This chapter’s interview and burnout story are from Rachel Emma Waring.
She is a creative consultant that helps small business owners find more fun and joy in their content marketing. She has a background in design, originally trained in set and costume design for theatre, and also ran a wedding styling business for a few years before she pivoted to her current business. She lives in London with her husband and her adorable cat, Ceci!
Rachel is an incredibly creative mind and a joy to speak to. She shares how stress and burnout attacked her creativity and what you can do to avoid it happening to you.
What’s your experience of burnout?
I’ve almost always been an anxious human (one of my first words as a child was worried which says a lot 😂), and I’ve had a few experiences of burnout in the past.
It has historically centred around work for me. The theatre industry (where I first started my creative career), is quite fast paced and high pressure, and in a lot of jobs there are huge expectations placed on designers. Budgets are low, so the wages were often low, which meant having to juggle multiple jobs at once which was often a challenge.
I found myself working very long hours to keep up with it all, and had the boundaries of that meme where there’s a wotsit in the place of a lock on a door, not ideal! The turning point came after a job where I spent a couple of months working until 4am most nights, and I felt like a total shell of myself, completely depleted. I’ve had less extreme feelings of burnout since then, but thankfully never that bad.
In hindsight, were there any warning signs that things were getting out of control?
It felt like every day I was on a runaway train. Like I’d gotten myself into a ridiculous situation, but the only way I could see to get myself out of it was to work a little bit harder.
In hindsight, that was obviously making the situation worse, and actually, I just needed to hold firmer boundaries with my time. It was a hard lesson to learn, but it’s been extremely valuable in not letting things get that bad again.
This particular burnout was the catalyst for me moving away from the theatre industry and into running my own business.
Something I learnt through switching careers is that the burnout I was experiencing wasn’t necessarily tied to a specific job, it was a pattern I was repeating in my own work habits that I started bringing into my own business too.
So over the years I’ve had to do a lot of work on my own work habits, routines and boundaries. So it wasn’t really a direct recovery, more like a few years of sliding up and down the slope until I started to notice things that made me feel better or worse.
What impact did it have on you?
I remember thinking when I first started that all I had to do to feel better was to “toughen up” and get stronger, which looking back I just want to pat myself on the head.
Even though I don’t believe that any more, I do think that my past experiences have helped me build resilience, and self compassion. Now I’m able to recognise the warning signs a little earlier, even if I’m still prone to less extreme levels of burnout now. It’s still a process for sure.
What impact did it have on your business?
Oh it’s a nightmare situation to be in. Because the burnout causes anxiety and vice versa, which makes it really difficult to make decisions, be creative and ultimately earn money, which causes more anxiety and stress.
There were definitely a lot of catch-22 situations.
Why do you think that entrepreneurs are so prone to stress & burnout?
I think a lot of it comes from the drive to do what you love for a living, and that excitement and ambition has a shadow side of over-working and perfectionism.
What advice would you give other business owners prevent burnout?
Prioritise learning what your boundaries are, and put them in place early. And this includes boundaries with others and even more so with yourself!
Something that has massively helped me is experimenting with what my daily non negotiables are, and sticking to them as a necessity. It could be as simple as getting enough sleep, not working at the weekend or getting outside every day.
Those things add up, and when those things start to slip, that’s when I know I’m entering dangerous territory and I have to give myself a talking to!
If you had to go back to that situation what is the one things would you do differently?
It’s hard to say, because in some ways I wish I’d never had to go through those difficult times because they were (obviously) difficult.
But they also taught me a lot, and I’m glad I have those lessons now. But something that would have made a huge difference is to learn how to say no sooner.
Free Burnout Prevention Toolkit
If you have been feeling tired, unmotivated and stuck it’s time to nip these feelings in the bud before they become burnout.
Take this short 5 minute test to check in with your stress levels and guide that will help you step away from stress and give you back control of your time and energy again.