THE CREATIVE SPARK LOST
Ever since I was a child – I always had this deep-rooted desire to create – to make whimsical things that would cause my artistic spirit to soar & my inner child to leap for joy. But as I got older, I found myself sometimes having these little spurts here and there where I just didn't want to create. I didn't pay much attention to it at first – just chalking it up to exhaustion or life just hitting me with a curveball – that is until I started to notice these time spans which usually would last a couple of days, suddenly started to turn into weeks and then months. As an artist, this was a problem. I couldn't just stop creating. I had to pump out content in order to earn a living. So I persisted, until one day my body, mind, and everything within me just completely shut down.
I remember one day sitting on my couch and no matter how long I sat there I couldn't force myself to draw a single thing. I just felt done. I had lost my spark. Experiencing the worst case of burnout I'd ever had and for me it felt crippling. How the heck had I gotten here?! Was my first thought. And my second was, “How the heck do I get out?” That's what started me on this self-reflection journey as well as research into what exactly was burnout and what to do about it.
SO WHAT IS BURNOUT?
According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”
- Decreased Motivation/Apathy
- Lack Luster Performance
- Negativity Toward Yourself/Others
This is a pretty basic definition – and the reason is burnout hits people in different ways. This is why I want to talk about burnout from my perspective as a creative/artist because maybe my thought processes will help someone else in my shoes.
SO WHAT DOES BURNOUT LOOK LIKE FOR AN ARTIST/CREATIVE?
Over the years, I’ve had little pitfalls of burnout – but they were honestly nothing like what I experienced this past year. Similar to mini earthquakes before the monster earth-shattering ones – I think these little “burnout” bumps were foreshadowing for the massive mind-numbing burnout I experienced this year. If I had taken those small bumps more seriously – I think I could have prevented the larger dead-stop burnout my body forced me into this year. So – let’s first talk about mini burnouts…
Mini burnouts for me – looked similar to bouts of exhaustion and just a general apathy toward life. I was just not jiving with my art, with my job, and most importantly with my overall perspective of myself. Apathetic would be a great word to describe my overall mindset during these periods.
I still could get work done and pump out creative projects but they just felt lack luster. These little mini burnouts tended to last for a couple of days, to weeks. During these times, art felt like a chore where I constantly questioned my abilities as an artist and even as a creative person in general. Whatever project I worked on – I found myself second-guessing everything I did to the point it was infuriating. I sometimes would do the same project six to seven times and still place it in the trash.
“While these “Mini Burnouts” allowed me to function – it was still at a very disjointed and painful pace – with little to no creative spark.“
After pushing through these “mini burnouts” for several years – suddenly something had to give and that’s when my body, mind, and spirit came to a complete and abrupt stop. At this point, art wasn't just a chore anymore – it felt physically painful. Creativity felt absolutely draining. On top of all this – I felt this constant overwhelming guilt to pump out artistic work but the absolute devastation knowing my mind just couldn’t handle it. I found myself actively avoiding my usual creative spots and instead climbing into bed to escape from my lack of creativity. I was literally at rock bottom and could not for the life of me figure out how to climb out.
THE CREATIVE LIES
So, how did I get to this deep dark hole that swallowed me up and refused to spit me out? At the time, I really didn't know what had caused me to get into this pit. But I did know there were three lies that were keeping me chained there.
- LIE #1: BEING CREATIVE MEANS YOU ARE ALWAYS CREATIVE
- Um, NO. We are people just like everyone else. Creative people aren't super humans – able to pump out great content with a snap of their fingers. Sometimes being artistic means you don’t want to paint. Sometimes being artistic means you need to go for a hike and give your creative brain a rest. This lie made me feel unworthy of being called an artist – because during my bouts of burnout I couldn't make myself create. This added another layer to my already depressed mood.
- LIE #2: GREAT ART COMES FROM HARDSHIPS
- Another NO. I can't tell you how many times I heard this during my hardest days of burnout. It usually went something like this, “Well, a lot of artists made their greatest masterpieces during their lowest lows.” First – let's break this down – YES, hardships can be a catalyst to spark great art – I mean how many musicians have created incredible lyrics by processing sh*t they have encountered. But typically inspiration is NOT born when you are at your lowest – you know that time when you are crying on the floor, mind broke, or even numb from the traumatic experience. Usually, creative inspiration comes after the fact. After, you've processed your sh*t and wrapped your brain in a halfway decent space. If you are creating during your burnout – chances are your art will be messy and chaotic – reflecting the emotions inside of you. Before I came to this realization – I had this devastating feeling that I wasn't using my creativity to its fullest. I wasn't taking as they say “my lemons and well-making lemonade.” But, truth be told, processing and healing takes time, and since we are creative beings that means our emotions are wrapped up in our creative processes. Meaning our art during our burnout (if we are even creating) may be disjointed, messy, and chaotic until something clicks and we start to pull ourselves out of that emotional wreck we have been living in.
- LIE #3: ARTIST ALWAYS LOVE THEIR JOB
- NOPE! We are once again human and there are some things that I do hate about my job no matter how much I do love it. This goes for hobbies as well – no matter how much you may love your hobby there is always something that can get under your skin and drive you a little batty.
THE AFTERMATH OF BURNOUT
These three mindsets really crippled me during my darkest times of burnout. To sum things up – I felt unworthy of being called an artist – because I couldn't create. I felt lazy and unproductive because I couldn't use my hardships as a “spark” for creativity. And finally, I felt guilty because I had what everyone deemed as the “dream” job – but at the moment I hated everything about it. These mindsets were debilitating on top of the exhaustion and fatigue I already felt. But, after wrestling with these concepts as well as re-evaluating how I got into my current burnout – I slowly started to pull myself out and respark my creativity. In another post, I'll talk more about what brought on my burnout as well as the steps I took to get out of it. But for now, hopefully, this article can help you recognize some pitfalls/lies that might be leading you to an artistic/creative burnout.
Thanks for reading and until next time,