In the last installment of Frame of Mind, we discussed the magical topic of grabbing that dough and understanding what your value is behind the camera. It’s a tricky topic to tackle, especially alone, in the creative space. You’re circled by other sharks (creatives) that are waiting to pounce on you and steal that client and that dough from you the moment you slip up, or over estimate your value. Surprisingly, that article seemed to resonate with individuals that apparently enjoy reading what horse manure I write here, because I had quite a few Instagram messages about the article. That’s cool. Weird, because why should anybody ever listen to me? But, still cool (that is my attempt in paying myself a complement while not being so harsh on myself. Yes, therapy homework. Sorry you had to be a part of that).
This week, I thought it could be interesting to discuss the topic of burn out. I realize it’s not a sexy or glamorous topic, but holy hell is it a big part of this job. Plus, last week, while Wes Williams and I had a very romantic dinner date at a local sushi spot in Belmont Shore, CA we discussed, amongst a myriad of things, the element of burn out within our line of work. Burn out is real, even when you do something that you love. Obviously, it comes in waves and some waves are easier to ride than others. I’ve spent the last 22-months, essentially, going non-stop with work. Thankful? Very much so. Did it come with a not so fun cost? Yes, and that cost was mild depression and seriously questioning what the hell I was even doing.
Out of the last 24 months, 22 and a half of those months have been mostly spent working without a break. Unequivocally, it’s been the busiest 22 months of my career all of which I am very thankful. Part of the the reason it has been so busy is because of my inability to set boundaries and say no to things, but also it’s been a very unique couple of years and I was in no position to turn down work. However, it wasn’t until the closing stages of 2021 that the tidal wave of burn out hit and, it hit hard. Thankfully, now into the early months of 2022 (February), the wave has really settled down. To continue this analogy, as I write this, I’d say I am only ankle deep in the feelings of burn out. So, let’s discuss and learn a thing or two.
I started to notice that I was hitting the proverbial wall in September of 2021. After spending five days in Ft. Scott, Kansas shooting the build days of the Red Bull Imagination course, I flew home on a Friday to drive straight to Fox Raceway in Pala, CA for round 11 of the 2021 Motocross Championship series to continue production on Red Bull’s Flight Plan with Jett Lawrence. From Pala, it was was more local shoots for Flight Plan before the drive up to Hangtown for the final round to shoot Jettson clinch his first-ever outdoor championship for the aforementioned series. There was discussions of me then flying from Hangtown back to Kansas to shoot a mix of Flight Plan and artsy stuff for Imagination. While I felt the burn out creeping in near the end of my five day Kansas stint, the wave was only building and really started to crash down on me during the talks of going back to Kansas. This lead me to make a call to the man who has to proof read my 100,000 word articles, Chase Stallo, to explain to him where I was at and I didn’t know if I could mentally or emotionally get on a plane and head back to Kansas. Thankfully, that aspect of the project did not end up coming to fruition and I was able to remain home.
After this, things remained local, minus a Jettson shoot in Austin, TX which was followed by a much-need week long Hawaiian vacation with my wife for our wedding anniversary. However, a week wasn’t quite enough time for ol’ Art Dog. After Hawaii, it was a three day job in San Diego, CA and then straight to San Francisco for a two day job, and then San Francisco to Indianapolis, Indiana for a four day job with Wes and friends (you should be seeing and hearing more about this soon). You get the picture. While I am not complaining, it was this type of schedule that had been going on for me since 2020. I was, to say at the least, tired. By the time we got into December, I was simply going through the motions. We can all bull shit each other and say we don’t get like that, but the reality is, my effort being put forth was the bare minimum and it wasn’t okay. By the time December rolled around, I was not in a great place: exahusted and depressed. There was one job in particular that ate at me so badly, I would call my wife on the way to location venting about what I’m even doing? I am working on something that was so creatively unfulfilling for me that it made me want to quit. I never even watched the final version of this project because the thought of watching it literally caused a mild form PSTD. How this job is making me feel isn’t why I got into this and, if this is how it’s making me feel, maybe it’s time to stop all together. I mean, I would come home, throw myself into bed, cry for a minute, and fall asleep in the late afternoon and not wake up until the following morning. Not healthy. Not okay. I was that tired and that burned out. My head was no longer above water.
As you’ve probably heard and/or read, Red Bull MotoSpy is not happening in 2022, and while all of us love creating that show, it was also a relief for all of us involved to see it put on hold. This meant the middle of December and all of January have been mellow. It’s allowed for an opportunity to hit the reset button, decompress, and get ready for what is next. So, with all of that said, how does one actually hit the reset button and get back on track from such a serious funk? For me, it’s a couple of things. One of them, oddly enough, was being behind the camera and creating. In late November/early December, Corbin Hayes and I started working on a small project for vurbmoto entitled PORTRAIT, which you can watch here. Similarly to hearing riders speak on riding for fun and getting back to the roots of why they started in the first place, I needed to go out and shoot something with absolutely no pressure, no expectations, and nobody to answer to. The end result was a few days of shooting over a couple of months and creating just for the sake of creating. That was the very beginning of me finding the reset button. It was a literal breath of fresh air. Since then, I’ve been able to turn down certain jobs purely because of my lack of interest. To some extent, I feel like Travis Barker from Blink 182. The dude will drum for just about anyone on anything. The guy is just always saying, “Yes!” I tend to say yes to almost any job because of a fear that if I say no I will never work again. It’s the whole, “you gotta make hay while the sun shines” theory and assuming people will stop reaching out for my services and not like me. However, while trying to dig myself out of a severe situation of burn out, I had a few job opportunities in which I politely declined. At the end of the day, my overall mental stability and sanity to be present for both myself and my family and friends far out weighs the importance of shooting any dirt bike video or client piece.
Throughout even the worst of my burnout last year, I did my absolute best to maintain some sort of balance. This meant making sure I had an outlet away from work to forget everything for a bit. And, while I had those tools in place and utilized them on the daily, the burn out was still so severe that those things I had in place and was executing didn’t help as much as I had hoped they would. I’ve still been in a slight funk, but as I mentioned earlier, it feels like I am only ankle deep in that feeling and the water is getting more shallow every day. I’ve been chipping away at client projects, chipping away at my responsibilities right here at vurbmoto; Wes and I had Red Bull meetings last week for future projects, and more. Genuinely, I feel excited and optomistic for what’s in the pipeline. The moral of the story is, well… This job is a grind. If you guys truly knew the schedule Wes and I have (Wes even more so then myself), you would fall over. It’s not even close to being glamorous. But, it’s a genuine love and a genuine passion. It’s not cut out for everyone. For some context, I genuinely believe I set the bar for myself so high with No Runners featuring Trevor Stewart that I live with a genuine concern of how to top that project. How do I do better? In April or May of 2021, I started writing the next passion project that would be in a similar vein to No Runners, but with the objective of making it even bigger and better. So, the questions to answer are as follows: What’s the premise? Who is it with? What’s the visual language? What’s the visual look? What’s the overall tone and pacing? What’s the runtime? What’s the aspect ratio? What type of glass do I shoot it on? Amongst many other questions. It’s now February of 2022, almost a year later, and I am only now reaching the end point of the pre-produciton process of the aforementioned. Oh, and amongst everything else, I have also started meeting with a director about a potential scripted narrative project and what that will entail. My point? It never ends. The mind never truly seems to rest, so it’s a matter finding that edge and making sure you don’t go over it and spin yourself out to the point of wanting to walk away from all of it. In words of David Goggins, “It’s possible to transcend anything that doesn’t kill you.”