For UX designers, fashion designers, interior designers or any type of professional artist, it’s common to experience burnout–and for it to go undetected. While burnout is most commonly associated with corporate gigs, those who work in creative fields can absolutely run into burnout for a number of reasons.
First, let’s define burnout. While the term has been around for some 60 years, it was crystallized in the 1970s with the creation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), the first scientifically developed measure of burnout that is used in studies around the world. The Harvard Business Review outlines the three key conditions of burnout under the MBI:
Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
Reduced professional efficacy
Whether you work in design full-time or part-time, delving into the arts on a daily basis can lead to these conditions. It’s important to identify what can cause work-related stress and have some ready-solutions to treat it.
It’s common for design jobs to be a side hustle.
In many cases, workers turn to these types of roles as creative side hustles. For example, a fashion designer can work for a major fashion house, while starting an independent label. A graphic designer could work for a national magazine, while freelancing for other companies on the weekends. The full-time accountant can be a maker for Etsy to fulfill a passion for arts & crafts.
Solution: Even if a side job is fulfilling a passion, that doesn’t mean it should take over your life. If you’re taking on projects outside of your nine-to-five be sure to set a structured schedule to prevent exhaustion. Set aside specific days of the week and hours for your side job, to give yourself ample leisure time to tend to your health and wellness. Without a structured schedule, you might find yourself plugged in 24/7, which is a sure path to burnout.
It’s a highly competitive market.
For some, proving your artistry is worth it alongside millions of other emerging and established designers can take an emotional toll. On social media and online, it’s easier than ever to compare your work and success to peers. But the comparison game can get tiring.
Solution: To avoid comparison and feelings of unworthiness, it is imperative to define your unique selling proposition (USP), or your unique value proposition (UVP). Clearly state what makes your services unique, and what makes you unique as the designer. What distinguishes you from the competition? Is there a specific type of customer or industry that you serve? Your UVP should appear on the homepage of your business website and woven into any pitch or campaign. Rejection or critique are inevitable in this business, but it’s important to let your UVP serve as a North Star. Meditation and daily affirmations can help you feel in tune with your self worth, and therapy can also help you feel centered.
All play, no work.
For full-time and part-time designers alike, it’s common to become engulfed in the artistic work, but overlook the managerial side of running a creative endeavor.
Solution: Build a small business website that works for you and with you. Let’s say you’re an interior designer who is struggling to keep track of client meetings. Install a booking widget like Scheduly to give you a centralized calendar of any consultations or meetings. In addition to managing your calendar, you have to manage your books. Consider hiring a bookkeeper and accountant to make sure your finances are in order. If you’re really struggling to manage your creative business, consider hiring an assistant or a digital assistant to keep you on the right track.
Creation in solitude.
Hours on the laptop, long nights in the studio. Design work can be a lonely field. Working in solitude can be a silent cause of burnout, as it can lead to boredom and lack of growth.
Solution: Find your creative community. If you are a solopreneur or work in a high-level role, you can start with an accountability peer, where you have weekly or monthly check-ins with another like-minded creative to discuss challenges and goals. Help each other overcome obstacles and stay accountable. Of course, the more the merrier. In addition to an accountability peer, find a larger community of creatives in your city or on a national scale via virtual platforms. Look to volunteer for local nonprofits in the arts, or look to Meetup.com and Eventbrite for related events. Never underestimate the human need for connection. Remember, even creative geniuses like Vincent van Gogh found friendship with other artists like Paul Gauguin.
The bottom line to beating burnout is not to fight it but to prevent it, and identify the physical and mental root causes. The emotional triggers play a huge part in chronic workplace stress. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s to remember health is of utmost importance.
While work is a huge dimension of our identity, it’s not meant to define our entire being, even if our work is our passion.