This is my second post in a series of posts about burnout. Be sure to also read the first one, When Writers Get Burnt Out.
I've decided that this post actually needs to be broken up into two: What causes burnout, and how to avoid it. While the post is written mostly for writers, it's applicable to others as well. I went through burnout not only as a writer, but also as an entrepreneur and a nanny. As far as I can tell, all of my instances of burnout have similar causes.
Cause #1: Lack of Appreciation
It'll probably come as no surprise that one of the biggest causes of burnout is longtime feelings of being unappreciated. I don't mean feeling unappreciated by one client or for a short while - I mean long term. When I got burnt out as a nanny, I had worked for a series of fairly unappreciative, unreasonable, and demanding parents. There were some in there that were great families to work for, but they weren't able to balance out the difficult families. By the time the early stages of the pandemic shut everything down, I had been feeling burnt out for some time, so I took the opportunity to transition over to freelancing full time again.
Cause #2: Too Much Hustling/Too Little Pay
What I think of as the next biggest cause of burnout is too much hustling to make a living - or, put a different way, not being paid what you feel you're worth (and therefore having to work harder than you should to succeed). This also often goes hand-in-hand with lack of appreciation, because when you feel appreciated, you're willing to work harder... and let's face it, the biggest show of appreciation someone can give you is in paying you fairly for your work.
I think hustling too much for too little pay was part of my early and most serious burnout from freelancing. Especially early on in my freelance career, I accepted some pretty low-paying work, just because I was so happy to have work. But low-paying work means you have to work harder, faster, and longer in order to make ends meet, so while it helped me to gain experience, it also contributed to my eventual burnout.
Cause #3: Too Little Variety in Your Work
I love working from home. Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on social media knows that I love it. But there is one disadvantage: It's far too easy to get bored with your work, if you don't make a concerted effort to maintain variety. The days start to blend together, and not in a good way. That was another thing that contributed to my major burnout from freelance writing, I think: too much monotony in the work I was choosing.
Cause #4: Lack of Passion
This is somewhat related to the lack of variety I discussed above, but it is not the same. You can have variety without having any work you're passionate about, and that's just as bad.
That doesn't mean you have to be over-the-top passionate about every assignment you take. It's not practical to try to maintain that, and you'd probably get burnt out on passion alone if you tried. But it's been proven that one of the basic necessities of job satisfaction is feeling like you do work that makes a difference. If you don't care about what you do, you're going to get burnt out very quickly - especially if you also lack variety, work too hard, and feel unappreciated.
Having all four of these is a death knell for a freelancer, but even a combination of just two or three factors can cause a mild burnout. In my next post, I'll talk about strategies for avoiding writer burnout - but also small business owner and entrepreneur burnout.
Find the entire series of posts on writer burnout here.