The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Whether you’re working as a full-time creative or balancing your entrepreneurial goals with your 9-5, the creator economy seemingly never stops. The consistent pressure to create and publish something new can tax our mental health, lead to exhaustion, and ultimately result in creator burnout. Joining us this week to chat about managing it all is the host of the For Colored Nerds podcast, Brittany Luse. Brittany and I explored how to identify burnout as a creator, setting boundaries online, and how therapy has assisted her mental health journey as a full-time creative.
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Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
Producers: Fredia Lucas & Cindy Okereke
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Session 246: Managing Creator Burnout
Dr. Joy: Hey y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 246 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the episode after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: Whether you're working as a full-time creative or balancing your entrepreneurial goals with your nine-to-five, the creator economy seemingly never stops. Between Instagram reels, Twitter feeds, YouTube uploads and discovering new trends on TikTok, the pressure to publish fresh content is constant. The consistent pressure to create and publish something new can tax our mental health, lead to exhaustion and ultimately result in creator burnout. Joining us this week is award-winning journalist, on-air host, cultural critic, producer and podcaster, Brittany Luse. You may recognize Brittany as the familiar on-air voice of Gimlet’s former daily show, The Nod, a podcast that explores all the beautiful complemented dimensions of black life, as well as For Colored Nerds, a show that deconstructs the nerdier side of pop culture.
Brittany and I explored how to identify burnout as a creator, setting boundaries online, and how therapy has assisted her mental health journey as a full-time creative. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining me today, Brittany. It feels like we are reconvening; I’ve had an opportunity to chat with you a couple of times so it is a pleasure to have you now visit us here on Therapy for Black Girls.
Brittany: It’s a blessing to return the favor.
Dr. Joy: I'd love for you to start by just giving us a little bit of background. You all started For Colored Nerds in 2014. Did you imagine that it would become your career?
Brittany: No. Now that you really asked me that question, I was like no, I never did. We started For Colored Nerds originally just as a creative project to do outside of work, a way for us to spend more time together as friends, and also just to try out this new thing called podcasting. At the time that we started For Colored Nerds back in 2014, there were black podcasts out. there were plenty of people making black podcasts. There were not as many as there are today and we just wanted to kind of see what it was all about.
We were both working in marketing or advertising at that point in time. We thought, okay, maybe this will be a cool side project that we can kind of promote and make on our own. And maybe it'll help me get a different, better, more fulfilling job in marketing or something like that, something more aligned with my interests and tastes. Because at that point, I was working at a very... I don't know if a conservative, but it was on the drier side as far as corporate America. It was definitely on the drier side. Lovely coworkers but what we were doing at work, it wasn't my pitch. And so, yeah, I just thought it was something that we would do on the side and it would be fun in a way to be creative. Obviously, things have turned out quite a bit different and I'm really grateful for that but I wasn't expecting it at all.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. What have been the things that have surprised you most about the journey it has taken?
Brittany: Hmm, that's a really good question. I think that one of the things that surprised me the most is just how responsive people have been over the years. When we first got started, Eric and I were really trying to recreate conversations. Not even recreate, but to sort of extend the conversations that we were having with each other and with our friends, just to see if anybody else was thinking about the same things or had the same questions or sort of going down the same rabbit holes.
And it's been really amazing over the past seven, almost eight years, to see just how many people were interested in the conversations that we were having with each other and also how our conversations maybe reflected in their own lives at times. Or if they weren't reflected in our listeners’ lives, how interested they were in just hearing where we were coming from. I think that I've been really emboldened and encouraged and warmed, honestly, over the past eight years almost, by how many people were just receptive and interested in what we had to say.
Dr. Joy: Got it. One of the things that comes with being like a creative entrepreneur, it sounds like, is owning more of your time and having more time to think about what you're going to put out in the world. What are some of the stressors or things that you think we don't talk about enough with that kind of a path?
