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Marketing Design Dispatch

I burnt out

Issue #11

Hey Reader,

I know it's been a while since I last sent out an issue of this newsletter.

Here's the thing: 44% of tech workers experience burnout in their career. And last year, I finally accepted that it had gotten me too.

In this issue I want to tell you what the signs were for me, and what I've been doing to try to recover from burnout without quitting my job.


The build up

With hindsight, I can see that I was in a period of burnout long before I finally accepted it.

I thought I was "just" tired, or "just" stressed (though those are not great things to feel for an extended time anyway) and that once I finished this trip, that project, this month... things would get better. I just had to prioritise and focus my way through it.

Then I read this definition of burnout on Dan Mall's blog, in an article where he talked about his own experience.

"Oh shit", I thought. "This is too relatable."

Here's the thing: I am an all or nothing type of person when it comes to my work. If I'm committing to something, I'm giving it my all. I care a lot about my work. And after nearly 7 years at the same company I realised I had indeed been caring too much, for too long. It was impossible to sustain.

I was feeling more frustrated and negative about my work, and the challenges ahead didn't feel like a fun opportunity to learn and grow. They felt insurmountable, and like no matter what I did I would never achieve the results I wanted to.

Yep, the definition of burnout.

The break

I think part of the reason it took me so long to accept that I was burnt out was because in the majority of examples I'd seen from fellow creative professionals online, the solution they found to recover was to quit their high-paying, fast-paced, stressful job in tech and live off their savings for a little while.

I didn't want that to be the solution for me.

I have an objectively great job, at a company whose mission I believe in, where I work with wonderful, kind people for an extremely generous CEO. It's rare for one job to check all the boxes for career opportunity, team, compensation and mission. The thought of quitting only to have to eventually find something new (and probably not as good) to start all over again felt way more stressful than continuing on. And I knew it wasn't the right choice for my career.

Still, something had to change. So I did two things in October:

  1. I pressed pause on the design content business I'd been building for ten years.
  2. I made it my mission to start caring less about my work.

While it was scary to step off the hamster wheel that is content creation, I knew that I needed more time to rest, more time with no obligations (self-inflicted or otherwise), more time to explore some hobbies unrelated to my work. I first thought about just reducing my output, but the tightness I felt in my chest as I thought about needing to sit down and write a newsletter or film a video, or even upload an already-edited podcast episode told me that I needed to just stop for a while (and that's why there's been no issues of this newsletter for almost 4 months)

Caring less wasn't about slacking off or doing a half-assed job. It was about trying to separate my self-worth from my professional accomplishments. It's one thing to take pride in your work, it's another to equate your value as a human to how well you perform in your job and invest all of your heart and soul into it.

I'm still working on this work/self separation quite honestly, but it's looked like trying to manage my energy better and only get involved with the most important decisions and projects that I am uniquely qualified to add value to and directly responsible for, and leave the rest up to someone else. Maybe that sounds obvious and easy to some of you, but not for me, lemme tell you 😅

The here and now

While I don't yet feel like I've recovered from burnout, I know I'm on the right track.

Last week was one of the most stressful weeks of work I've experienced in a long time. There was way too much on my plate and I dropped the ball on so many things.

Six months ago, I would have treated that as a personal failure. "I suck. I should be able to do this." would have been the refrain in my mind.

This time though, while I still felt all the same physical effects of the stress, what I was thinking was: "This sucks. We have way too many priorities at the moment." Not a personal failure. A failure of our planning and prioritisation systems (and that's something that can be worked on).

Weekends now truly feel like free time to fill how I please, not days where I feel obliged to spend time on my business because of a schedule I set for myself. I've embraced non-design industry hobbies like twice-weekly yoga classes in the park, learning to sew and playing video games. And I've spent time on business things when I really wanted to; like a 2024 planning session, filming a video, and writing this newsletter.

Ironically, despite (or perhaps because of?) my mission to 'care less' and separate myself from my work; I feel like I've unlocked a new level in my career as Creative Director over the past 6 months. Quite frankly, I've been crushing it! I'm proud of that, and I'm equally proud of the growth I've had in other areas over the past few months (like completing my first handmade dress!)

If the definition of burnout I shared above resonates with you as it did for me, please let this be your sign to do something about it. Whatever 'doing something about it' might look like for you and your situation.

This issue is sponsored by ThriveCart

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Inside Marketing Design at Linear

video preview

I hadn't planned on season 4 of my show, Inside Marketing Design, being only 6 episodes long, but they're six bangers (if I do say so myself). I didn't do much promotion of the final episode, which is a shame as it's one of my favourites where I personally learned a ton.

Learn how Julian Lehr, part of the “Magic Team” at Linear, harnesses the power of content and brand to tell engaging stories, why he describes what he does as “packaging design”, and the role of aesthetics in creating a powerful first impression for a product.

New year, new personal brand?

If landing a new job, attracting freelance clients, getting promoted or just becoming more well-known as a designer is on your list of goals this year, my Crafting a Personal Brand workshop might be just the thing to help you get on the right track.

Going forward, the Marketing Design Dispatch will be a monthly publication.

While I consider this one a 'catch up' issue, in the coming months I want to turn the newsletter into a resource that documents big learnings or projects that I worked on over the past month, a roundup of articles/videos/podcasts/links that I personally found useful or interesting, and a little personal update as always.

I hope you'll still look forward to receiving it in your inbox, even if it does arrive less often than I originally promised. I've been working on so many interesting things lately and I honestly have missed sharing what I'm doing and learning. Stay tuned for upcoming issues about:

  • Running a multi-variate test on the ConvertKit marketing site homepage
  • Creating and running a series of internal brand workshops
  • Growing in my role as Creative Director and what I'm doing to operate on a more strategic level
  • and much more!

See you in the next issue,

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