Why Burnout Is the Photographer’s Best Friend

Burnout.

We’ve all experienced it.

Maybe it was at your last job – the job with the grim cubicle and the constantly-overheating computer. Maybe it’s now, as editing and emails and laundry and empty La Croix cans pile up around you. 

Wherever burnout strikes, it strikes hard. It leaves its victims feeling exhausted, frustrated, and doubting the path they’ve chosen.

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Photo by Lauren Clark

But what if burnout is more than lack of sleep and a bad attitude? What if burnout is life’s way of saying, “HEY! Stop what you’re doing! It’s not working for you anymore!

Family lifestyle photographer Lauren Clark did just that when burnout hit at the apparent height of her career in Lubbock, Texas. She stopped, took a step back, reevaluated her circumstances, and started over.

Here’s how you can:

  • listen when burnout arrives with lessons to teach you
  • reset your boundaries and reestablish your priorities
  • refocus on work that brings you joy

Burnout Is Your Rescue Squad

Burnout isn’t here to ruin your day. It’s here to save the day.

Burnout tells you you’re spreading yourself too thin, sleeping too little, and struggling too hard. It reminds you that you’re a human being with real psychological and physiological limitations – and that it’s okay to say no.

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Photo by Lauren Clark

Burnout may just be you – the real, inside you – stepping in at long last to save you from yourself. Lauren’s burnout year was a doozy.

That year, I had 45 weddings booked, and I was photographing up to 5 portrait sessions every week. My identity as a photographer had finally peaked, but emotionally I was dry as a desert. I didn’t have any boundaries, and I was miserable. My creativity crashed and burned because I wasn’t taking any time for myself.” – Lauren Clark

THAT, friends, is burnout. 


Burnout Is Your Wake Up Call

Burnout isn’t just there to mock you then wander off for some punch like that jerk you went to prom with. No, burnout’s purpose is to spur you into action! When burnout strikes, it’s time to make a change – sometimes a drastic one!

“I just up and quit taking weddings! Before, I never thought I could quit. I thought my overhead was too high and there was no way out.” – Lauren Clark

Maybe the very thing burnout has you desperate to do is something you think you simply can’t do.

Or can you?


Burnout Is Your Motivation

Okay, so maybe you can’t quit your day job just yet. You can’t stop saying yes to every photography prospect. And you can’t throw away all your dishes instead of washing them. (Really. Bad idea, chief.)

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Photo by Lauren Clark

But maybe you can:

  • Define goals and time limits. Having an end in sight can make the journey much more tolerable. Set short-term, achievable goals so you can chart your progress!

“Ask yourself: what do you love? What do you want to photograph most? Even if you have to do something you don’t love to pay the bills for a while, set a goal of finding out what you want to shoot – something no one else can do as well as you. Then work toward being able to do that exclusively.” – Lauren Clark

  • Set ONE boundary. Yep – just one! You have to start somewhere! Maybe you finally stop booking those discounted “friends and family” sessions. Or you stop bringing work home from your day job. Or you declare every Saturday No Dishes Day and eat everything from a paper towel lined with plastic wrap. (Environment? What environment?) Whatever it is, make a boundary you can stick to – and make it one that truly impacts your life for the better.

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Photo by Lauren Clark

  • Choose ONE replacement plan. No, we’re not talking about insurance. We’re talking about a new behavior that will eventually replace an older, less fulfilling behavior – like Lauren did!

“Quitting weddings helped me dive into family photography – something I had sworn I would never do. But now family photography is my absolute favorite! “ – Lauren Clark

If Lauren hadn’t listened to burnout’s call, she may never have been motivated to pursue family photography. These days, lifestyle family sessions are the bulk of Lauren’s business – and the work that makes her the happiest!


Burnout Is Your Creative Thinking

“For the first time, I started setting boundaries. I quit trying to take every session and every wedding. Instead, I only booked what I needed so I could spend more time with my family.” – Lauren Clark

What do you really need in your life? Yes, yes, of course you need the basics: food, water, shelter. But what do you need to maintain the basics and build a life worth living? If you haven’t done the following things in a while, they can help you clarify your core needs, and uncover creative solutions for meeting those needs:

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Photo by Lauren Clark

  • Reevaluate your budget. Where are you wasting money? Where are you misspending? Can you free up funds here so you can stress less there?
  • Reassess your rates. Do you know how much your business actually earns? Are you charging enough? What’s stopping you from charging what you’re worth? How can you address those fears?
  • Are your things making you happy? Is there anything in your life that is supposed to be bringing you happiness, but instead is weighing you down? What can you change? What can you eliminate? Where can you simplify?

“I thought life was about appearances – the fancy car and the big house. But I realized none of that really mattered, because I found no happiness or joy in it. Now my business is about being real and honest, and providing an experience that’s real and honest.” – Lauren Clark


Burnout Is Your Self-Care

Even when you’re in the tough years – in the weeds; in the thick of things – self-care is necessary. And it’s not all spa days and week-long cruises, either. (We get it. Those things aren’t possible – or even desirable – for everyone.)

Self-care can be as simple as:

  • eating 3 meals a day – and at least one of them isn’t cereal picked out of your child’s hair during the car ride to kindercare.
  • meditating each morning. Also known as “mindfulness,” meditation can be a spiritual practice or a simple exercise in breathing and clearing your head. Scientific studies support the use of meditation for both physical and emotional stressors. 
  • connecting with people you love. Psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson refers to humans as homovinculum – “the ones who bond.” We need loving, supportive human connection to thrive, and when we deny ourselves that connection, we suffer. As Dr. Johnson says, “Effective dependency makes you stronger.”

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Photo by Lauren Clark

A stronger you makes for a stronger business. When you feel safe and secure in your own relationships, your relationships with your clients flourish. When you feel certain in your path and steady in your boundaries, your business can experiment, evolve, and excel.

“Once you’ve been running your photography business for a few years, take a sabbatical and reevaluate your motives for your business.

If you don’t set aside those times, you’ll just crash and burn just like I did, and you won’t see a way out. Your work will suffer; your relationships will suffer.

What I learned from my mistakes was to set boundaries so I can stay healthy in my creativity.” – Lauren Clark

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Photo by Lauren Clark

Treat your creativity as an extension of your physical body. You wouldn’t neglect to brush your teeth or fail to shower, would you? Similarly, don’t ignore your creativity’s needs. Listen to burnout when it creeps in. Let it drive you to action, motivate you to grow, and inspire you to innovate.

The sooner you recognize burnout as a best friend, the sooner you’ll respond to its promptings – and the more time you’ll enjoy living a truly fulfilling life.

 


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