How to Recover from Creative Burnout

How to Recover from Creative Burnout

In December 2009, I was deep in the throes of creative burnout. I had just wrapped up a wedding season and returned from an overseas volunteer trip providing product photography.

“My favorite definition of burnout is this: burnout is not about giving too much of yourself, it’s about trying to give what you do not possess.” – Shelley Prevost

Most people believe that burnout stems from giving too much and, while that is one factor, the bigger picture is, as Shelley Prevost says, “trying to give what you do not possess.”

Sure, I’d worked hard during wedding season but I was wrecked from putting other people’s needs above your own, from trying to be what others wanted me to be. For too long, I’d tried to market my business the “right way” or shoot according to each client’s expectations, even when those didn’t match my individual strengths.

When you try to give what you don’t have to keep others happy, you can’t help but reach burnout.

What I Did to Recover from Creative Burnout

As I began thinking about how to recover, I knew two steps would be critical: taking time off and rediscovering what inspired me. Luckily, my husband and I had already decided to take some time to travel, and so that is where I began.

What followed wasn’t a step-by-step path so much as an exploration of different ways to rediscover my inner muse. Here’s what I did:

Took time off. As I said, I was lucky to have already made time to rest and recharge. Whether you need one day of intensive couch time and rerun watching or a longer vacation to relax and refresh, recovering from creative burnout requires some separation from your daily activities or, at the very least, a change of focus from tasks that are adding to your stress to those that will help alleviate it.

Studied The Artist’s Way. I owned a copy of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, for years before reading it. While traveling, I proposed to a friend that we give it a try—after all, it’s a course about discovering and recovering your creative self. It turned out to be transformative, for both of us.

Uncovered my truth. In The Artist’s Way, Julia proposes two basic tools to discover or recover your creative self, the first of which is morning pages. Morning pages are three stream-of-consciousness pages that you handwrite each day. It’s good practice to write whatever comes to your mind, whether or not you have anything important to say, even if it’s “this is stupid and I have nothing to say.”

The real power of morning pages is that they force you to pay attention to your inner monologue, to see what’s truly going on in that beautiful head of yours. Eventually, they also become a source of tremendous clarity and insight, a place where you encounter regular ahas!

As Jenna Avery writes, “Fundamentally, morning pages give you permission to be who you are. They are a radical form of self-acceptance.” Exactly! Through morning pages, I uncovered my voice and truth.

Spent time with my muse. The second essential tool in The Artist’s Way is an artist date, a block of time set aside each week to nurture your inner muse. Initially I struggled with making time for an artist date but that’s the point. Just as your spouse and children need quality time, so does your inner artist. An artist date ensures that quality time is allocated.

During artist dates, I visited bookstores or craft stores, bought coloring books and pencils, saw movies, and went to the beach or for walks. As a diehard introvert, sometimes I spent my date at home, brewing tea and making an event out of vision-boarding or designing a piece of jewelry.

I believe it was through this forced attention to my creative self that I found the inspiration to explore new creative outlets in the months that followed.

Explored inspirations. I’ve always been intrigued by what drives other people and so, when I began to feel a tug to do so, I reached out to several artists and studied their creative outlets: glassblowing, lampwork beadmaking, origami, silversmithing, art clay silver, jade carving, oil and watercolor painting, and more.

Exploring so many new art forms inspired me in several ways: It validated the concept of living a creative life by introducing me to interesting people who were already doing so, it brought my own creativity roaring back to life (because it was safe to dabble and be a beginner in a new medium), and it helped me accept the “artist” moniker myself.

Ironic, isn’t it, that a professional photographer didn’t view herself as an artist? Now, thanks to this period of creative exploration, I believe we are all artists, just with different mediums—from novel writing to landscaping and everything in between.

Retained a beginner mindset. After reigniting my creative spark, when I could imagine picking up my camera again, I had to remind myself to retain the beginner mindset I’d discovered while exploring new pursuits.

Beginners are allowed to try new methods and make mistakes, things professionals rarely allow themselves. Although it’s easier to play and practice in a new medium, taking your work too seriously can send you right back into burnout. Let go of seriousness and embrace the joy.