Brittany: Well, something I do wish people would talk more about is not everything that you make is going to be great and sometimes it doesn't even have to be good. If you're a creative entrepreneur in the everyday working sense... I'm not talking about like Ava DuVernay or Spike Lee, where there's money floating in all the time and everybody's trying to find you, and you only need to make one project every few years because you're making millions of dollars off that one project. That's not my life. If that's your life, I'm happy for you. That's not my life. There are a lot of projects that I work on that are happening on a schedule that is not set by me or where things are happening on a weekly basis.
For example, with For Colored Nerds, it's a weekly podcast, it comes out every week. There was a period of time where Eric and I cohosted this other black culture podcast that was more reported called The Nod and that was really so much fun. So, so, so much fun. It was a lot of work. The sound design, reporting, there were so many aspects of it that were handled by us and we had an incredible team of producers, editor, engineers–it was great. But it had to come out every single week so there are some episodes of the show that I am like, I will hold this in my heart forever because it is such an incredible creative achievement, I'm still so proud of it. There's a couple of episodes, I look back and I'm like I haven't actually heard anybody make anything quite like this, and that makes me feel really good. There are also some episodes that are really good or that, for me, I'm like I'm really proud of how this turned out but, looking back, maybe there are a couple of things that I would change. Or even after I published it, I was like, hmm, this one's not an A-plus, there's a couple of things that I wished I'd done differently. But I love those because they show growth.
Then there are some episodes (not many, but a couple) where it was like, okay, this Wednesday, the episode comes out on Monday, whatever we were going to do has fallen through, we need to pull something out of our back pocket right now and get something together. Do we have a spare segment that we recorded a couple of months ago, we didn't know what to do with? Can we play a game in the studio and put those together and turn those into a full episode and put it out on Monday? There are some episodes like that. Some of them are amazing experience that turned into some of our favorite episodes and that were great form breakers for us. But some of them, I look back and I'm like, well, it was what we had to work with at the time. But I think that when you're a creative entrepreneur, many people are operating on somebody else's timeline or on some sort of continuous delivery schedule. And when that's the case, sometimes you just need to get what you're making out the door.
Like perfection is the enemy of done, and I think a lot of people know that. But I think something that I wish people talked more about is everything that you put out can't be perfect if you are on a continuous published schedule or if you have clients that require work from you all of the time. Sometimes, the inspiration is not there or the interview fell through or something happened with your technology or your equipment, and you just need to fulfill your minimum requirements for that project. It doesn't happen all the time, but sometimes you just need to like let go of the idea that every single thing that you put out is going to be perfect. Some of those things are gonna be your interstitial growth points where maybe it's not exactly how you hoped it would turn out, but you stretched yourself and you learned something. Sometimes you are going to put out those really incredible articles or you're gonna do a sculpture that really takes you to a new place so that you feel like it’s really exemplary of the kind of work that you're capable of doing. But sometimes you just have to get it done and I think that sometimes ego can get in the way of being comfortable with those moments and accepting those moments.
I will say, back when Eric and I were making The Nod podcast, eventually it was turned into a streaming show for Quibi (which you joined us on.) We had to put out four or five episodes a week. You can't be too precious with four or five episodes a week. You can't. And I think what that taught me–that and also all the weekly published schedules I've ever had for podcasting–is that if you put out a great episode, okay, well, you’ve got another one due next week. If you put out a terrible episode, it's like, alright, you’ve got another shot next week. I think it's more about looking at the cumulative total, like the sum total of all your work together, and seeing the growth and seeing your capabilities in full, rather than focusing on any one specific project and thinking that this is the thing that's going to make or break you or this is the thing that's going to perfectly represent you for the rest of your career.
Dr. Joy: Is there something that has been difficult for you? Because I think a lot of people who are creatives or artists... and you know there's this whole saying from Erykah, like I'm an artist and I'm sensitive about my ish. And so the idea of like putting out something that you're not really, really pleased with, I think is something a lot of people would struggle with. Is that something you struggle with? And if so, what has been helpful to you in kind of working through that?
