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How to Ease the Emotional Labor of Being a Creative Entrepreneur
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lisa Robbin Young.
Before I sat down to write this post, my home was spotless. I cleaned every dish, washed every article of clothing, swept every floor, and organized every piece of paper so that nothing was left undone before my writing time.
Of course, I’d actually done this same ritual several times on different days before I sat down to write this piece. But the actual writing didn’t happen until today. Resistance (with a capital “R”, as Steven Pressfield calls it) was dogging me.
I’m no stranger to deadlines. This is not my first contribution to the Productive Flourishing world. But the stakes are infinitely higher on this post than on any previous post I’ve made. Why? Because I was told to “write about something that you're passionate about, and/or that's been on your mind, and/or your area of expertise.”
It Takes Extra Energy to Be Creative
Give me a set of parameters, a structure or framework to play inside of, and I’m golden. I can crank out content like nobody’s business. I’ll research the heck out of it, document evidence to prove my case, and present it all in a compelling, engaging story to make it more approachable.
That’s the kind of creativity most Fusion Creatives like me enjoy. I don’t get stuck in perfectionism that way. I’ve got enough “rules” to work with and enough latitude to inject my own brand of creativity.
Without those guardrails, though, I worry the piece won’t be perfect. I worry it’ll fall flat for the audience. I worry that I’ll go so far out in left field that the PF editors will come back to me with, “This is TOTALLY not what we were expecting”— and I don’t mean that in a good way.
That’s a lot of energy expended before I even get to writing the post!
While I realize that some of that worry is unnecessary, it doesn’t negate the fact that it’s there. To live as a creative is to be intimately acquainted with heavy mental loads and emotional labor. Even more so for a creative entrepreneur. Whether you’re considering the materials you’ll use to make your creation, or the audience that it will ultimately serve, there’s a lot of energy output before your creation is completed, a good portion of which is ancillary to the creation itself.
But there’s a difference between mental load and emotional labor.
Mental Load Is Not the Same as Emotional Labor
Making choices — and decisions — are part of the creative process. It’s part of the labor of doing the work that yields your creation. That’s a mental load that all creatives need to navigate. Then, there’s the making of the thing, the doing of the work. The physical labor. Whether you do it yourself or delegate it to your team, the mental and physical labor is necessary to complete your creation. Without them, the work doesn’t get done.
What’s not often spoken about, though, is the emotional labor that goes into the creative process.
Sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term “emotional labor” in 1983, describing it as the process of managing your emotions to fulfill the emotional requirements of your work. Meaning, if you’re a cashier at a store, you’re expected to be happy and pleasant, even when you don’t really feel that way. Hochschild has also said that “managing anxiety associated with obligatory chores is emotional labor.”
As a creative, there are obligatory elements of your creative process that may conjure fear, resentment, anxiety, etc. While the work itself isn't emotional labor, the emotional reaction you have to navigate to get it done IS. It's an important distinction. Mental labor is just labor (work is work is work), but your emotional response to that work can create an additional load.
That’s emotional labor.
This is a big reason why I believe "do what you love and the money will follow" can be helpful, albeit dangerous advice. As long as the work continues to be enjoyable and fun, the emotional load is low or non-existent, so it's relatively "easy" to do. As soon as the stakes rise, however, the emotional load begins to grow and can take the fun right out of doing the very thing you love so much.
The stakes can rise in any number of ways. A chronic illness that makes it more difficult to do your work. Kids or an ailing parent who needs care. Maybe you’ve landed a major media appearance and now even more people are going to be exposed to your work. Or maybe, it’s as simple as being out of your comfort zone, experiencing a little performance anxiety on your next blog post.
Chaotic Creatives and Fusion Creatives tend to experience this anxiety more frequently, but Linear Creatives can feel the weight of emotional labor bearing down on them, too, from time to time. Left unchecked, this emotional labor can grow to consume you as your creative career progresses.
The Emotional Load Gets Bigger as Your Audience Grows
I once worked with an A-List celebrity who had what I thought was an insane confidentiality agreement. I had to use their street name, not their stage name. I couldn't even say how much I liked their work. I had to "stay in my lane" and focus on the project we were working on. Period. It was that, or find myself in court for breach of contract.