Eased back into the work. When I began to feel reinvigorated for creative work, I took it slowly, easing back into it. I paid attention to how I felt about different elements of it. When something didn’t feel right, I paused and asked myself what could improve the situation.

Of course, sometimes I went too far, and got a bit burned. I’d get excited and overcommit. Afterward, I did what we all have to do and learned from the mistakes and kept moving forward, slowly and cautiously.

Honored my needs. Because creative burnout stems from not honoring your needs—from trying to be all things to all people—my biggest takeaway from the recovery process was learning to honor my needs.

This is not an easy process. A people-pleaser through and through, I often become stressed and feel obligated to do things I don’t want to do. Now I know that will just lead me back into burnout, however, and so I remind myself that it’s okay to rest when I need to and to say ‘no’ if I don’t want to do something. That is the only way to ensure that creative burnout remains a thing of my past.

As I’ve said before, recovering from creative burnout isn’t a linear process. You may have to return to some lessons again and again, and you may skip others completely. I hope that reading about the tools I used and discoveries I made during my creative recovery helps you to uncover your creative spirit in your own way.

If you feel like I missed something or would like to share an element of your own creative burnout or recovery, let me know in the comments.

Kate Watson

P.S. Because Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way proved to be an essential part of my creative recovery, I’m bringing her teachings to you in a special program next year. The Artist’s Way Creative Cohort is an opportunity to discover or recover your creative spirit within a supportive, small group of like-minded women. Get on this list to be notified when registration opens and receive a special bonus.

The Artist’s Way Creative Cohort Starts January 28th » - […] couple of weeks ago I shared the story of my creative burnout and recovery. If you read that post, you’ll recall how instrumental Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s […]

How to Tame the Voices in Your Head » - […] My favorite way to observe my self-talk is through journaling. Since 2010, I’ve written morning pages, three pages of handwritten, stream-of-conscious notes each day. I […]

What I Know About You

What I Know About You, Dear Reader

On this cool November evening, I’m envisioning you curled up on your sofa with a fuzzy blanket, sipping tea from your favorite floral mug, and watching guilty pleasure television while you casually scroll through your Facebook feed and skim news stories on your iPhone.

Why? Because what I know about you, thanks to your responses to last month’s reader survey, is that you and I are kindreds. And that’s what I’m doing, too; well, minus the phone and plus my MacBook Pro. Consummate multi-taskers, aren’t we?

I’ve decided to share the findings of my reader survey so that you know you were heard and I can convey my vision for this site and my work, based on your feedback. Here’s what I know about you:

#1. You’re a woman.

Despite my Google Analytics account suggesting that 55% of this blog’s readership is male, I know you’re a woman. Not only were 100% of the responses to my reader survey from women (yep, every. last. one.), all of my current course participants are women, and more than 90% of my newsletter subscribers are women. So, you’re a woman—or a particularly uncommunicative male.

#2. You’re close to my age.

There was some variation here, for sure; however, you’re probably somewhere between 30 and 45. That makes sense because our 30s seem to be the time we start bringing who we really are and what we want most into being. Let’s do this, sister!

#3. You love personal development.

While a few survey responders were interested in world-changing ideas and inspiring people, the vast majority of you want to read about personal growth, self care, and relationships. Great! I want to write about those things, too, so we’re on the same page.

I’ll also throw in some posts about inspirational people and ideas here and there, but I know that large-scale change begins with personal change and so that’s the best place to begin.

#4. You want more stories.

Personal stories and my art and photography led the way on what you’d like to see on this blog. Guest posts and interviews were also popular and there was a significant minority who wanted some audio and video and other people’s art and photography.

Here’s what that means for you: There will definitely be more personal stories going forward. I’m also reaching out to interesting women to guest post and share their views—particularly in areas outside my expertise—on topics that interest busy women like us.

#5. You want personal attention.

Who doesn’t, right? You’re intrigued by the idea of in-person retreats and small group programs, and you might be interested in a downloadable guide, short email course, or webinar, if it was on the right topic and at the right time.

I’ll have to work some magic on developing that retreat; I have some ideas but I’ll need a co-conspirator or two to bring it into being. However, a small group program is on the horizon. Stay tuned for details next week.

So, there you have it. This is what I know about you after reading your responses to the reader survey.