Brittany: I do struggle to let things go. But at the end of the day, I think of it like a machine. Whenever the machine’s output doesn't come out when it's supposed to come out, machine will get jammed up. I won't be able to serve my next idea if I'm still mentally and emotionally caught up on whatever my most recent output was. Or worse, I'll get jammed up because I'm not willing to let go. I think about it like making space. And something that I always believed in with dating and also with a lot of other things in life is if you don't let go of something, you're not gonna have space for the next thing to come through.
In dating, that looks like not deleting and blocking your ex’s phone number and entertaining that communication so that your mind is occupied when you’re supposed to be seeing new people or spending time with yourself or minding your hobbies. But I think with creativity, it looks like not letting go and lingering too hard on the last thing. And I think that that can go in two directions. That can go in the direction that we're discussing, which is like worrying about how good it turned out or whether or not you did a great job. But it can also go in the opposite direction of feeling too pleased with yourself and not just reflecting on how well something went. Feeling good about it but then also taking that energy into the next project. I think it's just important to keep moving forward.
Dr. Joy: And so can you talk about like what creative burnout has looked like for you and what kinds of things have been helpful for you to kind of pull yourself out of it?
Brittany: Yeah. So why you brought that up, burnout is a word I have been well acquainted with for like six, seven, eight years, and I would be lying if I said that I had it all figured out or that I always know how to get out of it. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going through it right now. I looked at my calendar last week, it’s all color-coded and everything so I know where I'm supposed to be and what category it is and everything like that. I was like, who put this schedule together? Who did this? It was kind of me, kind of a couple of projects that I'm on that this week just hit really hard.
Burnout is something I definitely, definitely struggle with. I'm 34 years old so I've been in like the workforce for about 13, 14 years. The past like six or seven years, I've been doing creative work full-time. But before then, I didn't. I used to work in city government, I used to nanny, I used to do all of these different things. I've seen how burnout affects me, whether I'm being like a creative entrepreneur or a full-time creative or being somebody who's in a full-time service job or office job. And it is devastating, I think in all senses, to be going through burnout and trying to work and trying to have your life and manage your emotions and do all those things. But it's really tough when you're a creative professional to be dealing with burnout because that's when the ideas stop flowing. But when you're burnt out and you're a creative, like I said, if you don't tend to it, that is when the ideas stop coming or the ideas stop flowing.
I found that the most important thing is to actually just take the time. Because the thing is I also have learned–if I don't take the time, my body will take it for me. Your body will tell you to stop. When I fell asleep the other day between interviews and I'm not a napper. If you don't stop, your body will stop for you and in the last week that looked like me having to take a nap in the middle of the day. But other times, it's turned out not so simple. I've learned more over the years about how to handle burnout, but for me it really involves actually slowing down and pausing. Not necessarily stopping work or anything like that because, even as freelancers, most of us don't have that luxury. But saying no to more things and being a lot more judicious and attentive around what I choose to say yes to.
And then things that I do do, how do they make me feel? It's like, okay, is it really worth the money for me to sit here and deal with this? I found that sometimes it's just not. But yeah, I think that really involves being aware of my energy. What things energize me, what things don't energize me, what people and collaborators energize me, what people and collaborators do not. For me, it's as simple as there is work that I feel called to do and it feels very invigorating and important to me and it gives me energy. And if I'm consistently doing work that is not bringing me toward that central purpose, I will feel out of alignment and it will exhaust me and I will feel resentful and I will be mad. I’m fortunate that I can do that and I’ve worked to get to this point, but yeah, just really avoiding things and people that suck your energy out, and try and hold those boundaries.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Brittany after the break.
Dr. Joy: You know, you're in an interesting position, Brittany, because you have a business partner, so much of your work is tied up with the work that Eric does. And so how has burnout impacted the relationship between the two of you? Because I can imagine like if you both are burned out at the same time–which would not be like out of the realm of what's possible, given what has been happening for the past couple of years. How has that impacted your relationship as business partners?
