Toast. Lightly Browned. Observation and experiences regarding “burnout” in the creative industry.

Blog post author, Steven Kahla, working a cow in the cutting pen. Check out  THAT GUY BRANDS . 

Blog post author, Steven Kahla, working a cow in the cutting pen. Check out THAT GUY BRANDS

You look up from your work and realize that most of the day has gone, but you feel as if you have accomplished nothing of importance. Anger and frustration begin to build. Small projects, revisions, errors, corrections are deemed emergencies by other people, and those must be fixed immediately. Every project is as equally as important as the rest. Or, is it?

One afternoon in May of last year, I sat at my desk in this state of numbness. I was there. I picked up the phone and called my wife and simply said, “I am done. I need a break.” She knew my ongoing frustrations with many projects. Her response was perfect. She recommended that we shut down for a few days and go to the beach. No cell phones, no email, no social media, no clients and no work; it could all wait. We loaded up one backpack apiece, a few coolers and some fishing gear and headed to a friend’s beach house at Matagorda, Texas. No starched shirts or jeans allowed. The relaxing sound of the breakers roaring into the coast, the smell of the sea air and the realization that the world was still spinning made me refocus and rethink where I was in both my career and my life. I realized that I had missed too many moments and special days trying to make other people happy for small reasons. I had assigned too much value to projects that merely needed completion, not perfection. Everything started to make sense. 

Avoiding “Burnout”
You can’t. You cannot avoid burnout in today’s work environment. Eventually we all get frustrated and lose our drive for our work. That is why it is called “work.” I’ve learned that you should not live to work. Work is a means to live. Spend time with your family and friends, ride your horse, fish - FIND SOMETHING that you like to do that does not involve your career. People and experiences are what make cherished memories. You may lose a project, but there will always be another. You can fill a position, but you can’t replace a person.

Don’t let your work define who you are. To quote the great Bum Phillips, “There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired.” What does that mean? It means that every job can be done by someone else. So, if you don’t want to do something, then let someone else have a shot at it. It is not a bad thing to walk away from something that can’t be fixed. Continuing to pour time, money and effort into something that is failing or frustrating is futile. This does not make you a failure. It makes you someone who is smart enough to know when to find a new project.

Do not fall victim to being labeled as negative. Negativity is more often confused for valid concern. Negativity would be saying something like, “This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” A valid concern would be saying, “I feel that we need to readdress this idea for a better solution.” Both statements point to an idea that is not working. However, the means in which communication is delivered is pertinent to how you and all parties involved feel about the goals and objective you want to accomplish. We are not all “Rock Stars” and everything is not always great. Reality happens every day. Yep, feelings are important, to an extent. You should feel valued for your skills and abilities. You should also prove that you are valuable by utilizing your skills and abilities. If you are not trained to deal with a task or situation, you should ask for assistance. It is perfectly fine to reach out for direction. Do not confuse loyalty and dedication with complacency and ignorance.   

Dealing with “Burnout”
Creative people are driven to discover, explore and create. They are also driven to success, and they refuse to fail. But I found that failure is valuable. It is how we learn. No person has always been successful at everything they do. I would imagine that even while working as a carpenter, Jesus smashed a thumb or two.

You need to know when enough is enough. Stop what is vexing you and find something else to do. If you want to go back to the work, you must do so with a clear direction and plan of attack. However, if you do not value the project enough to reassess your options of completing the task, it may just be better to end it. In some form, the task was completed.

Devote time for yourself. That call doesn’t always have to be answered, the text or email read or the post updated. Go live some. And I mean literally living, not virtually living. You don’t have to post everything to Instagram or Facebook. It is better to sometimes have something that is just yours that you can hold close to your heart.

When work is the only thing that makes you happy, you need to find a passion to drive you through life.  

Steven Kahla worked in marketing, advertising and public relations in both the private and public sectors. A 2002 graduate of Texas A&M University, he has over 15 years of experience developing brands, candidates and campaigns. He grew up on a small family ranch in East Texas. His family has always been involved with the Quarter Horse industry from the race track to the show pen. They also have raised Brahman and Brahman influenced cattle for over 50 years on the Texas Gulf Coast and in East Texas.

Over his career, he has worked with a varied group of clients including The King Ranch, Kinky Friedman, Merle Haggard and several elected officials on the state and national levels, The Brahman Journal, The Santa Gertrudis USA and many ranches throughout the Gulf Coast region. For the last six years he has been the Marketing & Sponsorship Director for Anderson Bean, Rios of Mercedes and Olathe Boots. In 2014, he stepped into the role of Brand Director for Olathe Boots. He, his wife, Erica, and daughter, Sidney, live outside of Houston, Texas, and own two cutting horses. They compete in the American Cutting Horse Association and AQHA Ranch Horse Versatility. Steven consults for Fireteam Apparel and Foundation. Recently he has started a strategic consulting business, That Guy Brands, to meet a need in all industries and facets of business. It is based on a “What do you need?” approach to utilize human capital as a think tank more so than a simple service. It is a concierge consulting business. 

Abigail Boatwright