Burnt-out and finding Balance in the wedding Industry

Can you remember how inspired and excited you were when you first started your business in the wedding industry? You were so filled with hope and energy, delighted at the prospect of making a living out of doing something you love. You did the happy dance every time you got a job and spent days and months scouring the Internet to learn as much as you could to better your craft. Your new job was your passion and you had so much ambition and drive. Your focus was razor sharp and Enthusiastic was your middle name!

Then just like that, the newly engaged couples found you and you were so busy with wedding bookings that before you knew it you hadn’t had a weekend off in months. You found yourself working 6½ day weeks and your friends just stopped inviting you to social functions, as you were never free. You headed straight to the computer after waking and often didn’t even notice that you were still in your PJ’s at 2.30pm. Breakfast? Who needed breakfast? You survived off coffee and whatever was quick to stuff down your throat. You were so happy work was going well that you started to become a bit obsessed. You often put your clients before your partner, family and friends and everything became work, work, work. The person that came last in all of this was you. You didn’t have any time for family or friends, let alone yourself! You didn’t have time to exercise … damn you hardly had time to eat!

And then you started feeling really tired, lethargic and grumpy. You found yourself curled in a heap – a sobbing, crying mess after working a wedding day for no other reason that you just felt so darn tired. You started dropping balls here and there and found yourself feeling totally overwhelmed. Your back ached, your neck ached and your memory was totally shot. You got sick every time you had a bit of time off and you were cranky. You found yourself over reacting to things and you felt depressed, hopeless and out of sorts. You loved your job but your inspiration was teetering and you found yourself feeling like your creativity was drying up. You compared yourself to other service providers and friends and family who seemed to have much easier lives than yours and it felt like there was no one who truly understood just what you were going through. There were many times when you felt like giving it all up and you started dreaming about getting a normal job with normal hours. Your passion was gone, your head was in a whirlwind and you were just plain exhausted!

Is this person you? Do you relate to any of this? If you have found yourself nodding along you might be suffering from adrenal burnout, or heading that way! At the very least your life is definitely out of whack and you are at risk of hating your job and possibly yourself!

The person I spoke of above was me a few years ago and then I landed up in hospital. I had worked myself into such a state that I collapsed and was diagnosed with adrenal burnout. Your adrenal glands release a chemical called cortisol or stress hormone when you are threatened with imminent danger. This flight or fight hormone allows us to run faster and find strength we never knew we had. When we are constantly under stress these glands are constantly releasing stress hormones, and the theory is that they get tired and depleted and we find ourselves burning out.
After a lot of research I found that some of the typical symptoms of adrenal burnout or adrenal fatigue are:

Exhaustion, hopelessness, mental fogginess, ironically not taking care of oneself, workaholic tendencies, forgetfulness, fatigue, cravings for salty foods, a weakened immune system, depression, dizziness, etc.

I am no doctor or expert and this article is not meant to be a medical journal. I do however know what happened to me and it wasn’t fun. I can now recognize when I am on a slippery slope and I can actually feel when I am burnt out! It must be noted that the concept of adrenal fatigue is still debated in the health world so you really should seek expert care if you feel like you are suffering from any of the above symptoms.

Recently I noticed a few good friends who also work in the wedding industry were battling, and they encouraged me to speak out about this.

Now, not everyone who is stressed has burnout that is for sure and I think it is important to see the right specialists, but also realize that stress is part of burnout and balance is the best prevention and cure.

Here are some lifestyle choices I use to prevent burnout and create more balance in my life. When I am in a good mental and physical state I tend to produce better work and am a nicer human being all round. I must say here that I definitely don’t have it all figured out and often fall off the zen wagon and I am writing this article for me as well as for you!

Seek medical help

After seeing my doctor I eventually went to a nutritionist who put me on a program that involved eating regular healthy meals and taking vitamin supplements. This really helped me get over it all and find my energy again.

Exercise

It goes without saying that exercise makes us feel good and if we feel good we work well!

