During the 2017 Blender Blender conference I gave a business talk, sharing our story of CG Cookie and the Blender Market. My intention was to encourage more people to start Blender businesses, taking a vested interested in both Blender and the people behind the business.
As is my habit, I prepared a talk and slides, yet kept most of the actual speech freeform (rather than reading from prepared notes.) I find this leads to a much more natural presentation and helps to keep people interested, so long as I don't fumble too much. The other side effect, though, is I end up talking about more than intended, letting the flow of the conversation lead the way. In this case, my admission of severe burnout and lost sense of being a Blender Artist.
Burnout is brutal
Back in August I posted to our internal discussion board, admitting that I was on the verge of severe burnout and heading towards depression. I had reached a breaking point and wasn't doing a good enough job of taking care of myself or balancing my responsibilities.
The problem was I was doing too much, too often, and not giving my mind a chance to relax. We had just launched CG Cookie SIX, coming off a nine month development sprint, which was preceded by a six month sprint for Blender Market 2.0.
I was out of fuel and about to burn out, losing focus, found no inspiration, and had a growing sense of apathy towards my work.
A frustrating aspect of burnout, which is almost certainly made worse by loving what we do, is we never want to admit it. In my case, I love my work, often to a fault. While I believe this is a huge part of building better companies and culture, it can also lead to stubbornly refusing to accept that you're about to crash.
Be honest with yourself and your team
I found myself at a low point and I was unwilling to acknowledge it. After teetering on edge for too long I broke down, which is what lead me to admitting to the whole team that I was on the verge of burnout and depression. The result? Unanimous expression of everyone either struggling with, or having previously struggled with, the same thing.
This realization that we were all fighting it, while obvious in hindsight, was eye-opening. There's a curious thing about building your own business, that many more-successful people have written about, which is that it's strangely isolating. It's very easy to feel like the burdens of the company are solely on your shoulders, be it payroll, customer support, culture, you name it. As the team grows this sense of burden (real and imagined) grows too. Of course this isn't entirely true, particularly if you have a strong team covering a wide range of roles.
The need to be honest with yourself and your team is an obvious one. However, it's worth asking yourself if you are actually being honest, or are you failing to admit something, for one reason or another?
Just like any issue, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.
Take a step back
When you're at a breaking point, or ideally before, it's vital to back away and change your perspective. For me this meant taking a real vacation for a week. No laptop, no email, no support, nothing. True disconnection from work for a time.
Detaching yourself like this, particularly for a founder, is terrifying. What if something goes wrong? Is the team prepared to tackle big problems in your absence? Will work continue?
This is an unhealthy outlook, particularly when you've built a phenomenal team that has your back. Fear like this is also much too common, almost to the point of being normal. And this is why it's so important to trust your team and take a break; walk away for a period.
It's also worth pointing out, that addressing burnout only after the fact is not a sustainable solution. You must be constantly improving your practices and methods.
Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with and preventing burnout, at both the team level and as an individual.
For me it's taking a walk in the woods.
Watch the Blender Conference talk
If you're interested in starting a Blender business and want to hear more of our story and experiences with burnout then you can watch the full talk below.
I'd also be keen to hear your stories of handling burnout, what do you do to take care of yourself and your team? Leave a comment below if you care to share.
Featured image from https://pixabay.com/photo-2619496/, licensed CC0