Michelle Phan has been creating content since she was 19 years old. One of the earliest adapters and stars of YouTube — with an audience of over 8 million — Phan has built an empire on the success of her popular beauty tutorials. However, the pressure of influencer work can take its toll. “I like to make this comparison that being a YouTuber is like being an Uber driver, and your car is your channel. Uber drivers are not going to make money unless they’re driving that car. Essentially, that’s the same as a YouTuber,” she says. “You have to make content on a pretty consistent daily basis because people in the audience, they love seeing new content every week, or every day. That’s why the burnout rate is so high.”
In an interview with Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global Podcast, Phan opens up about her struggle with anxiety and burnout, and her new perspective on work-life integration after taking a break from the digital empire that made her famous.
In 2016, after 10 years in the game, Phan took a two-year hiatus — shocking her fans and followers. “I was tired, I wasn’t creating anything I was proud of, and that was why I took a break,” she tells Huffington. She knows that most people in her industry don’t have the luxury to take time off, but because she built a brand beyond video, she says she bought herself time. “Money may not buy happiness, but it does buy time. It buys comfort and time, and I was able to buy myself time to take a few steps back and reflect and really think about, ‘Where am I going to go in the next 10 years?’” she reflects.
Phan says that taking that time off was imperative for her physical and emotional health. She opens up to Huffington about the anxiety and depression she experienced that drove her to take that hiatus. “You know you have a problem when you hear your phone vibrate and you start feeling stressed out. That’s when you realize, “OK, I have a problem,” Phan explains.
Making the discussion to take a break didn’t come without criticism. Not everyone understood why Phan would be taking time off at what seemed like the height of her career. “I always tell my friends whenever we’re at parties, ‘At the height of the party, that’s when I like to leave.’ I don’t stay after and linger, and I apply that to my career, too,” she tells Huffington.
While traveling during her time away from work, Phan says she was able to see life from a different perspective. She tells Huffington how she got caught up in the success hustle: “In L.A., everyone’s trying to be someone, and they’re trying to secure something, but on the other side of the world, some people are happy with very little, because they’re not living in a society where everyone is trying to compete with each other.” After a period of reflection, Phan decided that she wanted to live in a way that wasn’t measured based on someone else. “That’s why I tell my followers, don’t compare your life to mine because I’m just showing you a movie trailer. I’m showing you the best cuts, but I’m not going to show you all the bad things.”
Phan is passionate about stopping the comparison game. “Fans tell me how depressed they are because they go online and they feel like they’re not good enough,” she explains to Huffington. “The first thing I tell them is just stop watching these people. Follow more cats, and cat accounts, and dogs, and follow accounts that serve you, that elevate your energy.”
Learning that lesson didn’t come easily to Phan. She had to work to stop comparing herself to others. “I spent a lot of time just being by myself, being alone. I know there are so many people who are scared of being alone, but I tell them there is an art to being alone and not lonely.” One healthy way that Phan stays centered is by managing her relationship with technology. “I have to be aware and conscious of how much I’m spending time online,” she explains. “I’ll look at my screen time, how much am I spending time on different apps — then start reducing.”
At the end of the day, being around people that are positive and happy are what makes Phan thrive. “ I’m very affected by energies from other people. If I’m in an environment where everyone’s really happy, I like to just be there and be one with them.”
Check out the rest of The Thrive Global Podcasts, sponsored by Crest 3D White and in partnership with iHeartRadio, here. To find out more, listen to the full conversation on iHeartRadio, here. You can also listen to the Thrive Global podcast internationally for free on iTunes.