Musicians Experience Professional Burnout, Too

There’s this belief that “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.” This idea permeates so deeply into our culture that it causes all sort of issues for creative workers. These issues include low pay (or people expecting free work), lack of a steady schedule or pay, and ultimately yet unsurprisingly, professional burnout.

 

 

Still, people are a little surprised to hear that musicians experience professional burnout, too. It’s perhaps not surprising that musicians get stressed. However, professional burnout is more than just stress. It can be linked to exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency in all areas of one’s life. These, furthermore, can lead to anxiety and depression, or associated symptoms like fatigue, body pains, lack of appetite, insomnia, and so on.

 

While anyone can experience professional burnout for reasons such as a lack of control, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, and a work-life imbalance, I believe musicians and other creatives are especially prone to it. Why? In addition to the reasons stated above, musicians are also ingrained with the belief that their love of music, art, and creating will carry them above all else, even a low paycheck. Why else would people take advantage of musicians professionally? The problem is, musicians believe these dangerous assumptions too, leaving them prone to hating what they once loved.

 

This time of year can be especially stressful for musicians; many performances are wrapping up, they may or may not have summer festival programs (which can carry its own stress either way), and auditions are looming in the not-so-distant future. That makes this the perfect time to step back and consider if you are a musician experiencing professional burnout.

 

Signs of Professional Burnout in Musicians

These signs are not a tell all, and if you believe you are experiencing professional burnout, you should consult a mental health professional. If you are unsure though, consider if you’ve felt anything similar to these situations.

 

  • You don’t see the point in practicing
  • But you can’t stop thinking about practicing and other work
  • You feel guilty when you don’t practice or don’t do the work
  • Your achievements seem less important or satisfying
  • It annoys you when other musicians seem happy about their work
  • You are distracted or giving less than your best in rehearsals
  • You think about quitting but you can’t pinpoint why

 

Perhaps the hardest part about musicians experiencing professional burnout is the feeling of isolation and the all or nothing mentality. Everyone around you seems to be working so hard and loving it. Meanwhile, you fear that if you stop, you’ll never have a career at all. You might think, “I can’t have gapes in my resume!” or, “My technique will go bad!”

 

Although it may seem like you need to push through these feelings, it will probably be much more beneficial for you to put on the breaks. Otherwise, your career and your spirit will suffer much more in the long run. We’ve taken a moment to compile a Self Care board on Pinterest to help give you ideas on how you can manage these feelings of burnout with healthy and affordable activities you can do away from music.

 

 

Know that it is okay to rest and take care of yourself when you need to. Most importantly though, know that you are not alone.

 
Are you experiencing burnout? What do you do to care for yourself?

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  • Kevin Rose

    I was a church musician for over 30 years – mainly as organist, sometimes as organist/choirmaster. I did this full-time for 5 of these years. I am also an electrical engineer, and if you think that field is different, it really isn’t. As an engineer, I talk about the overtone series often (we call it the Fourier series – which is a solution to a partial differential equation called the “string equation” – which describes motion of string in musical instruments!), and we talk about frequencies and octaves (although I deal with all kinds of frequencies, including microwave and audio – same theory!)

    I was working in a church part-time with a full-time engineering career, with a marriage and family as well. I was having trouble keeping up musically, and to be frank, it is because I didn’t have the practice time. I would come home from my day job tired at night – you guessed it – nothing left so that I could practice.

    I resigned from my church job: My engineering job pays 8 and a half times the salary of the church job, so it was a no-brainer. The thing is, I am exposed to other musicians who are performing very well, and who have lots of practice time daily. I know I could never come back up to their level, never mind that I am a graduate of one of the great music schools.

    My last Sunday I played one of my warhorses for an admiring audience. I have not touched an organ console since. I don’t even miss it. I have 10 boxes of organ scores in my closet. I am also turning down gigs. I will probably never play again. Even so, I had a good run. I am 50, and so I will step aside and let some young people take over.

    PS: At work is another engineer who used to be a church organist, and I have substituted for her in the past. Now she plays flute and practices during her lunch hour. As for me, I walk. It is said that there is a shortage of church organists, and I certainly won’t discourage anyone from joining the profession, but my desire to perform professionally is gone. The biggest mystery of it is that I am not sad.