“Self care” is a something that i’m sure most of us have heard of. The idea of taking care of ourselves both physically and emotionally is rightfully being promoted more than ever. Mental health is being discussed frankly and openly and more of us are aware of just how important taking time out can be for our health. But what do you do when you’re self employed and stepping back literally means not earning money? For many self employed folk, times are tough as it is, but when not working means not earning, how do you keep your head above water? Wedding photography burnout isn’t something that’s usually considered until you’re experiencing it.
For a lot of us, turning away work is difficult. There’s no set monthly wage, no sick pay and no guarantee where the next job or booking will come from. One month you might take 8 new bookings and the next you might not take any. No month is the same as the next, as no year is the same as the previous one. And it’s this lack of consistency or promised income that leads a lot of us to take on as much work as we can when it’s offered, for fear that otherwise, it may dry up. Even when that fear may not be at the forefront of our minds, when offers for work do come in, anyone would be hard pressed to say no to a booking potentially worth upwards of £1000.
Wedding photography burnout
But wedding photography burnout isn’t always about how much work you have on your plate. Sometimes you burn yourself out by immersing yourself in the industry and not knowing how or when to step back. As a wedding photographer, even when you aren’t shooting, you’re pretty much living in a wedding shaped bubble. Wedding enquiries, wedding suppliers, marketing- every account that you follow (or that follows you) on social media is wedding related. You’re facebook friends with industry colleagues. Weddings weddings weddings!
Whilst they’re happy occasions, weddings are events that require a lot of emotional investment. They require you to be happy and positive and supportive at all times. You must always be professional and invested and excited. Even when things are falling apart in your own life, for the sake of our clients, many of us put a brave face on things and muddle on through. We continue to chat away happily about photo ideas and we schedule engagement sessions. We shoot weddings with a hundred things on our mind, protecting our client from the burdens that plague us. Even when we know our clients would understand that life happens, still, we wear our mask and we preform and we deliver, because we are professions.
Putting your emotions to one side
Burnout is something that we’ve both experienced for the first time this year. After almost a decade of shooting weddings, burnout hit us and it hit us hard.
The last 18 months have been difficult and stressful for us. We had (what felt like) the worlds most stressful house move. Our sale fell through 4 times in all and we lost out on two houses as a result. When we did finally complete, we realised almost immediately that the house we’d bought wasn’t right for us. It had been a rose-tinted “we’ll make it work” compromise too far after a year of wanting somewhere to call home again. Within a couple of weeks of moving in to house number one, we were starting all over again. We moved house twice within 4 months- including a complete relocation 3.5hours north. Our second purchase completed in July. Slap bang in the middle of wedding season and at that start of our busiest month of the year. You couldn’t have picked a worse time, but that’s just how the chips fell.
When the timing couldn’t be worse
Moving house is widely acknowledged to be stressful, but it’s also meant to be exciting. After 18 months of constant stress, let downs, panic and worry there was nothing exciting about it. I was ready to collapse into a ball and just shut out the world. All I wanted was to breathe and I couldn’t. 12 hours after leaving a wedding we were moving our lives into a new house…again. One that we hoped would be a keeper this time. A couple of days later we were back shooting another wedding. That cycle continued for the next few months. Our own feelings and emotions were pushed to the bottom of the pile because honestly, we didn’t know what to do with them at that time. With weddings to shoot and an editing queue forming, it didn’t feel like we had the time to figure it out either.
Coming up for air
As far as we were concerned there was no time to come up for air. No time to detach. The only way to maintain enough emotional energy to get through the rest of the year was to let non- essentials within the business slide. Blogging and regular social media posts slowed for example. I just couldn’t do it. Everything we had left to give went into making sure we shared in our couples happiness and excitement both on their wedding day and in the lead up to it. Just as we always had.
We shot with as much gusto as we always did. Our post processing was as efficient as it always was. Looking back, i’d liken us to ducks on a fast flowing river. Everything looked cool and calm on the surface, yet under the water we were desperately thrashing to keep afloat.
Calling it quits?
During the more intense times, I’d question whether this was the right thing for me any more. Did the fact that I couldn’t face going on instagram, or talking to my industry friends mean I hated my job now? Did the fact that I couldn’t spend the day blogging, something i’d previously enjoyed, mean that it was time to call it quits?
As the end of the year approached and weddings were fewer and further between, I began to accept that I was beginning to burn out. But I kept pushing, just 3 more weddings, just 2 more weddings, just 1 more wedding. And when that final wedding was done and delivered it hit me like a tonne of bricks. 18 months of house stress straight into 6 months of pushing ourselves to give more than we had caught up with us. Burnout is very real and getting over it has been exhausting. Especially since, as a self employed person you do still need to knuckle down and get things done. You do still owe it to your current clients to be responsive to emails and to schedule sessions in a timely manner.
Burnout doesn’t mean you don’t like your job
It’s been around 4 weeks now since that last wedding was delivered and we’ve been taking it slow. Trying to make sure we get out of the house and break up work tasks. Making sure we exercise and sleep if we’re tired. We’re still posting on social media, but not quite as much as before. Still being responsive with emails, but maybe not replying at 11pm as before.
What i’ve realised over the last few weeks is that needing time away from your work does not mean that you don’t like your job. Not wanting, or not being able to to immerse yourself in weddings 24-7 does not make you any less fantastic at what you do. It doesn’t make you any less of a professional. At the time it was absolutely out of the question to switch off and take a couple of days to just forget work. Now I realise that was an unhealthy thing to do. If we’d just shut off the computers and escaped from it all, even if just for a day, even if just for an afternoon, we’d have come back with a second wind.
Don’t let yourselves burnout friends. Often you wont realise you’re there until you’re already frazzled. Don’t push yourself to the point that you’re not enjoying what you’re doing anymore. Otherwise what’s the point? You may as well be working for someone else and have the security of a set monthly wage and sick pay and other perks.
Take an afternoon off. Take a day off or a weekend or a week if you need it. Look after yourself. Prioritise self care. No one benefits if you can’t bring yourself to stand upright.
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