I am a member of quite a few online groups, and they are mostly centred around performing arts, singing, musical theatre or running a voice-related business. One of the things I quite frequently come across is that many of us creative folks don’t seem to take any time off, whether that’s down to money woes, tight work schedules/perceived lacking control over our diaries, or simply having no clear separation between business and private life: “Music is our life”, after all.
It’s unfortunately not uncommon that people haven’t been on holiday/vacation for 5+ years because they feel they can’t afford it (as in the actual time off). Or they’re literally scared to tell their clients they’ll be away for a week or two and basically keep on working regardless – from their holiday destination, for hours every day.
I experienced burnout myself many years ago, and I therefore feel a lot of empathy. It took me years to overhaul my own thinking, and it is therefore something I feel about very strongly. Burnout is not “just in your head” – it has very real, physical, mental and emotional symptoms (you can read what the W.H.O. has to say about it here).
The tough talk…
- You NEED to take regular holidays, freelancer or not, to avoid burnout. You won’t work at all if you’re getting mentally or physically sick – we’re really talking about basic human needs we shouldn’t override here.
- If you can’t afford to take a week off (I’m not talking about swanky locations, I’m just talking about actual time off), you need to rethink your pricing and/or your business model. Even (and especially!) if you are an active performer, there will be gaps in your schedule that you can use to recharge your batteries.
- You don’t need to be available for everyone at all times. It’s a particular mindset creative freelancers need to get rid of, because it’s ultimately a scarcity one (“My time is limited, that’s why I choose not to take any for myself”). You simply tell your clients you’re on holiday and stop being afraid of doing so, because you’re not asking for anything unrealistic, but something NORMAL. If there are deadlines, you need to plan your work, and when you take your vacation, accordingly and in advance. That can, on occasion, mean saying no to one or the other. Which one you pick is ultimately your choice.
It’s one thing if you love what you do and choose to do bits and bobs during your time off. I do that all the time, but it makes me feel good, not bad. The thing that’s so sad to read is that many performers and creative freelancers genuinely feel they have no choice and actually hate it.
So what to do to avoid burnout?
Because I’ve been there myself, I will start with what I do (and also recommend to my clients), and I’d love to hear your ideas/strategies, what you have tried so far and what works for you.
- I generally try to be more mindful and listen to the signals of my body when I’m tired. I know we don’t always have a choice, and some things can’t wait, but many can. So if I have a choice (as in: no looming deadline, no appointment/important event), I try to stop working when my productivity goes down the drain.
- I schedule breaks throughout the day and even set an alarm to remind myself. Whenever possible, I take these breaks outside, even if it’s just for a 10 minute walk around the block.
- I actually ask for help if I need it (that’s a biggie for me, because I used to be too proud to do that for many years and thought people might perceive me as weak).
- I block certain days in my calendar. I will only work on those days for very special events (I don’t perform anymore, so that’s easily doable, but even clients who do can choose between “negotiable reasons” and “non-negotiable reasons”).
- I take time off 3 to 4 times a year. I hardly go “on vacation”, as in “leave the country” (I’ve done that the last time in 2013), but I take a consecutive block of one to two weeks’ off work. I set auto-responders for that time and switch off my business mobile, and I tell clients in advance I’ll be away. I might still do creative work or things that could be considered “work-related” during that time, but only stuff that makes me feel good and isn’t a drain on my energy.
- I’ve already done this for myself over a decade ago, but I recommend it to some clients: I rethought my career path. What makes you feel bad, tired and drained all the time or repeatedly, and not just for a short period that passes, is usually worth rethinking.
Which brings me to an important consideration…
Diversification of income
Many of us have portfolio careers by default (performing, teaching,…), but even within one or the other, there are options.
- Think about that special niche of yours. What is your unique set of skills/talents, that one thing not everyone can offer? Don’t say you don’t have one or you’re “just your ordinary, middle of the road teacher”. Dig deep. Could you approach people or organisations locally (or even regionally, nationally or *gasp* worldwide) and offer (online) workshops about that particular thing you’re really good at?
- Speaking of online: Could you offer online 1-2-1 or group classes? Could you think about creating one, or multiple, course(s) that will generate passive income (you can offer them self-hosted or on one of the already existing platforms).
- Could you crowdfund future projects? Sell your music (or something else) online? Diversify your gigs? Use your voice in new ways (e.g. voiceovers)?
- Could you offer package deals that aren’t based on hourly rates, but the value/results you help your customers achieve to free yourself from linking your income to the actual amount of hours you put in (because those resources are limited, and depending on your local market, there will be a limit to what you can do).
These are obviously just examples, and there are many more opportunities that totally depend on your unique niche, but in a nutshell:
Is rethinking your current business model on the cards for you so you can stop feeling burned out?
I see/hear so often that people are absolutely exhausted, not happy with the way their creative businesses are developing, but almost as frequently, I perceive a real resistance to make a change.
So whether that resistance is down to being so overwhelmed that you don’t even know where to start or not believing in yourself/that you have something truly unique to offer: