I honestly believed I was 'above' this and that I could make it through any challenge, but now I'm not so sure.
I'm burning out.
I've worked for myself for about 5 years and have been a graphic designer for 8 or so. At the beginning, working for myself was thrilling. Getting enough clients that I could work full time in my own business, my dreams came true.
I then decided to up and leave, do the digital nomad thing, travel the world. It was great! But of course I only managed to scrape through finding just enough work to fund my trip. That worked for the time.
But then I came back. I know, I sound like an elitist asshole complaining about my situation. But honestly, coming home, seeing everyone being serious and being nearly 30, I realised I just don't make any damn money and I'm over it. I have very little satisfaction in my work anymore and I can't pinpoint exactly when or why it happened, or if it is a hurdle that will pass.
I have been very lucky to have found some great (small) clients, but now the work is becoming really stale and I approach everything with a 'this is soooo not worth my time' attitude. I have no energy left to go out and start all the prospecting again. The new clients I do find are so often the type that don't respect what I do, micromanage, quash my creativity etc (you know what I'm talking about).
I wake up in the morning, look at my emails, sigh heavily and then spent the day incredibly unproductive. I know I'm probably on a major come-down from my travel, but I'm feeling pretty miserable.
So now I ask the community, what should I do?
I see myself as having 4 options:
1. stick it out, keep pushing, keep looking for more clients that value what I do and are willing to spend proper money (no time wasters) and just be poor in the meantime. I fear I'll never be able to attract the big guns.
2. Give up on freelancing for a while and just get a full time job until I've settled back properly - risk losing all that I've worked for. Will I cope with the structure?
3. Invest in a bigger, better design agency and get others on board. Look for bigger clients (the ones that have the money to pay agency rates). Perhaps being around people and having a joint goal will reawaken my passion for design.
4. Give up on design altogether, but keep freelancing while I retrain as a fucking environmental scientist or just something else that's actually valuable to the world that requires me to be active and outside rather than waste my life staring at a computer screen.
Yes I'm bitter. Yes I'm ranting.
But has anyone else been through this? All thoughts and honest opinions welcome.
Ha! I reckon we all have our versions of your situation. Certainly, the "I'm 30 and I have no money or prospects" rings true for me. I happened to get an in-house job with an organisation whose culture is perfect for me. Four years in a career that I've never been able to keep stable has done wonders for my creativity and confidence.
- Yes, stick it out. That doesn't necessarily mean just working on your business, it could cover any of your options. Life is a hustle and the only way to get to satisfaction is to keep picking yourself up and working on something. I regret to say that I do not have the recipe to satisfaction (If I did I'd apply it to my own life also), but I do know that continuing to engage with life is key.
- Get a side project. Pick something you're fascinated by. Make a point of doing a little bit of work on it every day.
- If you don't keep a notebook, start one. If you do, read back the pages you've filled out. Reflect on what you learn, what you feel, what you're thinking, what decisions you make and the outcomes of them. What patterns do you see? What insights can you draw?
- Be social. We're in the same city! Let's catch up - I've sent you an email :)
A side project is a great idea, in theory. But because of my current mood I'm having a lot of trouble with productivity, so I can't see myself having the energy to stick to something.
I was volunteering my time to design and develop a website for a microfinance NGO in Africa, but they dragged it on for ages without making decisions and didn't appreciate the time and effort I'd put into it so now I just feel disheartened (NEVER do free work, people only value your skills depending on how much they spend on them!).
I then tried doing some illustration but gave up quickly - wasn't feeling it.
Dan I upped and left because life is short, and despite reaching my work goals I also had a partner's dreams to think about as well. We chose to travel the world for 2 and a half years while we still could (no kids, no mortgage), rather than get stuck in the daily grind forever. I was lucky to have built a business that I could take with me. It was a tough decision but I know it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I guess I didn't realise how hard it would be to come back!
I've reached the stage you seem to be talking about, and I'm getting out. Not just yet, two years to do a Masters in Urban Planning, and then onto the new career! But it's definitely happening.
Consider, 25-35 years is a LONG time to be doing any one thing, I certainly couldn't do it, and my next move will be my third "new" career, which I don't think is too many at all for a lifetime of working. There may just be a small beach bar at the end of the road, but I wouldn't really look at that as a "career" as it's kind of what I do when I get the chance anyway... ;)
You really need to work out what YOU want to be doing. What do you want to wake up each morning knowing you're going to be doing. Work that out, and you've found your answer. And no one else can really answer that for you.
Sounds like you've come back from an adventure and hit the ground with a thump.
Been there before myself.
It can take some time to adjust from climbing mountains and crossing continents and I remember landing (still buzzing) and all the glum and serious faces hitting me and then I remember asking myself the question, "what do I do now"?
I wouldn't put too much pressure on yourself to answer that one right away and remember that you're not tied to any of the choices you do make as it's not all black and white.
You can always change your mind as it's your mind to change.
My own personal experience in design is that I've taken breaks but returned to it as it still floats my boat but I feel that the design world is big enough not to pigeon hole myself and I spread my elbows.
If I had to stick to one element of design/illustration, I'd be a lot better off financially (easier to market) but it would have done my nut in.
I'm 46 and still chasing what I want to do but I've realised that I it's important (to me) to enjoy the chase which is similar in some aspects to traveling. "It's not the destination but the journey that counts".
If you're going to stick at being a creative, being around other creatives can help. I started working with a professional graff/mural company who are full of beans and it's not uncommon for us to stay up 'till 5am rattling on about creative ideas and stuff.
I also find it helps to learn and do other things.
Right now I'm teaching myself After Effects and apparently I'm to learn to operate and film with a drone to record some of the graff projects we work on. :D
Who knows where that will go but I'm up for it.
I see you write a blog.
Why not channel some of your current experiences of returning home into that?
Sometimes listening to yourself can help you get your head around stuff (even if you don't publish it) and can even help others.
I've posted this before on another similar thread (sorry) but I find it sums it up
'It's all retch and no vomit'. - love the video (will have to share).
Thanks for the waffle too Scotty, and for your input Dave. All very good thoughts.
I was never much married to the idea that I'd ever quite work it all out (or stay doing one thing forever) but when you're at a major crossroads (I also just came out of a 6 year relationship) you wonder how the hell you got here, and then just put a whole lot of pressure on yourself to make sure the next decision is the right one so that it doesn't happen again!
But yes, I definitely need to relax and stop trying to work it all out.
I'm still happy being a designer, for the most part. I do still love it, when I'm not stifled. But I'm just not dealing very well with the stifling right now (in the past, I coped much better). I think I just need my environment and work to change a bit. But yes, I think a career change will definitely happen for me at some point.
I think my primary problem is being unable to accept that you can put every little bit of energy into something (a relationship, a business) and it can still turn out not as you wanted it to. But that's ok. Just keep swimming. Work on whatever comes next.
I'm sure time will heal all. I suppose a part of me is still holding on to the experiences I've had because otherwise in my head I'm like 'what was it all for?' Remembering standing at the top of a snow-tipped mountain in Albania (like the guy in the video) seems a better use of my energy that to trying to forget about it and create new memories. It just doesn't make much sense, the fact that the only way for me to heal right now and move forward is to try my best to forget all I've done. The more I remember it, the more held-back I feel.
Perhaps the blog does need a revival. I write a lot but mostly just for myself. I've just been a bit afraid of the commitment of keeping it going - seems like another pressure on myself that I don't need right now.
Applying for a couple of full time jobs this week - I think it's time. I need to be around people, and although I did the co-working thing overseas it's just too expensive in Melbourne. So I think a regular job might be the answer, for a little while. It's been a really long time, so hopefully the novelty lasts at least a while. :)