Be wary of Burnout, take care of yourself and your team

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During the 2017 Blender Blender conference I gave a business talk, sharing our story of CG Cookie and the Blender Market. My intention was to encourage more people to start Blender businesses, taking a vested interested in both Blender and the people behind the business.

As is my habit, I prepared a talk and slides, yet kept most of the actual speech freeform (rather than reading from prepared notes.) I find this leads to a much more natural presentation and helps to keep people interested, so long as I don't fumble too much. The other side effect, though, is I end up talking about more than intended, letting the flow of the conversation lead the way. In this case, my admission of severe burnout and lost sense of being a Blender Artist.

Burnout is brutal

Back in August I posted to our internal discussion board, admitting that I was on the verge of severe burnout and heading towards depression. I had reached a breaking point and wasn't doing a good enough job of taking care of myself or balancing my responsibilities.

The problem was I was doing too much, too often, and not giving my mind a chance to relax. We had just launched CG Cookie SIX, coming off a nine month development sprint, which was preceded by a six month sprint for Blender Market 2.0.

I was out of fuel and about to burn out, losing focus, found no inspiration, and had a growing sense of apathy towards my work.

A frustrating aspect of burnout, which is almost certainly made worse by loving what we do, is we never want to admit it. In my case, I love my work, often to a fault. While I believe this is a huge part of building better companies and culture, it can also lead to stubbornly refusing to accept that you're about to crash.

Be honest with yourself and your team

I found myself at a low point and I was unwilling to acknowledge it. After teetering on edge for too long I broke down, which is what lead me to admitting to the whole team that I was on the verge of burnout and depression. The result? Unanimous expression of everyone either struggling with, or having previously struggled with, the same thing. 

This realization that we were all fighting it, while obvious in hindsight, was eye-opening. There's a curious thing about building your own business, that many more-successful people have written about, which is that it's strangely isolating. It's very easy to feel like the burdens of the company are solely on your shoulders, be it payroll, customer support, culture, you name it. As the team grows this sense of burden (real and imagined) grows too. Of course this isn't entirely true, particularly if you have a strong team covering a wide range of roles. 

The need to be honest with yourself and your team is an obvious one. However, it's worth asking yourself if you are actually being honest, or are you failing to admit something, for one reason or another?

Just like any issue, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. 

Take a step back

When you're at a breaking point, or ideally before, it's vital to back away and change your perspective. For me this meant taking a real vacation for a week. No laptop, no email, no support, nothing. True disconnection from work for a time.

Detaching yourself like this, particularly for a founder, is terrifying. What if something goes wrong? Is the team prepared to tackle big problems in your absence? Will work continue? 

This is an unhealthy outlook, particularly when you've built a phenomenal team that has your back. Fear like this is also much too common, almost to the point of being normal. And this is why it's so important to trust your team and take a break; walk away for a period.

It's also worth pointing out, that addressing burnout only after the fact is not a sustainable solution. You must be constantly improving your practices and methods.

Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with and preventing burnout, at both the team level and as an individual. 

For me it's taking a walk in the woods.

Watch the Blender Conference talk

If you're interested in starting a Blender business and want to hear more of our story and experiences with burnout then you can watch the full talk below. 



I'd also be keen to hear your stories of handling burnout, what do you do to take care of yourself and your team? Leave a comment below if you care to share.

Featured image from https://pixabay.com/photo-2619496/, licensed CC0

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    Forrest Harless

    Johnathan.
    This is a great article! It's been a while since I've been so stretched out but I can certainly relate to everything you addressed. It's very hard to put distance between yourself and the thing you've so completely invested yourself into and this applies on so many levels, be it careers, businesses or relationships! Thanks for such a candid and informative insight!
    Best wishes!!
    F.

  • v
    John Crawford

    I change the tires.

  • j
    Jasmine Wongus

    Very insightful, Jonathan! I can relate, especially in trusting a team. Sometimes the reason I didn't trust teams before was because someone didn't pull their weight, so the rest would have to deal. It could be so tiring. Also, if something big happened in the family, like someone getting a stroke (this happened to someone in my immediate family), I couldn't handle the weight of leading. Honestly, I let that worry linger up till now, when I'm working with teams in this business training stuff that I'm doing. I have to get used to team members helping each other when things may go bad, or good. Stand up for my reasoning to say no to certain projects, and not feel guilty that I'm actually trying to take care of myself, to better myself in a team and for me.

    And oops! I gotta run to a meeting. Lost track of time!

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    Phil Osterbauer

    Burnout is a serious and very real thing and its really cool for you to share your story Johnathan. I know I suffered from it a bit, and I kept pushing past it because in my mind taking a break was admitting failure to this skill that I desperately want to master. It wasn't until a good friend of mine told me how normal it was to feel tired and I NEEDED a break or I would never want to sit in front of the screen again. Awesome article and great advice, thanks a lot!

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    Ryan Sweeney

    I appreciate you sharing this. You need those times of margin. I totally get the whole being unwilling to acknowledge you're struggling. It can be hard to be candid but it is necessary. We are mere mortals after all. Thanks for sharing!

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    diaoheyhey

    Thanks for your hard endeavor to CGC that let more and more people step into the road of CG art : )

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    Jonathan Williamson

    forrest-harless finding a healthy balance is a constant struggle. I suspect everyone that loves their work has a hard time with this. I've always found one of the hardest parts to be simply admitting an imbalance even exists. We all want to say we're balanced and healthy; when in reality that's seldom true.

  • Large
    Jonathan Williamson

    j jazze it just goes to show how important hiring the "right" people is. A bad egg can ruin an otherwise great team.

  • Large
    Jonathan Williamson

    phoenix4690 I can certainly relate to that! Forcing yourself to step back from something you're passionate about is hard, but so important, if anything for the sake of staying passionate.

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    Jonathan Williamson

    sweenist except for wesburke, that man is immortal.

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    Forrest Harless

    jonathanwilliamson Very true!
    I think it's one of those things that unfortunately, we have to re-teach ourselves from time to time! As we get deeper and deeper into those interests, we tend to loose sight sometimes, of the thing that started us on our journeys in the first place! Diligence is key but often a slippery thing to handle when we're neck deep in the mire!!

  • j
    Jasmine Wongus

    That's so true! I've only recently been learning this better with my business training... It makes me realize NOW, that maybe I wasn't too bad a leader, not with such heavy things going on at that time. That and Jim Collins' Good to Great book...what a coincidence!

  • v
    John Crawford

    jonathanwilliamson On a side note, I kinda hope the fire lights within you for teaching Blender again one day. You're clearly an excellent teacher, and having you making courses again would definitely improve the value of a CG Cookie subscription.

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    Jonathan Williamson

    Thanks v vaculik! I still have a deep love for teaching. I absolutely plan to do more training, just not too frequently :)

  • b
    jbaena

    Hey Jonathan! Take your well deserved break, don't skimp on rest. You need more than a week and maybe more than a month... you might have gone through a lot... And If you have forgotten I remember you that cgcookies is awesome! I hope you get fully recovered soon.

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