walking away, I have been free to completely enjoy my family and scrapbooking again for the past few months and I couldn’t be happier. I scrap when I feel like it with whatever product I want to use, instead of having to design with a specific kit to meet a deadline.

    Will I ever dip my toes back in the industry? Maybe, but not unless I am able to keep balance in my life. Until then, I am content with a low stress DT assignment and being an everyday scrapper. I hope you discover what works for you too.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm #

      I read your comment and, as you know from my post, I so identify with you! Kudos to you for following your heart – I hope it leads you to even greater happiness! :)

  15. marchelle September 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    I guess we all reach this point sometimes. So after doing some huge scrapbooking projects this past year…I was just in that boat. SO….for the past 3 or 4 mos. I have just been going through my mass collection of KOM’s, papers etc and just devoting my time to making lay outs….w/ no specific picture in mind to use on the page…just picking papers up and going for it. I have really just enjoyed creating for fun and its been really relaxing and so much fun. And now…I’m ready to dig through my box of pictures and start another album….Thanks for the reality check.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

      Love the “creating just for the fun of it” idea. It is so true that sometimes just doing something completely outside of what we normally do can reboot our creativity. Thanks for your comment. :)

  16. Steph H. September 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    I applaud you for so openly and honestly sharing your experience. I believe that most “on the outside” (meaning those who want to be designers or members of a creative team) think the grass is greener on the inside. You have shown us all that while it can be, it’s a lot of hard work and the drive needed for success can be too much. This is especially true now in the era of immediacy.

    I experienced career burnout back in 2003 after managing 100+ corporate and fundraising events a year. Now, after so many years away from that line of work – a career I was born for and really enjoyed for many years – I would enjoy getting back into it. But, I would need variety in the types of events I pursued. And, I would most certainly focus more on working to live rather than living to work. What I “do” no longer defines me.

    Kudos to you for putting your happiness and that of your family ahead of all else. The people in our lives really are the most important when all is said and done. Enjoy!

    Wishing you all the best in 2010 and beyond,

    Steph

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

      Thanks Steph! Love your example of burnout in another industry. I also love that “what (you) do no longer defines you! That is freedom! All the best :)

  17. Christine Ousley September 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    Loved your article. I sort of felt that you were writing about my own story. Your article is making me aware that I need to really evaluate what I need to do in the future to balance it all. I’m so glad that I stopped by for a second to read.
    xoxo, Christine

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

      Thanks Christine!

  18. Andrea Hitt Nye September 14, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    What a great article Kayla, so thoughtful and filled with so much insight. I too am seeking balance without much luck I might add. I am so happy you seem to be finding the elusive balance in your life.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks my sweet friend! I think finding balance is an ongoing thing! Life is just moving so fast! :)

  19. Noelle Lane September 14, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    Kayla: I think everyone no matter who they are or what they do can relate to your well written article. I think we’ve all been there at one time or another. In fact my first response to your article was Amen Sister! I think taking a step back occasionally to really look at what your doing & why your doing it is very smart & very healthy. I’ve been so crazy with getting the kids ready for the new school year that I hadn’t scrapped for months. I’m just starting back & am finding lots of unfinished projects that I rushed through just to get it done. Now I’m looking back & trying to remember the moments so I can more fully appreciate my pages, the memories & why I do this whole crazy hobby. Good luck in 2010!

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

      Thanks Noelle! I am so with you! That is a major reason I have a personal blog – so I don’t forget the moments! Good luck to you too! :)

  20. Pelly Roja September 15, 2010 at 9:07 am #

    This was such an interesting (and refreshing) article. I’ve always wondered how designers find the time and money to be so visible in the internet community or what sort of family situation they have that allows them to dedicate so much effort to “professional” scrapbooking. Funny how the business side of sb’ing can actually take substantial time away from our beloved families and friends (the very ones we’ve dedicated our scrapbooks and memories to).

    You are so courageous to say out loud what a lot of women are thinking and experiencing. I’m definitely going to examine the financial and monetary balance sheet of my life. A reset of priorities may be in order.

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

      Thanks Pelly!

