At one time or another, literally everyone has had to deal with the mind-numbing, productivity-halting reality of burnout. And anyone who is trying to pave a path for themselves in a creative field will feel this burnout ten-fold, because not only are you trying to build and maintain a successful business, but that business is entirely dependent upon your creativity. And sometimes when you just can’t seem to get your creative juices flowing, it can feel as though nothing you do is good enough, leaving your entire livelihood hanging in the balance.
But what about the people who haven’t quite gotten their businesses where they want them to be —can they experience this burnout, too? The answer is absolutely yes! But for anyone who is just starting out or who is still learning their craft, the burnout can look and feel way different from that experienced by those who are already well-established in their industry. When we’re just starting out, we still have a long way to go to find our footing. And even when we can see the proverbial finish line, our perfect end goal, it can be incredibly frustrating to not be able to suddenly will ourselves there so that we can dive into the fun part!
Because of this, the work we create during this time can feel like its falling short, even though it’s all essential to the process. And because we feel like it’s falling short, we can find ourselves dealing with something called perfection paralysis. We aren’t creating things that we love, or the things we do create fall short of our expectations of them, and as a result we just stop creating all together. We get frustrated and quit because we think we will never get “there” (wherever there happens to be). This is perfection paralysis.
I was recently reminded of the complexity of beginners’ burnout and the concept of perfection paralysis when I came across an amazing quote by radio personality Ira Glass:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions…. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
There’s so much that I love about this quote, but I think the most important thing to take away from it is this: it’s normal to feel like you’re struggling. You just have to be willing to put in the time, effort, and compassionate self-reflection necessary to push through it.
I know how hard it can be to actually do those things when you’re feeling drained and disappointed in your own work. But I can’t emphasize enough just how important it is to make sure that you don’t let yourself get stuck in perfection paralysis. And if you’re having trouble getting yourself out from beneath the weight of your own expectations, here are a few things that can help you get back on track:
Let go of the concept of “perfection.”
It’s true, we all love the idea that we will someday create something that is just as fabulous and awe-inspiring as it feels when it first emerges in our imagination. And someday we will! It might just not be today. Does that mean that you should put down your camera gear and stop altogether? Obviously no! Remember that each time you create something new, you’re that much closer to creating your perfect something. So, let this pursuit invite you to try new things, fail at these things, and continue to grow as a photographer without weighing yourself down with expectations of what perfection may or may not look like. Because guess what? Even your definition of perfection is going to change.
Try not to overanalyze your work.
As we create, it’s essential that we indulge in a fair amount of self-reflection along the way. This helps us make sure that we are learning, growing, and adapting. The problem is that sometimes, if we aren’t careful, this self-reflection can morph into critical over-analysis of our work, and as a result push us back into perfection paralysis. Instead of over-analyzing your work, give it space to live and breathe. Then ask yourself how it could be better next time and why you feel that way. The fact of the matter is you will always find ways that a photo you took could have been better, but let this critique come from a place of ambition, not criticism.
Be okay with being “okay.”
Anytime we learn or try something new, we need to be okay with the very real reality that we probably will be spending a lot of time in the beginning learning, failing, picking ourselves up and growing. And with that comes growing pains. It’s only natural! But, sometimes, even when we know this in our brains, our hearts just don’t believe it. We want to be as good as we imagine ourselves to be. But give it time: the more effort you put into pushing past the “okay” phase, the better you’ll feel when you finally start creating things that look just like you dreamed them to be.
Remind yourself why you decided to become a photographer in the first place.
This is so, so important to remember. In your hardest, most frustrated moments, try to step back and remind yourself why you love photography, and why you decided to make a career out of it in the first place. Don’t let uncertainty stop you in your tracks—give your ambitious spirit space to grow and reconnect with creativity. Starting your own business can be scary and comes with a lot of personal pressure, but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Keeping your goals in the forefront of your mind will help you find the motivation to push past the fears of making a misstep. And if you do make a misstep, learn from it and push forward—success lies in the failures that we are able to turn into lessons. You are wholly and completely in charge of your future, let it be liberating!
When perfection paralysis hits, it can be hard to get out of. Frustration and discouragement can be heavy burdens to carry if we aren’t armed with the right tools to deal with them. But your goals and ambitions are the very tools you need to be able to tackle anything that comes your way. Give yourself the time and space you (and your creativity!) need to achieve your goals and know that in the beginning things might not look exactly like you want them to. But remember that you do have the talent, creativity, and drive to push through it all—so fight like hell and keep being the bad mama jama that you are!
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