The #1 Fear Every Creative I Know Faces

How the fear of not pursuing a 100% creative career in theater led to my personal road to burnout.

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Pencil and shavings with pencil sharpener on a journal page with the note, "Stop Burnout"
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

There is a deep-seated narrative that runs rampant through the minds of every creative I know: am I going to be able to do what I love and make a living?

For me, those thoughts began years after I fell in love with acting.

I’ll never forget the first time I went to the theater. It was in a small town in Texas where an old square still stood. On that square was a 300-seat theater with tiny corridors, lamps yellow with age, and creeckety wooden floors. But when I sat down in my little-red seat and the curtain went up, I was transfixed. 

All I could think was, “Wow. You can do this as your work? I want to do that one day.”

I was too young to contemplate the idea of making a “living.” A $10 a week allowance was all I needed to make me happy.

So without fear, I pursued what I loved. I studied and learned, auditioned and hustled, and many of those doors I knocked on turned into opportunities where I got to perform.

Performing at Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Guthrie, OK 2013 | Immersive Production Produced by Reuben Feels… (I’m in the yellow hat!)

In all sense of the word, I became an actor. I performed on countless stages for countless audiences for very countable dollars, but income nonetheless.

Until one day, right after a dream project came and went, I felt the need to pause.

I was burned out. 

I was emotionally exhausted and not feeling a sense of accomplishment from the daily processes that acting required of me (aka auditioning all the time). 

I was tired of the hustle that I had been mindlessly pursuing for years. 

I took a step back and started recognizing all of the things that no longer brought me joy, or at the very least, energy. I had spent so long chasing a big, shiny destination, convinced that if I just kept going I would get there and everything would magically be perfect. 

I missed the moment when I stopped loving the process. 

So for the very first time in my life, I started to explore outside the world I had been a part of for 15 years of my life. I sought out new communities, new inspiration, and new ideas.

I started to let go of the identity I had obsessed over for so long, and ask myself:

Who else am I? What else do I want to do in this one life I have?

Only then did a new dream begin to form. All of the puzzle pieces of my life began to shift towards a new path to empower the creatives I love to define their own version of success and build a sustainable career for themselves. 

It was a way for me to recombine my interests and strengths in a way that gave me energy instead of draining my energy day after day. When I started building the new dream and doing the work, it just felt right. I found a new process that I enjoyed.

Last fall I had a Zoom conversation with a young creative I knew who was going to be graduating college this spring. She told me, “I’m so afraid that I will have to work a job I hate and never be creative again.”⁠

A bittersweet quirk of my lips struck as I instantly recognized that gut-wrenching fear. It was a fear of the unknown and I thought the same thing when I was 22.

I deeply believed that if my childhood dream of becoming an actor didn’t come true, there was nothing else for me.⁠

I deeply believed that I needed to prove every single person wrong who told me I wasn’t good enough or who thought I didn’t have what it would take.⁠

I deeply believed that there was a magical formula that would lead to success and then it would be smooth sailing from there.⁠

I couldn’t have been more wrong.⁠

In reality, I took many jobs I hated, that weren’t creative, in order to say yes to too many projects I wasn’t excited about. I had over-identified with being an actor to the point where I didn’t realize how much of myself I sacrificed for the dream along the way.⁠

Part of building sustainability into a creative career includes recognizing that you are just as important as your work, if not more so. Sometimes in our relentless pursuit to build a creative career, we forget that we are also humans who need love, connection, family, support, and hobbies (yes, hobbies).

Almost every arts publication, news source, and training program I know focuses almost solely on the work. But behind closed doors, every artist I know has struggled with burnout at the cost of their health, livelihoods, relationships, and, ultimately, their creativity. 

The truth is, you can burnout doing what you love. You haven’t failed. It’s not that you’re not good enough. Burnout is merely a sign from your body that something isn’t working anymore and that’s okay. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of about that.

I believe the best way to banish the shame is to start having open and honest conversations about burnout in the arts. That’s why I started hosting a room on Clubhouse every Thursday evening for creatives to openly discuss burnout and share their stories.

I promise you, whatever stage of your creative journey you are at, you are not alone. 

And if you’re in the pit of burnout and are pondering a pivot, take a deep breath. It’s okay to not know what’s next. It’s okay to feel lost and confused. Give yourself some space to just be you again.
If you are wanting to join the conversation or would love to share your story with me, feel free to send me a DM on Instagram @thevictoriahines. You can also follow me on Clubhouse @victoriahines to receive updates on the rooms I host.

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