The Creator Burnout panel took place on Sunday at Summer in the City 2019. It featured Daniel J. Layton, Elle Mills, Melanie Murphy, Joel Wood, and Lex Croucher, and was chaired by Rosianna Halse Rojas.
The conversation started with Rosianna asking whether the panellists did YouTube as their full-time job or alongside another. Lex stated that she does it alongside a nine-to-five job, while Daniel explained that he had quit his full-time job two years ago to focus on YouTube, and Elle said that it had been her full-time gig since high school.
Rosianna then asked the audience to raise their hands if they had experienced burnout, which lead to a wave of hands rising from the audience. Turning to the panellists, she asked them if they found it easy to recognise the signs of burnout by asking what burnout means for them. Melanie said that she worried that when she talked about burnout it sounded like she was complaining. She said she felt like she should be grateful for the job that she has, especially when she thought about her friends working in, for example, nursing. She mentioned that a benefit from working as a creator is that you get to pick your own hours, but on the other hand it is hard to take a break without financially suffering.
Daniel said that he felt burnout could easily sneak up on him – “I can be really energised and creative and then wake up one day and feel like, ‘Uh-oh, I’m out'” – and talked about having to come up with strategies to deal with it. Lex said that she found burnout quite hard to recognise as we “glamourise the idea of being really busy” and she felt like all the pressure was coming from herself. She concluded by saying that she had not yet found any coping mechanisms. On the other hand, Joel said he had only experienced true burnout once; he described it happening when he returned from a trip where he and his partner filmed and posted on Instagram every day. Melanie said one way that she notices she’s on the verge of burnout is when a friend messages her saying that she hasn’t opened a message in three days.
“When you are your own boss you can only let yourself down,” said Daniel, “and that’s quite a toxic headspace to be in.” The panel agreed. “[People say that] when your job is your hobby you never work a day in your life – well that’s bullshit,” he added, to laughter from the audience. He concluded by saying that although the job is enjoyable it still takes a lot of time and energy to complete. Melanie pointed out that some people have a whole team working around them, but even then there is still a lot on their shoulders.
The moderator then asked the panellists if they felt they had an understanding of their own role. Lex said that it can be easy to feel like your role is sharing your personal life. She said, “I have benefited from also having a full-time job because it means I have some boundaries, but I still come home and if I don’t do more work I hate myself.” Melanie said that she found it easier to do monthly vlogs than daily vlogs, though she admitted that it was quite strange to form a narrative around a life event for content. Elle said that her role is doing all the creative stuff – she has recently gotten an assistant and no longer has to deal with the business side of things. Melanie wondered out loud whether creative people 100 years ago experienced burnout. “I think they’re intrinsically linked,” she said, adding that she did not know many people in a creative role who had figured it out. Rosianna added that it is hard for people to confess that they’re running out of energy: “It feels like a personal failure,” she concluded.
Rosianna then asked the panellists about any boundaries or routines they had put in place to challenge the internalised idea that they should be working constantly. Daniel talked about his “Normal Sundays”, where he would have a normal, non-working Sunday in order to try and maintain some sense of structure with his week. However, he then admitted that he did not always manage to accomplish these! “When your friends are your colleages it is hard to find the time to leave the job to one side,” he concluded. Melanie agreed, saying that when she spent more time with creators it was worse. “If I didn’t live near people who had normal jobs, I wouldn’t have forced socialising at normal times,” she said. Lex said that the value of the time that she has every day is how much she has spent enjoying the moment. “I try to set boundaries where I work enough that it’s still something that brings me enjoyment,” she said, adding that she tries to reflect on whether she enjoyed herself on a week where she worked hard.
The conversation then moved to technological boundaries that the panellists had set to try and prevent burnout. Joel talked about how he will simply delete apps when he needs a break, but that he has no days off. He explained that he sometimes worries that if it all went away he might regret not working really hard. Daniel mentioned that some people have private Instagram profiles to vent about things, and he suggested that people should just “vent IRL”. Lex laughed and said that she briefly had one – “It’s like a group chat but bigger!” – but added that it was her at her worst.
Rosianna’s last question for the panellists was about the creative rituals they practiced when they felt low on motivation. Elle explained that whenever she has a breakdown she goes on a trip with friends: “If I’m stuck then there’s nothing that has happened in my life so I live life and then I make a video about it.” Joel said he runs away to his parents’ house in the countryside. “It’s nice to be around people who are excited about [YouTube],” he said, explaining that his parents get enthused about numbers of views and comments. Lex concluded the discussion by quoting the age-old saying: “If you want to write: read.” She talked about how, if you watch YouTube videos, you’ll either be inspired to make something just as good or think “That was rubbish!” and it will motivate you to want to do better.
Photos by George Yonge.
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