Burnout is the effect, but do you know the cause?

Photo by Kahari king on Unsplash

When I talk about burnout, folks often assume they need to quit their job, take a vacation or do something drastically different in their life.

But in my experience, burnout can be an effect stemming from multiple causes. If you’re familiar with the scientific adage of cause and effect, it can be easy to simplify burnout as the effect of ONE cause. Maybe a job, a relationship, a mind-numbing project. But burnout in creatives can be a symptom of a bigger cause: a lack of boundaries, insincerity, insecurity in their craft and more.

Burnout can come for artists and creatives and entrepreneurs when they’ve been pulling too long from a well that’s run dry. What’s feeding your creativity may not have anything left to give, and that’s often when burnout occurs. What motivates you is a huge underlying cause in your creative self, and if those motives have changed, you need to start investigating this within yourself.

Tracking down the source of burnout does not take great luck or a brilliant, clear mind. Tracking down burnout can be as simple as making a list of everything your brain thinks sounds stressful for ten minutes. That’s a good place to start. Maybe your to-do list is so long, and varied and vague that it takes you ten minutes to understand one specific note. That sounds like a recipe for burnout, when the tasks are too big and undefined and varied for your brain to feel even remotely comfortable getting started.

Another source of burnout can be boundaries. Maybe there are weeping willows in your life where you need bright daffodils. It could be your environment, your friends, the places you are trying to work in or create from, have all turned sour. If the air smells, if it’s too cold, if your friends laugh or seem uninterested in your ideas — these are all good causes of pending burnout. It will come, and it will suck.

Another cause of burnout can be from a lack of inspiration. Some writers assume they have one genre, one path, one journey to take with their pen and never branch out. I have seen business owners and artists do the same thing with marginally similar results. Sticking to and honing one craft is fine, as long as it’s giving you new perspectives, fresh takes. But if painting on the same medium for five years has you feeling restless and irritable, it’s time to try something new.

If blogging or recording voice overs has you purposely letting your laptop die and “misplacing” the charging cord for a week — it’s time to try something new. If your brain is finding reasons or excuses that seem wild and unbelievable, it’s time to pivot to your creative toolbox. What’s been left untouched for a bit that you can return to? Maybe it’s a book, or a play, or a new medium for painting or crafting or it’s hosting a one off workshop and taking a break from 1:1 meetings.

Maybe the cause is that your routine is too rigid, or that you simply don’t have one at all. Maybe this is causing your brain to be on the fritz and you need to optimize your daily life to find peak productivity times for fun and clean energy to create and start something new.

Play Nancy Drew in your own mind, and find the clues for burnout in your mind’s palace. Only then can you start to treat the effect, and find the cure.

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Liz Brinks

Liz Brinks

Hey, I’m Liz Brinks (they/them) I’m a queer gender-non-conforming writer, business coach & cat-parent (@itsjuustliz everywhere) based out of Wisconsin!