Brittany: One of my other best friends, she has this phrase that she says. She's like we can't both lose our mind at the same time. She's like we both can't lose our mind at the same time, so is it going to be me or is it going to be you? We’ve got to pick who needs to do it more right now. I think that instinctually, a lot of people who work, whether it's in like a creative partnership or as business partners or as spouses or co-parents or whatever, if the other person seems like they really are going through it and they kind of need some support, you kind of amp up. I think that we're sensitive to each other's energy levels and sort of like who seems like they have the energy to drive the boat right now, and we just sort of pick up where the other person might need some help or whatever. You know, of course, there are periods of time where both of us are super chomping at the bit. Things are never 50-50. Sometimes it’s 70-30, sometimes it's 90-10. It's just important that things flow back and forth, I think over each side. But yeah, I think that we both sort of are sensitive to when the other person might have a bunch of deadlines right now, or whether they have something else going on in their personal life that might need their attention more than work, because work is not the most important thing. I think that's part of it.
But then also too, it's been a very long time since Eric and I have worked with just the two of us. We've always had some sort of team and that really helps too, as far as having other people that we can sort of rely on and work with. If you don't have that team support that we've had built into our projects, then that might look like outsourcing certain things. That might look like getting an accountant or getting a shared assistant or getting a producer or getting somebody to handle whatever else you need help with. It might look like getting somebody to cover some of those other bases so that the two of you can be freed up to continue to focus more on your work.
Dr. Joy: I'm glad you brought that up, Brittany, because I have definitely found that having a team of people to help support me in this work has really been a game changer. And I think can be one of the things you put in place to prevent against burnout when you can, is having people who you can rely on to help produce the work that is required of a weekly podcast or whatever. Who are some of the people that you have put in place that have helped you to keep the boat going in the right direction?
Brittany: Well, as far as Eric and I working together right now, we're really fortunate that we have a great producer, Alexis Williams, she's amazing. We have Ellice Ellis who you know, who has been a great social media manager for us. We have Kameel Stanley who is our executive producer right now who is with Stitcher, the company that we're partnered with. And they keep the train on the track. But one thing I will say that is really a great benefit of having a creative partner or a team or even a business partner is that I think the presence of another person is very energizing. When you're working on something by yourself, a lot of times you have to be that person to kind of kick your own butt to stay excited about something. Which is a really fun journey, I will say I enjoy doing that a lot. But yeah, when you have that other person, it helps to kind of push things over the line.
Dr. Joy: You know, you bring up social media and I think that that's something else that I have personally found stressful but that is also I think a part of the job. Don’t hang your head down, Brittany.
Brittany: You can see I’m hanging my head. I'm like, oh Lord, yes.
Dr. Joy: I think when you host a show, a part of the responsibility is like making sure people know about the show and like sharing things and, you know. But I feel like there's a lot that comes with being online. Can you talk a little bit about the online activities that you may have strayed away from in the interest of protecting your sanity? And like what kind of boundaries do you set up around your online activity to kind of keep you healthy?
Brittany: Well, that's a great question. I will say I have a pretty healthy relationship with social media and I'm really happy about that. There's one school of thought, which is that if you have something and you're putting it out there, you need to be on all platforms or at least two or three, really heavy, to be able to get your product and your show or your work or your writing or whatever out there. I think we've all seen that work for a lot of people. But if it is just you, sometimes I think that you need to be mindful of which medium would most help whatever it is that you are trying to make.
If it's just you and you don't have a social media manager, you don't have a team or you're not working with a company that's providing support for you, it's really important to think about like where does it make the most sense for me to put my energy into? For me, as somebody who works in podcasting and has for some time, Instagram is not always the number one place that people are going looking for podcasting stuff. I still am not a hundred percent sure I know where people are looking for podcasting content all the time! But I found that Twitter, as somebody who also writes a lot, is an important place for me to be. And also, I can get a lot out of being on the platform without engaging with it too much. And also, I get a lot of work through Twitter so it makes sense for me to sort of feed Twitter.