Eat healthy food and drink water

We all know we should have a healthy balanced diet and drink lots of water to have a healthy body, but gosh it is sometimes so hard when we are super busy and stressed. There are times where having to eat is a massive hassle to me! But at the end of the day when I let my eating habits go pear shaped and I am really busy at work I start to feel burnt out! I have also found that if I eat a lot while I am shooting I am less tired the following day so I always ask my clients to make sure they provide lunch and dinner and I ask my assistant to remind me to eat and drink water.

Vitamin B injections

I have regular Vitamin B injections, which help me hugely with coping with stress and seem to give me extra energy. Now I must mention that I used to have a crippling needle phobia, which had me fainting and going a bit crazy every time I saw a needle but the benefits of these seem to have won! It is also probably important to mention that I am a vegetarian so these bad boys really help!

Hire an assistant

I don’t know how it is that photographers will happily spend fortunes on gear but will be reluctant to hire someone to help them. I have had a permanent assistant for 4 years now and wouldn’t want to imagine life without her. If you train your assistant properly this should free you up to do more important work, make more money, give you more free time and ultimately have more balance in your life.

Sharpen your axe

There’s that old story about the woodcutter who spent his days chopping wood with a blunt axe. When asked why he didn’t stop to sharpen his axe he said he was too busy!

It is so important to take time out of your normal work routine and general “busyness” to look at your workflow and see if you can make things run more efficiently in your business.

Find the right clients

If you are a creative, chances are you get very involved with your clients. I know that I need to relate to someone to be able to work with them closely and make visual narratives about them. It is therefore imperative that I like my clients. Luckily for me I haven’t had any bad eggs in years and working with wonderful people has kept me excited and motivated through the good and the bad times.

Don’t wake up and go to the computer

I used to do this for years and it really wasn’t very productive to my business or myself! Nowadays, I wake up and go for a walk and a swim in the ocean and I drive to an office, which isn’t in my house. I start work later but I seem to get a heck of a lot more done in a day then I used to! I am also a much nicer person!

Find a passion outside of work

When I was first starting my business I had little time for anything or anyone else and eventually I really started to hate life. Nowadays I find I go a bit mad if I don’t make time to do the things I love outside of work, and if I am over- stressed I am less productive. I prioritize my horse riding as being as important as doing a shoot.

Work for free

Now before you jump down my throat, I don’t mean what you are thinking! If your business started out as your passion, chances are your passion may get a bit frayed if you are overworked. It is important for me to do personal work that I don’t get paid for. There is less pressure when there’s no financial remuneration, which means that I can really experiment and play. This type of work is therefore fulfilling and the benefits spill over into my paid work enormously.

Fill your soul cup

It is so important to have something in your life that refreshes your inner being. That may sound like some hippy hogwash but I know for me if I go horse riding, to yoga class or catch a really good wave I feel like I have had a “soul shower”. I just feel better on the inside. When I feel better on the inside I am more creative, more excited about my work, a nicer human being and kinder to my body.

Make relaxing a priority, which is as important as working

If you never make time to relax your creativity starts drying out and if your creativity and mental sharpness are dull then you aren’t giving yourself, your clients or your business the best of you. It is important to prioritize down time, as it is to prioritize go time.

Write to do lists and prioritize what is important on them every day

It’s so important to write things down, as these types of lists keep us on track. It’s easy to get vortexed into the “busyness” of running a business but when we have a game plan and a proper list, things get done more efficiently.

Stop comparing yourself to others

I kept looking at all those photographers who were shooting 65 weddings a year and wondering how on earth they did it. It drove me crazy until I stopped! Everyone is on a different journey and it is more important to know yourself and improve yourself than to try and be someone else.

Spend your time with the people you love and the people who inspire you

When I was in the thick of my burnout days I became very insular and hermit like. This didn’t make me happy at all and I often felt like a hamster on a wheel. Nowadays I try and spend as much time as I can with the people I love. I also made a conscious decision to spend time with people who inspire me.

Reward yourself

Imagine working for a boss who never told you were doing a good job? As small business owners we seldom reward ourselves, which is silly. Try and treat yourself as you would an employee and make sure you give yourself a pat on the back and a treat when it is due!

Take time out to inspire yourself

When we are in a creative rut we just keep doing the same thing over and over again. I now take time out to do things, which inspire my artist’s spirit. And I generally spend the afternoon before a big shoot doing just that. We can inspire ourselves by going to galleries, looking at books, the net, movies, doing workshops, watching YouTube tutorials or meeting new people. To me taking inspiration time is as important as cleaning my lenses. If I am uninspired my vision will be cloudy!

Take time to write down your goals

If we are constantly rushing around and never take the time to think about what we really want it is unlikely things will improve. Being conscious of goals and objectives does give one purpose and therefore motivation. There is also a great sense of achievement when goals are reached.

Learn to say no

If you want a balanced life you cannot take every job that comes your way or say yes to everyone who “quickly wants a few pictures”. Learning to say no was a difficult lesson for me but it is important to put boundaries in place. For example I won’t shoot on a Sunday otherwise I won’t see my family. It’s a rule for me now.

Book time in your calendar for holidays and weekends away and don’t be tempted to fill them with work.

The only way to ensure time off is to actually book time off for yourself. I mark off periods on my calendar and will treat that time as being booked.

Take time off during the week

If you find that you are working every weekend for months on end, make sure you take a day off during the week. You can you know! You are your own boss after all!!!

And last but not least ……….

Put your prices up

If you are that good that you are totally overbooked then chances are your prices are too cheap. I would rather do less work for the same amount of money but put in the type of energy that I know that I always do, than spread myself thin and not deliver the standard of work I really want to. Charging what I am worth has been one of the most important things in helping me find balance.

27 Comments

  1. Stephen Railton on March 11, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Such a brilliant read!! Its like you are reading my mind… Thank you!



  2. Milan Teh on March 11, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    It’s always great to know that we are not alone! Thanks for sharing your experience. I guess my most serious instant was that doctor said I had tensional headache due to stress. Been actively seeking a work-life balance this year onwards, the burn is very real mentally. Hope to get additional helping hand down the road. Very happy for you that you have got over the bad times.



  3. Bron Fourie on March 11, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Jax thanks SO much for sharing this!! I was nodding the WHOLE way through, as the same thing happened to me at the end of last year. I have since hired my assistant full time, made sure I take time to actually unwind and regroup, as well as finding more time to get inspired!! at least now I know I’m not alone… x



  4. Trip on March 11, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Wow…Thank you so so much for writing this article, I have been feeling exactly like this for the last few weeks? months? and I just pinned it down to low blood sugar and pressure, but that didn’t explain all the other feelings, I have just booked an appointment with my doctor, please just know you’ve helped at least one person with this article



  5. Andrea on March 11, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    After just coming out of hospital after my whole body crashed I related to every single thing you wrote ….it has really made me re think my work life balance and “simplify” is my new mantra ….a fab fab post …thanks for the reminder



  6. Anneska van der Spoel on March 11, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you for saying what we all need to hear.



  7. Moira on March 11, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    What an awesome post. I couldn’t agree more 🙂



  8. Claire Forster on March 11, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Very wise words. I don’t shoot weddings but I am spread really thin. I appreciate the “learn to say no”.

    Sigh, thanks for this ☺️



  9. Ruan on March 11, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    That was me 6 Months ago. We’ve changed a lot of things and included some of the points you mentioned and now, late summer season we are busy but have so much more time for ourselves and deliver better work. Good post, a must read!



  10. Emma-Jane on March 11, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Brilliant Jacki!



  11. Niqui on March 11, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I am not a photographer, I am self-employed (in the Environmental Management field) but love your work an always read your blogs… I am guilty of many of the things you mentioned above – a real eye-opener and thank you so so much for the advice – there are lots that I can apply to myself.. you are an inspiration!



  12. Pickle on March 11, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Jax, this is not the first time I have heard you speak up about passion burn-out, thank you so much for sharing and encouraging the rest of us along. I am battling so with returning to work now that I have a new found passion in my life, being a mom! I moan and complain that I am not getting to work because my child keeps me busy, but the truth is, I would much rather be hanging with my babe than replying to emails! I am going to try hard to find a balance between being a mom and a business woman, it is going to take some time but I am holding thumbs I am going to get there.



  13. Natalie on March 11, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this it came exactly at the right time for me! Thanks for giving me hope!



