Ask the Mentor: how can I be creative when I'm so burnt out?

It's been a crappy year. Take that broken heart and make some art, says Esther Coleman-Hawkins in this ongoing series of no-nonsense advice for screen professionals.
Ask the Mentor: how can I be creative when I'm so burnt out?

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash.

Esther Coleman-Hawkins

Wednesday 18 November, 2020

THE QUESTION

Joey writes: I’m in Melbourne, which means I’ve been unemployed or partially working for basically the whole of this year. I’ve been in various states of lockdown since March and I haven’t left my suburb much. I’ve experienced every emotion under the sun and right now I’m feeling totally burnt out. The thought of being creative is so beyond me. How do I come out of 2020 and not be bitter, grumpy, angry, miserable? How do I make 2021 better?

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THE ANSWER

I don’t think there’s a person on the planet that wouldn’t identify with what you’re feeling. If I was in an office and did a straw poll for who feels crappy I reckon there’d be 90% agreement.

A few years ago, I had a really rubbish year where I had chemo and a toddler.  I saw a psycho-oncologist (now there’s a job that sounds more stressful than even a First AD) who introduced a new-to-me concept – Post Traumatic Growth.

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I spoke to Professor Tim Sharp, Chief Happiness Officer at The Happiness Institute and Adjunct Professor at UTS Business School & RMIT School of Health Sciences, to explain what it looks like in the real world.

'Stress can be difficult; but at the same time, it can also be transformative. Too often we only think about the negatives associated with stress; and these can indubitably be very real.

'But just as common are the positives that can come after difficult times. Post-traumatic growth is a concept that describes the process through which we, following adversity, become stronger or wiser in some way. Trauma might not be fun; but if we can learn through it then it can ultimately be positive and constructive.'

'Post-traumatic growth is a concept that describes the process through which we, following adversity, become stronger or wiser in some way.'

Professor Tim Sharp, Chief Happiness Officer at The Happiness Institute

Which sounds nicely idealistic but how do you turn the experiences of 2020 into something positive?

First up see a therapist. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Go get your mental health plan from your GP and go and debrief about this year.

Next, write down the things that you have learnt about yourself in 2020. What have you impressed yourself with? What have you valued or appreciated? Have you fallen in love with a new creative method? Or fallen out of love with something? Where have you struggled? What does this tell you that you need?

Now, do you have some career goals for 2021? If not, now is a good time to start having some – even very short-term goals.

How can you use your new insights to help you achieve them?

In terms of creativity, think about how you’re going to kick start it.

You could turn the experience of 2020 into a doco, a short, a script or an avant-garde performance art piece based on nasal secretions. This isn’t necessarily about making something that comments on COVID-19 and the global socio-economic collapse that has exposed the holes in our neo-liberal capital societies.  Unless you’d like to.

It could be about your personal experience of grief, loss, or reading QAnon posts.

This is not about getting a commission. This is about using your creativity to help you process a significant life event. It might be that you produce something incredible, but I suspect that, like much teenage angst poetry, it probably won’t be.

This is not about getting a commission. This is about using your creativity to help you process a significant life event. It might be that you produce something incredible, but I suspect that, like much teenage angst poetry, it probably won’t be.

The point is to take action. If I wait until I’m feeling inspired then I rarely do anything. I need to start working and creating, and then I feel inspiration come. The feeling follows the action.

Yes 2020 has been hard and horrible but as the wonderful Carrie Fisher said, 'Take your broken heart and turn it into art.'

Got a question for the mentor? Send it to us at editor@screenhub.com.au with the subject line 'Media Mentor Question' and we'll pass it onto Esther.

Media Mentors are currently partnering with ACMI to produce the free regular Running Free online skills workshops and Running Free live forums for screen industry professionals and enthusiasts. Check them out on ACMI's YouTube channel.

About the author

Co-founder of Media Mentors, Esther Coleman-Hawkins, is an experienced TV producer, conference organiser and career mentor. She’s made factual series for public service broadcasters around the world. She has also had the dubious honour of developing or producing 13 series about obesity… She’s developed numerous ideas for Australian production companies including 'Secrets of Our Streets' for SBS and 'Luke Warm Sex' for ABC1; she has an electric google search history. With Media Mentors she is building on her passion for helping people to develop their careers in the creative field.