Opinion

What happens when doing what you love burns you out?

Originally from Finland, Emmi Salonen worked in agencies based in the UK, USA, and Italy before setting up Studio Emmi in London, in 2005.

Here, she shares her empowering message to help creatives reinvigorate creative energy, foster resilience and achieve a more balanced work-life dynamic.

Studio Emmi’s 2024 survey ‘Creative Wellbeing Insights’ confirms a well-known fact in the creative industry: being a creative can be challenging.

It reveals that just 7% of creative professionals consider their workday to be close to ideal, and 14% say they experience a happy week. Drawing from the experiences of creative professionals based in 17 countries worldwide, the survey indicates that creatives are often burnt out and so hyper-focused on output that they frequently overlook or completely neglect their need for input.

The findings highlight the urgent need for a shift towards a more empathetic creative industry, where wellbeing, balance and adaptability are prioritised. One participant poignantly captures the industry’s disparity: “I’m conflicted between what I believe success should be (contentment, leaving the world better than found) and the ingrained learnings of money, control and recognition.”

The challenges are tangible: creative professionals face a combination of motivational drain and self-doubt, whilst needing to make ends meet. 67% of responding creatives regularly experience a lack of motivation, combined with 66% experiencing anxiety.

Pathways to creative resilience

After experiencing burnout, I took a year-long sabbatical to reconnect with my creative spirit, explore sources of inspiration, and speak with makers and creatives about solutions to our common challenges. I developed the Creative Ecosystem, a model that helps creatives sustain and nourish creative wellbeing. Using design thinking as a tool, the framework helps others, and myself, to stay motivated, avoid burnout, and be kinder to ourselves.

The research results support the theory behind the Creative Ecosystem. Through talks and workshops I encourage creatives to reconnect with their purpose, develop personalised wellbeing rituals and reduce stress with the help of design thinking. The research insights reinforce the central proposition of the model: tiny, consistent habits can carve out pathways to better creative wellbeing. If you’re not refuelling your creative energy, you might struggle to find purpose, inspiration, intuition, or resilience.

I’m amazed at how many relate to my story of burnout in the creative sector. It’s tough when calling yourself a designer feels like a fraud because you have utterly lost your spark.

Connecting with other creatives

Maintaining relationships and connections is vital for creativity as it exposes us to diverse perspectives and ideas, fosters collaboration, and provides emotional support, all of which are essential for stimulating creative thinking and generating innovative solutions.

I believe it is vital to support one another, find ways to work in a balanced, self-compassionate manner, and maintain sustainability in our wellbeing and creativity. 65% of survey participants defined success as having meaningful connections to others and personal values. ‘Connection’ is the first of five vital input areas the Creative Ecosystem model advocates for. We all need to be connected – to ourselves and to others – in order to maintain our wellbeing and prevent burnout.

Brief introduction to Creative Ecosystem model

Sustaining creative wellbeing requires us to balance our creative outputs with nourishing inputs. But what should those inputs look like? The Creative Ecosystem model outlines the five fundamental types of creative input: Connection, Wonder, Pause, Movement and Joy. By focusing on these core five inputs, the model encourages you to make the most of the resources you already have within and around you – in your own personal, unique creative ecosystem – to nourish a more fulfilling creative practice.

Connection

Connect who you are with what you do to nurture your purpose. Focus on what really matters to you and be guided by your core values. Be part of supporting and grounding networks.

What does being successful mean to you?

Wonder

Explore the ordinary with curiosity to nurture your inspiration. Find the unusual in the usual, take a second look. Embrace new experiences, and do things that are unfamiliar.

Do you let your curiosity play?

Pause

Book in time for solitude and reflection to nurture your intuition. Pause to recognise, cherish and cultivate your inner self. Listen to yourself, your true source of creative spirit is within you.

How could you be a little kinder to yourself right now?

Movement

Stay fluid and evolve with the process to nurture your resilience. Let go and enjoy the journey instead of only focusing on the outcome. Get back to being physical and move your mood.

Do you let both positive and negative thoughts and feelings flow freely?

Joy

Enjoy immersing yourself fully in an activity to nurture your vitality. Find moments to lose yourself in, when you are carefree and entirely present. Build these passions into your day-to-day.

When did you last create something purely out of joy?

How to use the Creative Ecosystem model?

1. Bring attention and focus to an input area by answering its questions.

2. Reflect on where your resources and strengths are, and identify areas for growth.

3. Take action, build routines and rituals, and let design thinking guide you.

4. Cultivate creative energy.

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