In the music industry, there’s a mentality that, in order to be successful, you must work 24/7. There’s a major guilt factor that comes with taking a day off to enjoy time with friends, family, or even on your own, and if you’re like most people in this industry, you feel a constant nagging in the back of your mind telling you what you “should” be doing.
But here’s the secret no one tells you about adhering to that mindset: It’ll destroy you.
There's absolutely nothing worse for your personal health, well-being, or career than becoming totally and completely burnt out. When you’ve run yourself into the ground, successful or not, there’s no glory in no longer loving what you set out to do or resenting the time you have to spend working on your projects. There’s no beauty in feeling exhausted all the time or abandoning loved ones in the name of your career.
But no one talks about that.
I’m here to shine a light on burnout for what it is and to help you avoid it before it even starts. As someone who has suffered from burnout and is still recovering, I wish I’d paid attention to the signs leading up to it. Below are five signs that you may be heading towards burnout and how to correct it before it gets out of hand.
1. You're exhausted all the time
This one seems like common sense, but when you’re working towards a goal, you do tend to put your heart, soul, and all the free hours in the day towards it, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between normal exhaustion from a hard day’s work and the kind of exhaustion that comes from your body beginning to burn out.
I like to think of it this way: If, at the end of the day, you feel tired but you also feel energized, proud, excited, and ready to start again the next day, then you’re doing it right. It’s when you begin to feel exhausted without purpose, or first thing in the morning or by 2:00 p.m. that you might want to question what’s going on. Every now and again, after a particularly trying day, this is totally normal. But when it starts to be a regular occurrence, it’s a problem.
A few quick tips: Hire out for the tasks that are draining you instead of energizing you (I know it costs money, and I know you don’t have a lot, but trust me, finding the money and hiring out is much better than spinning your wheels going nowhere). Don’t work on any one task for more than an hour at a time. Take breaks. Even if it’s a five-minute stretch, or a 20-minute walk with your dog, take time away from your work to shake it off and come back refreshed.
2. You find yourself dreading the day's tasks
There’s a difference between having a tough day’s work ahead of you and waking up nearly every day with a knot in the pit of your stomach. When you’re beginning to burn out, the things you used to love will lose their spark, and even the most minute tasks will seem like climbing Everest. This is because burning out is your body and mind’s way of trying to force you to rest.
Working, worrying, and hustling 24/7 for too long without a break takes its toll on your mind and body, and simply put, they lose their energy to keep up. If you start to dread the day's tasks or if you’re beginning to have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, this is your cue to take a break, step away for a bit, and recharge.
Taking a day or two, or a week, off to recharge your energy, creativity, and motivation may seem impossible because of the way our industry is set up, but trust me, if you’re suffering from burnout and you don’t address it now, it will get worse, and your work will suffer. Take the time, and come back energized. Your work and fans will be right where you left them.
3. The way you talk about your project has changed
This was one of the first things I noticed when I began to burn out. I went from excitedly talking about everything I was working on to becoming reserved, quiet, and kind of grumpy about everything I was doing. I no longer went out of my way to share what I was doing, and if someone happened to ask how I was, or how things were going, I would brush the question off with a generic answer meant to protect my ego. “Things are great, thanks! Just really busy.” Anything to project success and calm on the outside, while inside I was a mess of doubt, exhaustion, and fear.
Pay attention to the way you talk about your project and notice any shifts in wording, tone, or the feeling you get when you talk about it. Ask yourself what’s changed. Pay attention to the first things that pop into your mind.
4. You’re angry at your project and anyone more successful than you
Not unlike the last point, becoming angry at your project, those who are trying to help you, or those with more success than you, especially if you aren’t generally an angry person, can be a sign that you need to take a major step back. I have this belief that anger is just a cover up for hurt/fear, and in this instance, I’d say that’s dead on.
When you’re in perfect harmony with your project, things are good. You’re excited, you see a bright future, and you feel happiness for others chasing their dreams.
But when something is amiss, especially if that something requires a deep look inside yourself, you tend to turn that frustration outwards. You become resentful of other bands who are making it, you get snide about the success they’ve had, you’re frustrated with anyone who tries to help you in a way that requires personal effort, and you’ll find any excuse that this isn’t your fault as to why you’re not where you want to be. (“That band just has better support than me.” “No one buys albums anymore.” “Those guys just don’t take me seriously.” “I don’t have the money to hire a team so I can’t get the same recognition.” Any of these sound familiar?)
First of all, stop it. You’ll never get anywhere blaming others for your own mistakes or mishaps. There’s nothing helpful about playing the victim.
Secondly, this can be a classic sign of burnout, and when you begin to feel frustrated, angry, and generally irritated with the world, it’s usually because you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels for a while and you’ve finally hit your breaking point. It’s usually your ego’s way of letting off some steam while still protecting itself.
When this happens, take a step back, check your ego, and take a look inwards. What caused this? Maybe the economy does suck, and maybe those other bands do have better connections than you, but that’s because they worked to get those connections and found a way to success even with the bad economy. They didn’t blame others, they worked with the situation they were in and took control of their own lives.
Take the time to re-evaluate the steps you took to get here and begin to analyze in a completely objective way what went right and what you’d do differently. You don’t need to beat yourself up here, you just need to be able to restructure things and, from there, move forward. When you accept that you’re in control of your life and career and can make those decisions according to what you want and what’s going to work for your career, instead of waiting around on someone else to fix it for you, it’s actually really freeing.
5. You’re not making any real progress
Another key sign that you’re suffering from burnout is that, despite putting in the work, you feel completely stuck.
When we begin to burn out, it’s not uncommon that we actually go in the opposite direction that we should and instead of stepping back, we begin working even harder, convinced that this is just a rough patch we have to break through. And sometimes it is. But when you notice months of hard work and long hours have gone by and you haven’t moved forward, it might be deeper than that.
Once again, taking a step back to objectively evaluate your situation is going to be a career saver here. Don’t be afraid to cut out what isn’t working and experiment with something new. That’s how you’ll find growth. We can’t expect to keep doing the same thing over and over if it isn’t working and get upset when we don’t get different results.
So pay attention to your body, take time for yourself, and try not to listen to the music industry rhetoric that says you have to work 24/7. A tired, grumpy, angry, burnt out version of you is not going to inspire anyone, and it’s certainly not going to get you closer to your goals. So stay aware, pay attention to the signs above, and for goodness sake, take a break once in a while! Life is much more fun that way.