  21. Jeannie Kinney September 15, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    Hi, Kayla, Thank you so much for your honesty. I am a recently unemployed high school teacher and am debating if I should start offering card and scrapbook classes in two different areas and what sort of income could I generate to supplement substitute teaching. I have been a demonstrator for ProvoCraft at Michael’s but that program is ending. I was continually asked why Michael’s didn’t offer classes for Expression or Cricut Cake owners. So, I am looking into finding space to teach in as Michael’s doesn’t seem interested. Any ideas for me? Thanks so much! Jeannie

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

      Hi Jeannie – I would first look at offering community education classes and then I would support your classes with a blog and occasional online videos – even if they were just to promote the next class. Just a quick and tiny idea. :)

  22. Gab September 16, 2010 at 6:44 am #

    Great article – thanks so much for your honesty!

    • Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

      Thanks Gab! :)

  23. Addie September 16, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    An excellent article! The heartache of the balance sheet got me. You’re so kind and wihtout rancor in your description of that sinking feeling of having been cheated. I’ve had it too, in a different context. I’ve said to friends many times we paper crafters, designers, artists (all of us) in the scapbooking world work so often just for products, or worse for nothing but publication. I don’t want us to forget our value –as professionals, amateurs, women, mothers, or wives. When we give ourselves away for love of what we do, the love of what we do remains, but we’ve given ourselves away. However we reclaim our value, we need to hold on to it. I love the quote from the book The Joy Luck Club, “You have to know your own worth, or no one else will.”

  24. Kayla September 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Thanks Addie – I think the biggest aha moment for me was realizing that I alone was responsible for making the decision to give my time away – no one forced me – that was what made it so painful.

    You are so right – we do have to know our own worth. I don’t regret for one second anything I have chosen to pursue. In fact, I would go as far as saying that creative burnout can lead to a beautiful new forest of opportunity as we look forward to the future, better aware of what makes us tick and what our true value is in each area of our lives.

    The balance sheet evaluation is going to be a quarterly thing for me in my life from now on. :)

  25. Renee T (italgal on BPS) September 17, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

    Kayla, thank you for your heartfelt perspective. I struggle with burnout from another angle of your experience. I have been scrapping for other people for over 10 years now. I have been very well compensated, and usually have more work than I can handle…plus I get to use my “stash.” But, I am never working on my own projects, and I don’t get to keep the fruits of my creative labor. When I actually have the time to work on my own pages, I am too burned out, I am sick of scrapbooking, and I just want a break. All the while, my piles of unscrapped personal photos grows and grows and grows. I feel guilty, because I know the day may come when I have no more paid jobs, and I’ll be missing the income…but I sure do wish that if someone would figure this “balance” thing out, they’d let us know! Best wishes, Kayla, in whatever the future has in store for you!

    • Kayla September 19, 2010 at 10:44 am #

      I hear you – I used to do some of the same and when the projects I was working on would be delivered, I felt I had nothing to show… so I started taking photos to document what I had done. I also think that it is important for all of us to schedule time to do “our own creative thing.” All the best to you. :)

  26. Carolyn September 19, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Kayla, this post was spot on. I’m a consultant and spend a lot of time making samples, updating my blog and making demo videos. I realized I wasn’t scrapbooking for me and it was really bothering me. That’s when I decided to put personal scrapbooking on my calendar. I tried to schedule it one weekend a month so I can do projects not related to my business. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept to my appointment. Your post reminded me that I really need to do it because Mr. Burnout is lurking. Thanks for your insights.

    • Kayla September 19, 2010 at 10:41 am #

      Thanks for the great idea Carolyn!

  27. Molly McCarthy September 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Kayla – I loved your article. As a self-proclaimed, Creative Misfit, I get burn out all the time and not just creatively! I getted burned with cooking dinner, housework, volunteer work, you name it and after awhile I’m done.

    It’s that magic power to step back, reevaluate and then walk away for a time that keeps me coming back. Sometimes its more empowering to say, “no” than “just do it”.

  28. Meredith September 23, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    Kayla, thanks so much for your point-of-view! Like most of us, I continually find myself over-extended and feeling burned out. I really love designing digital scrapbook products, but sometimes there is the need to create (or finish creating mid-product) just for the sake of a deadline and I find myself resenting the deadlines. I am trying to find balance and I feel that I am doing much better than over the summer. I have started teaching digital scrapbooking again to live audiences for the experience of interacting with “real” humans. It’s so rejuvenating to see the lightbulb turn on when someone else understands the process and gets excited about creating. This hobby/job definitely isn’t about the money, it truly is a labor of love. Thanks for sharing with us!

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