According to research, being enthusiastic and passionate for your work correlates to a positive impact on performance for creative entrepreneurs. But being “on” all the time is hard to do. We all have up and down cycles. For an A-List celeb, managing the sheer volume of fans and followers can take an emotional toll. Not only do you have to create (and do it exceptionally well), but you also have to be “on” all the time when your fans are around. That’s emotional labor in its truest form: managing your emotions to appear a certain way for your work, even when you don’t feel like it.
That's a weight most of us can't bear for long. Even with their entourage of support staff, A-Listers still need a break from time to time. That confidentiality agreement might have seemed insane, but it was helpful. It set up boundaries for me and it gave the artist the ability to just show up and do the work without the added worry of needing to be “on” or “in character” all the time.
Now, can you imagine how much more of an issue this is for creative entrepreneurs with chronic health issues? Or emotional wellness or mental health issues? Or someone from a marginalized people group? Those things magnify the emotional load and the emotional labor required to manage them.
Healthy Boundaries Help with Emotional Labor
It’s easy to stand back and say, “Well, the millions (or billions) they’ve got should make up for the emotional labor.” But I disagree. Money can ease some things. You can hire help or afford to take a nice vacation. But the emotional labor is still there, waiting for you on your return.
Most of the creatives I work with don't have the luxury of millions to "make them feel better." There's still an emotional labor that goes into caring for an audience — whether that's an audience of 10 or 10 million. There's still a weight we bear to share ourselves with our fans (and our haters). Most people don't consider mental or emotional health as the precious commodity until it's too late.
Here are a few things you can start to do today to help mitigate your emotional load:
1. Protect Your Resources
When people you're working with are fan-crushing on you, when fans are pressing in on you, when your time is scheduled to the minute, and when 12-hour days are the norm, it takes an emotional toll that I don't think can be compensated in dollars. Instead, we need to protect our resources and set healthy boundaries around the work we’re doing. To create and connect more than we consume.
Time, energy, money, health, effort, attention. These are precious resources, many of which are impossible to replace once spent. If you need people to call you by a certain name or a bowl of only blue candies to do your best work, then create the environment that serves you. Other people may think you're crazy, eccentric, or "over the top" with your requests, but you know yourself better than anyone else. If you won't take care of you, why should anyone else? You train people how to treat you.
2. Charge (More) for Your Emotional Labor
Emotional labor is also a big reason why I advocate for creatives to charge more. It's not just about the creation. It's about the time, energy, and effort we put into the creative process. ALL of that has value and can take a toll on us emotionally as well as financially and physically. Most creative entrepreneurs look at their offering from a cost-benefit perspective instead of a value perspective. If you’re only looking at the hard costs when you’re calculating pricing, you’re grossly underpaying yourself.
3. Make Use of Available Support
Free and paid online communities abound, as do coaches, masterminds, and therapists. At the very least, consider keeping an accountability partner. They can be your sounding board and occasionally help carry the emotional labor for you by providing insights and encouragement that you may not experience otherwise. There’s little excuse to not have at least some form of emotional support for your work as a creative entrepreneur.
In more than 20 years of entrepreneurship, I’ve never been without someone to help me navigate the emotional labor of being a creative entrepreneur. Sometimes I hired a coach or joined a group program. Other times it’s been just a weekly accountability check-in with my mentor or accountability partner or conversations with a therapist. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. It’s about doing what works for your situation to keep you from buckling under the weight of your emotional load.
The emotional labor of being a creative entrepreneur isn’t easily delegated, and it’s an oft forgotten part of the creative process. It’s important for you to acknowledge it, and take steps to prepare for and navigate it. (Tweet this.)
Each creative is different, and you’ll have your own ways of dealing with the weight of caring for the audience you’ve built. The one thing you can’t do is ignore it, because emotional labor won’t go away. Instead, recognize it’s an important part of what separates your work from everyone else’s. Price your work accordingly, and you’ll likely find your labors even more rewarding.