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We Don’t Talk About Creative Burnout – This Is Why We Should [Rose-Colored Glasses]

One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, a memoir about his time in the California location he loved.

“If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored,” he wrote. “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”

For eleven of the last twelve years, content marketing practitioners have gathered in Cleveland, Ohio, to inspire, debate, educate, and celebrate how brands create innovative marketing strategies with content at their core.

No matter where it takes place, Content Marketing World is an opportunity to arrive at a new way of looking at things. Many attendees find it a welcome opportunity to recharge their creative batteries.

One’s destination is never a place. It’s a new way of looking at things. Henry Miller via @Robert_Rose #ContentMarketing #CMWorld Click To Tweet

The high cost of content fatigue

Taking time to recharge is especially important in jobs where there’s no real finish line.

People in some careers suffer from ongoing stress and fatigue more than others (e.g., firefighters, police officers, and emergency room doctors and nurses). For people in these careers, there’s no “done.” Even when they’re done for now (with this alarm, this patient, this call), there will always be more.

Without a power-up, career fatigue (or burnout, to use the phrase du jour) sets in.

I notice fatigue among the content practitioners I talk with, too. It’s not nearly the same level as what first responders experience. But the effects are similar for anyone experiencing burnout: energy depletion, mental distance from the job, and reduced professional efficacy, according to the World Health Organization.

In a way, content practitioners are the first responders to a company’s communication strategy. No content marketing team can afford to alienate and burn out its performers.

Yet teams and individual content pros get pushed to the edge.

You know how it goes as well as I do: Early success in strategic content gives way to urgent demands for more. Quality and depth get sacrificed, to varying degrees, for quantity in production.

As I wrote in my previous column, most businesses struggle to define “enough” when it comes to content. Their knee-jerk response is to ask for more. No wonder content practitioners tell me they feel like they’re on a hamster wheel.

Sure, not everyone feels this way. But let’s put the cost of content fatigue (and the associated burnout) into perspective.

One content marketing practitioner I spoke with recently told me that the average tenure for marketers at her company is about two years. She said, “We realized our job is building bridges we’ll never finish. We spend most of our time helping new people learn how to work on building the bridge rather than helping anyone cross it.”

No team’s content marketing strategy will survive that.

I think content fatigue is one of the most significant challenges to developing a meaningful content strategy for your business. And research tells me I’m right.

Creative fatigue is one of the most significant challenges to developing a meaningful #content strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

What the research says

In CMI’s latest (not yet released) research findings, 71% of content professionals told us content marketing has become more important to their organizations over the last year. Another 25% said its importance remained the same year to year. Last year, we found similarly high numbers.

In the new research, content marketers still tell us they need more – more support, more staff, more budget, more buy-in, more education, and more technology.

CMI conducted a separate research study this year to determine how content markers feel about their careers, salaries, and current roles.

On the plus side, more than half of content practitioners told us they’re satisfied with their jobs (56%). But we found evidence that many feel frustrated, too.

One big reason is a lack of a clear career path: 67% of content practitioners said they either lacked a clear career path or could see a clear path, but it wasn’t with their current employer.

So, it’s not surprising that 57% said they’re actively seeking or felt unsure about whether they’d seek a new job.

Content marketers love the job, but they’re being worn thin and may not feel it’s possible to advance their careers in their current roles.

Plug-in to power up

So, what can you do to stave off content fatigue (your own or your team’s)?

The answer will vary according to needs and resources. But here are a few things you can try:

1. Take a vacation

Take time to rest from work. Stare at the Grand Canyon, visit the world’s biggest ball of twine, or stay put and do something that brings you joy (and has nothing to do with your job). But as necessary as vacations are, they’re rarely the complete answer to staving off burnout.

2. Invest in recalibration

Make recalibration a piece of your practice. On your long content journey, vacations are the rest stops. Recalibration occurs when you stop to examine the map and make sure you’re still going where you want to go.

If you’re lucky, that examination will help you see the map in a new way.

Recalibration can take many forms. Consider a team outing, an educational workshop, or conference attendance. (Yes, Content Marketing World offers a great way to arrive at the destination of a new perspective. But it’s not the only one.)

Choose something that allows you to pause, reflect, and consider your work in a new way.

Look for free resources if a formal conference or workshop isn’t within budget. Many communities have free or very low-cost in-person content marketing meetups. And the Bay Area Content Marketing meetup (run by CMI Community Champion Dennis Shiao) regularly offers virtual meetups.

Swapping (or just hearing about) good ideas will refuel your imagination.

3. Hit the pause button

As part of your recalibration, devote some to consider this question: “Are we building anything, or are we just triaging the need for content?”

If you’re constantly in triage mode, it’s probably time to pause. I know this isn’t easy – I wrote about how institutional momentum (that pressure to keep doing what you’ve always done) makes changing or stopping tricky.

You’ll find my suggestions there for deciding what to change or stop.

Because you’re worth it (and so is your team)

Yes, vacations, recalibrations, and pauses take time and money. But consider this:

Remarkable content isn’t limitless. It’s inherently limited and precious. And it’s only created by content teams that are treated as an essential operational business function.

In other words, it’s worth the investment.

Remarkable #content is a precious business resource that valued teams can only create, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Wherever next week finds you, I hope you’ll get to depart from one perspective and arrive at another. And I hope you find time to ponder your map and see it in a new way.

I’ll be back with a new Rose-Colored Glasses column the week after next – after a week at Content Marketing World helps me arrive at a new way of looking at things.

Until then, remember: It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute