Avoid Burnout: “Develop as a Person First and a Filmmaker Next”
As any filmmaker would know, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to make a living producing videos. Long days of shooting can be followed by long nights of painstaking editing, with little to no rest in between deadlines.
The quest for that perfect production to please the client can bring success and fortune, but equally, it can drive you to extreme exhaustion, leading you to become negative about your career and make you less productive. In short, it could cause you to suffer burnout.
“I wouldn’t stop until I impressed my clients and this would sometimes keep me up late at night,” says Jay Hall, a filmmaker who’s built up two successful video production businesses only to walk away from them after burning out.
“At one stage, I worked three days without sleep just to reach a deadline, because of all the money that was on the line,” he says.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT?
So what exactly is burnout? The World Health Organization defines it as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” and lists the following three symptoms:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
So in other words, burnout is specifically connected to how a person relates to their job. In the past, burnout was labelled a stress syndrome, but the UN agency’s revised definition shows there’s more to it than simply being really stressed.
“I started resenting coming into the office,” says Jay. “Physically I wasn’t looking after myself and I had very minimal to no social life outside work. My solution was always just keep working. I felt trapped.”
Jay’s experience echoes a study conducted by researchers from UNSW’s School of Psychiatry and Black Dog Institute, which identified nine additional factors to WHO’s definition commonly affecting people experiencing burnout. These include:
- Depression and low mood
- Irritability and anger
- Sleep disturbances
- Lack of motivation or passion
- Lack of concentration, memory loss or brain fog
- Withdrawal from others
- Physical symptoms such as aches, headaches, nausea and low libido
- Emotional fragility
A second study from the same researchers suggests that certain personality traits are more susceptible to burnout, most notably those with “perfectionistic and work-focused traits,” and they’re conducting further research in this area.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO GO THROUGH BURNOUT?
While WHO’s definition of burnout stops short of categorising it as a medical condition, it can have serious effects on a person’s health and wellbeing, not to mention their relationships.
The sustained extreme workplace stress leading to overwhelming physical, mental and emotional exhaustion can leave you feeling empty and helpless.
“I just hit a brick wall. It got to the stage where I had to go to Thailand for six months,” says Jay, “I just needed time to look at myself.”
Anyone would be envious of the success Jay achieved early in his filmmaking career, having co-founded a video magazine called Ignition DVD that became a cult favourite among Aussie car fans.
“This was a baptism of fire into the world of content creation and business,” he says. “It was a guerilla-style production with insane cars and the personalities that drove them.”
“The hard work and originality paid off when big name sponsors jumped on board. Three or four years of hard work later, we had 15 people working for us.”
“I was only 21 or 22, and I was trying to tell a 40-year-old salesman what to do. I was definitely out of my depth. I slowly just caved in.”
“I shunted a lot of the business and financial responsibilities onto my business partner and family. I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stress, which inevitably became the undoing of my success.”
“I ended up not really dealing with it, I just took a bit of time off and resigned as director.”
“It was really hard. I felt as though I failed. I let my associates and family down. On the other hand, I was very relieved to finally stop and get some rest from the grind.”
HOW TO DEAL WITH BURNOUT?
Fortunately, there are things you can do if you’re experiencing burnout. Australian online mental health service, ReachOut lists the following six tips:
- Taking regular time out, including setting aside some time each day to ‘switch off’ from technology
- Developing skills such as problem solving to help you handle tricky situations
- Setting boundaries, so that you avoid overextending yourself
- Keeping an open line of communication with colleagues, family and friends about how you’re feeling
- Reaching out for support, whether it’s from friends and family, colleagues, or a health professional
- Re-evaluating your goals and priorities, so that you tip the balance back to include activities that make you feel happy
Jay says starting out so young in his case was a contributing factor to burning out early. He spent too much time on building his career and not enough on developing his maturity.
“I was developing as a filmmaker, not as a person,” he says.
“In short, I lost control of what it is I set out to achieve. It became too much about money and money wasn’t why I started filmmaking.”
“I wasn’t listening to myself and what was really going on. I was putting responsibility on others and losing my direction.”
So what helped Jay find his balance between taking his work seriously, but not to the point of having that unhealthy drive for success?
“Losing the idea that I need to make a lot of money helps me take time off and enjoy other aspects of life I was missing out on, such as surfing and hanging out with loved ones,” he says.
“For me this was staying too long in the city working with the same people. I now try to experience things outside the city, such as working on the World Surf League, or travelling to make videos for friends or small companies that I feel are bringing something really valuable into the world.”
Jay also sought professional help and treatment for his unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress and explored various meditation techniques. He says he’s now more connected with a social support system, too.
“I started to have a real connection with my family that wasn’t based around work. I also worked on being less selfish and doing more volunteering.”
“I still love my work and passionately put the effort in when it’s required.”
Jay is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker with 15 years of experience. He has participated in the post-production of award-winning series, films, and documentaries.
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