I maintain my Instagram so that if somebody googles me or looks me up, they can easily see what it is that I have done and verify–oh, okay, she is who she says she is. Yeah, I'd say like it's kind of important, I think, to figure out where the audience is for what you're trying to make and what makes the most sense and then invest in that, if it's just you. Maintain the other things so that they're up to date, people know you're alive, a proof of life. But if you don't have the bandwidth and it's not the focus of your practice or the focus of your business, just like feed whatever is growing the most effortlessly and where it makes the most sense for your work to be.
Dr. Joy: Have you had any experiences with negativity online? And if so, how have you dealt with it?
Brittany: My first instinct was to say no. I have. I have an instance of negativity online. I had somebody once (I think six or seven years ago) pay for a promotional campaign, built a website to the idea that I am the true racist. Obviously, this man was white. Obviously. And also, I think he worked in tech but he couldn't have been that bright because it was very easy for me to google him and find out his personal email address. It wasn't like the biggest deal in the world as far as like volume, but it was so pointed and he clearly put a lot of effort and money into it that it was overwhelming for me. I think I took a cab from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, which I’d normally would not do. I really must have been under duress because that's a lot of money. And I was like this man is being racist to me, I was sobbing the entire ride on the phone with my parents, I was losing my mind. That was probably the worst instance of online harassment that I've ever dealt with. Also, the company that I was working for at the time decided not to do anything about it. They just did nothing to comfort or protect me, which was a choice and something I've never forgotten. And that was the only instance that I would say where somebody had really done something to make me feel bad.
I’ve had people like do other things that were nasty or that were mean or that were rude but it's not a frequent occurrence, to be honest with you. And I think that because my whole life doesn't happen online, so many other things happen in my life. I've been very fortunate then that people have mostly just said mean or rude things–it's infrequent and also it's never crossed into some sort of offline action. And I never have dealt with like death threats, which has been a blessing. It shouldn't be, it should be something that nobody has to deal with. But other than that, I really don't deal with it too much. For the most part, I have really positive experiences online. I've made a lot of friends and colleagues and gotten jobs that way and I think that a lot of that is luck. But I also think that a lot of that is just not taking it too seriously.
Dr. Joy: Got it. More from my conversation with Brittany after the break.
Dr. Joy: You have been really open, Brittany, across all of your shows and I think even in some of your writing, talking about how going to therapy has been incredibly helpful in supporting your professional career and just other areas of your life. Can you talk about how therapy has been supportive to you?
Brittany: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Ten years ago, this June, I found the therapist that I've been with for the past decade and she's been amazing. She has been amazing. When I first started seeing her, I was in a relationship that was not working, not healthy, not good for me. I was recovering from loss of job. I was forced to quit basically because I was in a situation where I was physically unsafe. And so I had been sexually assaulted at an old job, had to quit and move cities and start over and come up with all these reasons why I had these gaps in my resume and all these things like that. And I also had graduated during the recession. I had finished college with a film degree–art history a minor. It’s a blessing, y’all. It's a blessing. It’s a blessing that I could pay bills now. But I had graduated with not the most sought-after degree in the middle of a recession. It was a mess. I was working at a motorcycle dealership when I first started going to see my therapist, okay?
If you go to therapy and you're honest... You're honest. If you go to therapy and you're honest or as honest as you know how to be at that point, and you listen to yourself and what you're saying, eventually the things in your life that you have control over that don't make sense... When you start putting two and two together. And for me at least, therapy caused and still causes a point of confrontation for myself and my life. Where the things that I say that I want to do and where I want to be and the person I want to be meets the things that I'm actually doing, and what I'm saying I'm doing and how I'm feeling in the moment. And it forces me to sort of confront, bring it back to alignment. Is the person that I want to be and the person that I actually am or the things that I'm doing right now, are they in alignment? Is this healthy for me? Is this working for me?