If I missed something—like that you’re really a man! (j/k)—please let me know in the comments or hop on over and take the survey.

Kate Watson

8 Ethical Fashion Brands You Can Afford + Feel Good About Buying


When you think ethical fashion, you might also think mucho dinero. Since fast fashion has taught us that t-shirts should be $10 or less, slow fashion must cost a lot more, right? Not really.

You needn’t spend your whole paycheck to feel good about the clothes you’re buying. Increasingly, there are a number of affordable brands dedicated to the production of ethical fashion.

Last week, fashion designer Alice Grau shared 12 simple strategies to combat this era of fast fashion by reducing, reusing, and recycling your clothing. This week, I asked her to share some of her favorite brands and resources to help you choose sustainable options when you make clothing purchases.

8 Ethical Fashion Brands You Can Afford + Feel Good About Buying

#1 – Global Mamas

It’s only fair to begin Alice’s list with her employer, Global Mamas, a fair trade producer based in Ghana. Since 2003, Global Mamas has worked with local artisans to produce men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and housewares made from hand-batiked textiles, recycled glass-bead jewelry, and accessories from recycled plastic. In the interest of full disclosure, I also volunteered with them in 2009.


#2 – Maggie’s Organics

Maggie’s Organics began with a question: Was it possible to establish a successful, sustainable business while protecting the limited resources of the planet, and respecting and dignifying each worker who makes the business run? Working directly with cotton growers in the Americas and producing over 65% of their products in the U.S.A., Maggie’s is able to minimize its carbon footprint for the organic cotton apparel they create, from socks, tights, and leggings to tops, tees, and skirts. Each product’s farm-to-finish story is shared on their website.


#3 – Marigold Fair Trade Clothing

Since 2004, Marigold has been working with a co-op of over 600 women from the slums of Mumbai to create fashionable fair trade clothing. With a product line similar to Global Mamas’, they produce clothing and housewares from hand block printed and organic fabrics.


#4 – Mata Traders

A design driven, fair trade brand, Mata Traders’ colorful, original designs are made by artisans in India and Nepal and sold across the United States and 12 additional countries. They produce women’s clothing (including a curvy line), jewelry, accessories, and home decor. Personally, I love their earrings.


#5 – Passion Lilie

Designed in New Orleans and made in India, Passion Lilie is a fair trade and eco-friendly apparel brand with a mission to empower artisans across the world by creating dignified employment opportunities. The Passion Lilie collection is vintage and retro inspired, made with 100% Indian cotton and hand block printed or hand woven with eco dyes. They produce women’s apparel, outerwear, and accessories.


#6 – People Tree

UK-based People Tree makes beautiful garments that are a living blueprint for their values that people and the planet are central to everything they do. Their clothing is hand crafted in organic cotton and sustainable materials, using traditional skills that support rural communities. People Tree is one of the only brands on this list to offer a real men’s line and, coming in at around $50 for a knit shirt, it is also a splurge brand.


#7 – prAna

prAna is a pioneering Fair Trade USA brand partner. In addition to its Fair Trade practices, the company uses sustainable materials that have a reduced environmental impact such as recycled polyester and organic cotton. They carry a full line of men & women’s apparel, swimwear, and accessories.


#8 – Raven + Lily

Raven + Lily is an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand dedicated to empowering women through design. A certified B Corporation, the company was named the Best for the World in Community Impact. Raven + Lily offers jewelry, women’s apparel and accessories, and luxury home goods. With its beautiful clothing, this is definitely another splurge brand!


As I stated at the outset, these are just a few of the ethical fashion brands out there. Here are some resources to discover more:

If you want to learn more about why the clothing you buy matters, check out Lifehack’s 8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion and last week’s post.

In what areas do you want to learn more about being a conscious consumer? Skincare? Cleaning products? Groceries? Please let me know in the comments.

Kate Watson

Kate Watson - So glad you found it helpful. Thanks for commenting, Tina!

Tina - I love supporting ethical brands thank you for the list. I hadn’t heard of any except Prana.