  14. Melanie McNiven on March 11, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    I often feel like rocking in the fetal position and closing my eyes to the world around me. Life balance is by far, the hardest hurdle to overcome for me as a wedding photographer. At times, the pressure seems immense, yet this is what I also thrive on. Thank you for this article. I will be posting some dot points somewhere near my computer to remind myself of what you have said. Everything aspect of this article resonates with me.



  15. chris prestidge on March 12, 2015 at 12:37 am

    perfectly said jac, an incredible post and thanks for the reminder – epic work as always! x



  16. Eve Poplett on March 12, 2015 at 6:03 am

    Jax… everything you said happened to me and I am a wedding planner. I nearly lost my sanity and also had to seek professional help to deal with adrenal burnout. People attribute stress to an emotional state and yet it is very physical, and it impacts our brain function. Thank you for sharing!



  17. Chanelle Segerius-Bruce on March 12, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    So well said Jax. I have been through this in the past and they way I got around it was to outsource. Firstly easy things like, cleaning, boook keeping and so on. Then I moved onto outsourcing my RAW editing to Photographers Edit in the USA. We had a much better internet than we do here now that we are back in South Africa – so I am not sure how we would get our RAWs to the USA now! I started with a photography business coach (Polly Alexandre) in November last year and she helps to keep me on track with things like healthy eating, juicing, making time for myself as well as bouncing ideas and holding me accountable. It has been so fantastic I have to say! Things really do change when you have a little one. Mine is 20 months now and my priority is to spend every afternoon with her as well as launching a brand new blogging and social media business…. I will be sharing and booking marking this post for sure! Thanks



  18. gambardella marie on March 13, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    it’s me NOW



  19. Claire Harries on March 13, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Hi Jacki–Thanks so much for this. I can relate to so much of this and thank you for your honesty. As a newbie wedding photographer, I so appreciate you sharing your lessons you’ve learnt along the way. I can see so many of the traps out there and I hope to be able to remember your sound advice and put it all into practice. xx



  20. Rene Heydon on March 15, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    I must just thank you for this article. Reading these words was like reading my exact life last year. . To the last detail. I then made some drastic changes to the way I run my business to achieve balance in my work and life . All the tips you put is what I applied and I must say that it is working for me. Thank you again for speaking up. Xxx



  21. Kate on March 16, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for this very inspiring post Jacki. Reading this I know now that I have definitely have experienced burn out, the fatigue and short term memory loss were so worrying … I realised that I had been trying to do too much especially trying to be the bread winner and putting myself under pressure working two jobs. I learned to say no and to prioritise inspiration and time off and it changed my life. I decided shooting weddings wasn’t for me, although I do shoot the occasional wedding, it just didn’t work for my needs as I wasn’t getting time ever. I still work in a stressful environment, but now I know how to manage it. I think I gotta give those vitamin B injections a go!



  22. Cindy daliah padayachee on March 16, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Thank you for sharing. . Can really identify with this…



  23. Abri on March 17, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    wow! great article.. Thank you ! …I think we all as photographers can relate to many points mentioned.



  24. Ursula Strathemeier on March 21, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you, your post inspired me. When you’re in the spiral it is difficult to look out or inwards but you profound perspective hit the spot, regards from Switzerland Ursula & Daniel



  25. Amit on March 23, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    Hi, thank you for this post. I can completely relate to everything and in fact this is the current state of affairs in my life. Invariably, we have the tendency to always look away from things which nourish the soul thinking that I rather fill my bag with more work since I am busy right now. Again, I am grateful to you for pointing the finer things of life out 🙂



  26. Lisa Wildgoose on March 31, 2017 at 11:49 am

    This is my third year, I can relate to a hell of a lot of this. On top of everything I am also a single mum to 8 year old twins. I was up most of the night panicking that I’ve started taking to much on. I can’t say no to the work, but worrying how I am going to juggle everything. I will be putting my prices up substantially this year, not to be greedy but to stem my work flow. I will be taking on a cleaner to help with the house and hopefully look into having an assistant! Thank you for the advice, hopefully it has come in the nic of time x



  27. Mike on March 31, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    I really great read Jacki, I feel ya!



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