Guess what? You’re not alone.
According to an October 2019 AdAge article, 65% of creative professionals consider themselves burnt out. After 8 years of running a purpose-led agency I co-founded with my twin brother that focuses on uncovering the heart and soul of the world’s most ambitious brands, I found myself exhausted. With clients across the country—and sometimes the world, a perpetual need to hop on planes to court new clients, and armed with business mantra of “friends first, business second,” my personal zeal to lead and inspire day after day was growing remarkably dim. It was, in truth, a flickering flame.
In desperation, I reached out to a few close friends as well as a mentor or two and shared the unthinkable: the potential to step away from the agency I co-founded for a season of rest. How could the thing that I cradled since its inception be the source of such upheaval in life? Outside looking in, we have work with some incredibly ambitious clients, travel to fun and exotic locations and have built an agency rooted in standing for something. But within the turmoil of soul, I also recognized the realities: purpose projects are often the least well funded. The creative industry is stressful no matter where you are, and the ambiguity of solving really tough business challenges often takes its toll as projects have potential to meander. Combined with personal stress and a forming lack of confidence in my own abilities, it was the perfect cocktail for burnout. I could only ask myself the question: how did I arrive at this place? Veneer and reality. And a chasm between.
Fast forward a month or two. A few weeks ago I asked the question on LinkedIn, “Where will vulnerability lead?” In my mind, I had the perfect headline formed for an interesting post on the professional network that would position me as nothing less than a hero for stepping out to talk about the big b-word publicly. Burnout is the one topic that no creative, or leader for that matter, wants to tackle. Much like Hester Prynne was marked with the scarlet letter in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, a creative could be considered washed up if he or she found themselves at the end of their rope.
With ageism on the rise and an industry that values ‘fast’ as the new good, it’s no wonder we’re getting burned out. Between pressures of the business, unmet expectations for the smooth running of our operation and my own outbursts of anxiety or even anger—I had to take a deep look at the source of it: exhaustion. Those 8 years of highs and lows in running a project shop that at one point was one of the fastest growing agencies in America, landing us the 7th fastest growing ad agency on the Inc. 500. But our story is like many, fast growth with a single client or two and in a year’s time, the right-sizing that comes with the inevitable shift in business. Nearly swamping the Manifesto boat by such a whale that came and gone, we quickly diversified, got as small as we needed to, and spent two years in rebuild and recovery mode. And even though we’ve put distance between those years marked by profitability and growth, the reality of life hits hard. And all the while, I was running myself ragged.
I recall Ariana Huffington of Huffington Post making headlines when she collapsed from exhaustion and rededicated her life to re-evaluating her relationship with rest. And over the past few weeks and moths, I’ve tackled the topic of rest for the creative—and begun to employ it in my life.
Like a heat-seeking missile for mentorship, I reached out to a few people I admire. Someone who had experienced the insanity of this business, was brave enough to step away from it for a moment and return to tell the tale. I shot a note to industry legend, Alex Bogusky, into the ether.
A few days later he responded and we set up a call.