What’s Wrong With Fast Fashion + What You Can Do To Help

Do you ever wish there was an easier way to be a conscious consumer? We live in an era of fast fashion, where clothes are designed to be bought and discarded seasonally. While I’m concerned about the impact that has on our environment and people, I don’t have the bandwidth to become an expert in sustainable fashion. That’s why I reached out to my friend, clothing designer Alice Grau, for advice and tips on what we can do to be more conscious about our clothing habits. Take it away, Alice.

12 Easy Things You Can Do Now to End Fast Fashion

I remember sitting in my “Psychology of Dress” class way back in 2001 when my professor said, “One day we will have clothes we only wear once and then throw away.” Well, in case you missed the memo—one day is here.

Unfortunately, this is not the exciting global development my professor imagined it would be. Thanks to an array of media covering the topic over the last couple of years, it is quickly becoming common knowledge that “fast fashion” has some dire consequences, both for the environment and for the people making the products.

According to a 2013 study by the Danish Fashion Institute, fast fashion is second only to big oil when it comes to negative impact on the environment. And, we need look no further than the death toll of the Rana Plaza collapse to understand the value the fast fashion industry places on human life.

Aerial view of the Dhaka Savar building following the disaster. Photo by rijans. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Aerial view of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh and wounded 2,200 more. Photo by rijans. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Maybe seeing devastation of that magnitude shook you and caused you to start thinking a bit more about your clothing purchases. Or, maybe you have read one of the many articles or books that have come out in recent years on the topic. Or, maybe you just watched The True Cost on Netflix and your head is swimming with a million questions.

As for me, I am just an idealistic fashion designer. I have worked in “slow fashion” for seven years now. The organization I work with, Global Mamas, puts out 1.5 product lines per year. The producers we partner with batik cloth by hand, painstakingly cut out each pattern piece, and some sew with hand-powered machines.

Global Mamas producer Mary Koomson batiking by hand

Global Mamas producer Mary Koomson batiking cloth by hand

I don’t have all the answers for how to change this massive industry, but I do know that consumer buying habits have a way of swaying the powerful.

Today I am going to share some examples of things you can do to make changes to your buying habits and become a more thoughtful consumer. Let’s take it back to the basics. Do you remember the 3R’s? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Consider following these practices, in that order.


  • Simply buy less clothing.
  • Buy higher quality goods that will last longer.
  • Invest in timeless, core wardrobe pieces that you can build around.
  • Take the time to research what you are buying. Get to know the ethics of the business you are supporting. I highly recommend seeking out businesses that practice the principles of fair trade.
  • Wash your garments less frequently and steer clear of garments that require dry cleaning. Line dry your clothes if you can.


  • Don’t get rid of something just because it is out of fashion. It will probably come back into style in your lifetime, or pack it away for your kids. They might be like me and LOVE your vintage collection.
  • Secondhand stores are your friend! Pay them a visit frequently and enjoy the bounty buried in the racks. You can take in one load and pick up another. If you have really good stuff you can even sell it on consignment through some stores.
  • Host a clothing swap with your friends, visit your local mom-to-mom sale, or stop by your neighbor’s yard sale.
  • Tattered T-shirts can be used for a kitschy memorabilia quilt and cleaning rags!
  • Buddy up with your neighborhood tailor, or embrace the grunge look and shorten your dress, skirt, pants, blouse to mix up an old item.
Wedding Dress Redo

Alice’s wedding dress was repurposed from the dress both her grandmother and mother wore.


  • If your clothes are in good condition and you are just ready to move on, find a local charity to donate them to (research it, first).
  • Items that aren’t fit to be resold can literally be recycled! Don’t just throw them away. Some thrift and even large retail stores will collect unwearable clothing and sell items to textile recycling companies where clothes are turned into industrial cleaning cloths or back into fibers to make new fabric.

How do you get started? Pick just one of these suggestions and integrate it into your lifestyle.

Then pick another, and another, and slowly, without even knowing it, you will be making a positive impact on people you have never met, improving our environment, and maybe even saving a buck.

You do vote with your dollar. And, when we collectively start spending less on fast fashion and start investing in a smaller number of high-quality, fair trade, organic goods, the industry will eventually have to respond.

Global Mamas producer Janet Aba Sagoe sewing with her hand-powered machine

Global Mamas producer Janet Aba Sagoe sewing with her hand-powered machine

As we support artisanal, fair trade brands, they can grow and bring one more employee away from a sweatshop. As we stand in the gap for those who have been silenced, governments will be persuaded to take a stand for their people.