One of the biggest things I realized in therapy was I was so afraid of getting the thing that I wanted or getting the opportunity or meeting a great person, that I was much more inclined to accept something that was “not quite” or just all the way wrong for me. I was much more inclined to accept or chase those things, those people, those opportunities, because I was much more afraid of having to put in genuine effort and having to be seen for who I really was. I don’t remember the exact day, but I remember the feeling when I went into therapy and actually it got there, where my brain understood it. And for me, because I had had that space of confrontation where I was confronting myself, and I said it and somebody was witness to that, it became very difficult for me to forget that. It became very difficult for me to leave that out of my decision making. And once I have that space, it's very hard to forget the lessons that I learned in there when I'm out in the world living my life.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. And, you know, the benefit of having a therapist that you've had for a decade, there’s not a lot of hiding you're gonna be able to do because she knows so much.
Brittany: Oh child, the way she just... Sometimes I'll say something and she's just like, “You know what? I'm gonna tell you what...” She's like I'm just gonna keep it real with you, you might just need to accept this and move on to the next thing. Or you just might need to let this go. Or do you really think that this is the best way? She's great. She's been really, really great. Yeah, it's something I will not miss. I was visiting a friend in the hospital; when I tell you I was in the hallway, sitting on the floor, just taking that call in the hallway because I had to. It's probably one of the most crucial pieces of self-care that I have in my life and I can't thank therapy enough for everything that it's given me.
Dr. Joy: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that, Brittany. It sounds like y'all have an amazing relationship. Which I'm sure, at least to y'all being able to do just great work together. The other thing that I think has just been really incredible, especially for me as a fellow podcaster, I'm so thankful for you and Eric. Y'all have been so open about like your entire journey through podcasting, like the ups and the downs, and I think have really just set a powerful example for how to advocate for yourself and your creation, the things that you have put into the world. What kind of message do you have for other creatives about how to advocate for themselves?
Brittany: For me, something I struggle with is actually still advocating for myself. I'm grateful that you said that and I've come a long way. I should give myself some credit. I've come a long way but it's still an area where there's a lot of opportunity for growth for me. But I think not being afraid of no, or rather, learning to live with no or “not right now,” and also understanding that there's no one person that holds your destiny. I think those are really important things to remember when you're advocating for yourself. Yeah. Because, I mean, no is not the worst thing in the world.
Dr. Joy: Right. It may seem hard at the moment but it is not the end of the world. Yeah. I'm so appreciative of you sharing so much with us, Brittany. Such a great conversation, so many gems that you have dropped. Where can we find more of your work and support you? What is your website and social media handles that you'd like to share?
Brittany: If you want to follow me, I am @BMLuse on Twitter and Instagram. I'm much more active on Twitter than Instagram. I am on TikTok with the same name but I don't post anything so if you see me, mind your business. If you see me commenting on something wild, mind your business! And then also, if you want to listen to For Colored Nerds (which you absolutely should), you can find us at ForColoredNerds.fm and you can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ForColoredNerds. We have a lot of fun on the show and, yeah, it's a really good time. I mean, honestly, I'm gonna venture and say that if you like Therapy for Black Girls, I think you're gonna like For Colored Nerds.
Dr. Joy: I feel like this is one of those commercials with the fragrances, right? If you love *[inaudible 0:30:13] then you’ll love...
Brittany: Exactly. We have a new episode every single Tuesday and you can listen to our show wherever podcasts are found. But yeah, For Colored Nerds.
Dr. Joy: It is one of my favorite podcasts. I definitely think if you love the conversations we have here, you will also really enjoy For Colored Nerds, so definitely check it out.
Brittany: Thank you so much, Dr. Joy.
Dr. Joy: Thank you. I'm so glad Brittany was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and to check out her podcast, For Colored Nerds, visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session246. And be sure to text two of your girls this episode right now. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.