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What my creative burnout taught me

Can a creative person lose their creativity?

Back in 2012, I stopped drawing, painting, and writing. As a creative person, I know that creativity comes and goes like ocean waves. There were nights I felt absolutely limitless in what I was creating, but there were also days where I could barely get into it. In 2012, my mind felt blank. I was embarrassed to even say that I didn’t feel creative anymore. It surprised me that it was possible to stop doing that one thing that once fueled me every day. 

I was experiencing a creative burnout.

In the age of social media, the creative life can seem like a fulfilling and glamorous dream - there is no standard 9-5 pm office hours and the world is your workspace. Underneath a life where passion and purpose are intertwined, however, any creative person is faced with societal pressures coming from high exposure on social media, financial considerations, and uncertainty. Under pressure to earn money and conform to an audience, it’s a constant battle of combining the integrity of artistic freedom to commercial success. 

Uncertainty breeds anxiety as there is hardly an accurate prediction of where these efforts are all going towards.

In the Philippines, the creative life has its ups and downs. It’s a profession associated with those who have the means and advantages to pursue it full-time. It’s often not the first choice for a profession among the youth, unlike professions with titles (e.g. Atty., Dr.) which are often seen as a cure to poverty.

I grew up surrounded by many creatives starting with my sister. She told me that the creative industry in the Philippines has a notorious reputation of paying people less than they deserve unless you are connected with big names or have already made a name for yourself. The creative industry is not separate from and is reflective of the country’s reality of inequality. 

“Sayang ka naman kung di ka magdodoctor.” 

Hearing these words once made me feel demoralized. 

For someone who is constantly proving why creativity is as important as the sciences or engineering, working in a country that does not understand nor nurture creativity contributes to burnout.

It can be emotionally draining to prove yourself and your work on a daily basis. This negativity reinforces shame, negative self-talk, and disbelief to any creative who wish to be part of it.

Through all these experiences and sentiments, I learned these lessons while journeying back to embracing my creativity:

Lesson #1: Talk about hard things

Though seemingly counterintuitive at first, a great first step in any burnout is to talk about it. Opening up to a client, friend, or co-worker makes you feel seen and acknowledged for who you are. 

It may initially feel shameful or embarrassing to admit vulnerabilities or insecurities about oneself but if you approach others with sincerity, chances are you will find more encouragement and support.

Finding one’s own creative circle also helps to cultivate each other’s creativity and get everyone to thrive. Artists in the Philippines are all fighting against the same systemic barriers and surviving these challenges makes the creative ecosystem stronger.

Lesson #2: Stop. Take a pause and look within.

My burnout taught me that my mind and body are giving me red flags. I’m doing something that isn’t sustainable. I learned that burnout is a call to look within. It became a powerful signal to look into my deepest intentions to enrich a better understanding of myself, others, and the industry instead of blindly pursuing dreams dictated by others.

It’s a signal to pause, create space, and understand my limitations. I learned that any creative activity involves the entire self. It’s an integrated understanding of our emotions, habits, character, and minds. Thus, we have to be proactive about learning about ourselves, asking for help, and knowing when to take a break.

Lesson #3: Nurture Creativity 

Creativity is fragile. 

Many people may think that creativity is a talent. But creativity is more like our muscles. We have to exercise and take care of it to strengthen it. Comparisons, unhealthy perfectionism, and fears destroy it; what nurtures it is practicing authenticity and vulnerability, enriching connections, and creating space. 

People say that boredom is creativity’s best friend and that’s true. The space created by boredom wakes up the youthful mind in all of us that sees everything with wonder.

Lesson #4: Engage in powerful habits

Lastly, engaging in more powerful habits keeps creativity flowing. Building better habits such as maintaining movement and exercise, maintaining social circles, and practicing hobbies, make any journey fun and fulfilling instead of being too preoccupied with an end goal that may lead to more worry and dissatisfaction.

It’s been more than 5 years since my burnout and I learned how to start drawing and writing again. This time, without pressure, expectations, or judgment. Although I may not be the type of creative that I aspire to be yet, I’m acknowledging that I have taken new steps to begin again. This time, while being more intentional, patient, and hopeful through this new creative journey.

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Article by Z Santillan, learn more about her work at TULA.
Photos by Sara Erasmo, view her portfolio on Instagram

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