We have the ability to make a change, so I hope you will join me in a new generation of Industrial Revolution!

Do you have any questions for Alice? If so, please leave them in the comments and we’ll see if she’ll come back and answer them for us. Thanks, Kate

Clothing designer Alice GrauAlice Grau is the creative director of Global Mamas, a fair trade brand committed to partnering with Ghanaian artisans to help them achieve prosperity in their lives and communities. Alice has been passionate about social justice, sustainability, and fashion since she was a young girl, and finally found a way to merge these passions by working with Global Mamas. She also loves spending time with her husband and two children, traveling, volunteering at her church, and trying to cook complicated international dishes with veggies from her local CSA.

You can connect with Global Mamas via their Facebook Page or Twitter

8 Ethical Fashion Brands You Can Afford + Feel Good About Buying » - […] week, fashion designer Alice Grau shared 12 simple strategies to combat this era of fast fashion by reducing, reusing, and recycling your clothing. This week, I asked her to share some of her […]

Is Your Job Making You Sick?

A couple of my friends are facing difficulties at work. The first one gets a migraine whenever she works with a particular client. The second had to start seeing a therapist because she found her work environment unreasonably stressful. My response to both, when they told me about these situations? “Quit!”

I know a little something about hostile work environments. In my 20s, I was hired as a team leader for a Big 4 accounting firm. My boss, a managing partner, decided he wasn’t going to tell the team that I was the new lead; instead, he asserted that “they’ll figure it out over time.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. And, worse, his attitude made the situation difficult for all of us. One team member started exhibiting paranoia. Whenever we chatted, she told me that she was being watched. Scary, right? A second developed panic attacks. I manifested high blood pressure (just at work), stomach pain, and anxiety. The bottom line: Having significant work stress made all of us sick.

I ended up transferring to another group, as did the woman having panic attacks. The first simply disappeared from work one day and may have been hospitalized for treatment. That wouldn’t have been unusual because another member of that same team entered psychiatric care a year or so later. Yeah, it was that much of a snake pit.

As a result of these experiences, I learned an important lesson: Work situations that make you sick are NEVER worth it.

You can make plenty of excuses for staying in a bad situation, just as my friends did when I first suggested they quit:

  • You need the money.
  • It might be difficult, if not impossible, to get another job.
  • You don’t want to rock the boat.
  • It will get better. Probably. Well, maybe.
  • You’re overreacting. It’s not really that bad.
  • You need to get to the next milestone or promotion and everything will be a-ok.

None of these excuses matter, though, if you don’t have your health. As Michelle Ward shared in her recent post about begrudging life lessons, “Your health is preeeeeeetty much the most important thing.”

Taking care of yourself is one of your primary responsibilities in life. If you don’t ensure your needs are being met, no one else will. If you don’t prioritize your health and sanity, no one else will do that for you, either. Quitting a job that makes you sick is simple self care.

And if that logic doesn’t sway you, ask yourself if the reasons you have for staying at your current job are valid or if they’re excuses:

  • Do you really have money concerns? Could you overcome them with a new job or temporary assignment?
  • Is it true you’d have difficulty finding a new job? No one likes job hunting, but isn’t your overall health and happiness worth the short-term pain of writing a new resume and interviewing?
  • Will the current situation improve? How likely is that to happen, and in what timeframe?
  • Are you overreacting? What do you think is contributing to your overreaction?

Is your job making you sick?

If your job is making you sick and your excuses don’t withstand critical analysis, here’s your plan:

  • Get a new job, sweetie. If you can’t do that…
  • Contact a temp agency and get some temporary work. If you’re not comfortable doing that…
  • Take a leave of absence. If you don’t think that will fly…
  • Transfer to another location or department. If you don’t want to do that…
  • Create greater separation between your work and personal lives so you have more downtime and decrease your stress. While you’re at it, also…
  • Set boundaries about what you will and won’t accept. And…
  • Refuse to allow anyone to speak to you in an inappropriate manner. Talk to HR if you have concerns.

Did I leave anything out? If you’ve done something else to solve the problem of a job making you sick, please share your experience in the comments.

Kate Watson