How To Beat Burnout as a Content Creator: TubeTalk 192 with Josh Zimmerman

PewDiePie recently announced he is taking a break from YouTube because he is, "feeling very tired". Are you? On this week's episode of TubeTalk, we explore mental health around content creation, the dangerous of burnout and how to avoid it.

If you're a YouTube content creator do you ever stop? Are you always thinking about the next video even before you've stopped thinking about the last one? Do you ever stop thinking about YouTube?

Phew! All this thinking (amongst all the actual YouTubing) can be exhausting.

We are always thinking and analyzing and at some point, we just can't seem to find our flow again. Every video is a struggle to create. The spark is diminishing. This is burnout.

YouTube burnout, mental burnout of any description, is a part of mental awareness that continues to make headlines as our digital worlds become ever more omnipresent.

Even YouTube's biggest star can struggle with 'switching off'?

"I'm taking a break from YouTube next year. I wanted to say it in advance because I made up my mind. I'm tired. I'm feeling very tired. I don't know if you can tell." - Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie)

So on today's episode of TubeTalk let's unpack those questions with someone who provides a sounding board to those who feel the daily pressures of content creation. That man is Josh Zimmerman. He's the founder of Creator Coach, the first-ever life coach dedicated to creators.

In this podcast you will learn:

  • What is the definition of creator burnout
  • What are the stages of burnout
  • Why the YouTube platform is a breeding ground for burnout
  • Why are creators much more susceptible to burnout
  • Why creators make burnout so personal
  • How creators can avoid burnout

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How To Beat Burnout as a Content Creator: Full Transcript

Liron Segev: Josh, welcome to TubeTalk.

Josh Zimmerman: Thank you. Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

Liron Segev: Josh, let's talk about beginning Creator Coach, that sounds extremely, extremely specific. Give us the tweetable version. What is Creator Coach? What do you do?

Josh Zimmerman: Wow. Tweetable version, is that 240 characters? I have a little bit more. Creator Coach is all about helping creators in their life as well as in, specifically burnout and helping them really move from point A to point B and see what's getting in the way.

One of the things that I realized when I had a lot of creators coming to me back in 2017, 2016 about burnout and reading all the articles was that everyone was talking about it and no one was doing anything about it. I didn't see anyone out there really addressing the issue and so I decided I was going to.

Liron Segev: Okay, well, you hit the nail right on the head right at the get-go, which is burnout. We hear that word constantly. We hear it in the news, on social media feeds, when we speak to fellow creators at events. Let's just define what is burnout.

Josh Zimmerman: Burnout is starting to become very common in every single circle but we're hearing it more and more with creators of all types. Really what that means, and it means a lot of different things to different people but really the baseline is that you just do not have any more energy or will to move forward with creating content.

Liron Segev: Do you find these different levels of burnout could be: I'm a little bit burnt out? Can I be a lot burnt out?

Josh Zimmerman: Absolutely. I came up with a burnout timeline, right? There's four stages that we can really identify, which is preventative. That's really like, again, the baseline where you're managing stress and avoiding the symptoms of burnout. The next bucket is onset, right, where the stress and other factors begin to increase pressure and the symptoms of burnout.

Then we really quickly move to what I call the death spiral, which is where you really circum to the pressures that begis to alter the path, and you question directions and encounter more stress. That doesn't stop, because there are no boundaries in a lot of places.

A lot of creators don't have a lot of boundaries because that's what you do, you create. There are no boundaries to your creativity. When things start to spiral out of control, it's really hard to find something to grasp onto.

Once you're down that spiral, the next one is the most unfortunate which is the flat line. If you think of the EKG, you have flat lined and that is you've lost all ability to create due to the numerous and previous factors that I talked about. Burnout is a key factor in the lives of almost every creator.

Everybody is on this timeline somewhere right now. My job is to help them move through those timelines or those different timelines and hopefully bring them to somewhere where they start to notice those symptoms and be able to address those before things start to go downhill quicker.

Liron Segev: Before we get to the flatline

Josh Zimmerman: Exactly.

Liron Segev: As creators, we're always on, we don't take a break. We're always thinking of the next content. We're thinking of this thing called the algorithm. We're constantly always on this hamster wheel of constantly, constantly being on.

I mean, it's not like you go to work, you do your shift, you go home and then you're done. This creator life almost follows you wherever you go. Are there any specific causes that you know that causes us to start saying, okay, I'm starting to hit the first stage of burnout?

Josh Zimmerman: Well, what you just said is exactly correct. I would take it a little bit of a step further. What a lot of people don't understand is that being a creator, just like you said, it's not a job where you get to, you know, at five o'clock, six o'clock, seven o'clock you get to turn the lights off and go home.

The thing that people really don't understand outside of the industry and even inside the industry is that you don't turn off, because what you're putting out there, even if it is just a sliver of your life, that's you. That is you are always on.

There is nothing that is sustainable when you are constantly on. You just can't turn it off, especially when it is a part of you that you are putting out into the world at such an intimate level. One of the first things is to be aware of that.

If you're tired and if you start to stress, which this job is extremely stressful, and you start to lose motivation, that's when it's good to take a step back and to say, okay, what's going on? What am I feeling? What is happening that is causing me to not want to do what I normally do or lose enjoyment in that?

Liron Segev: Right. Well, I think that's an important point. One of the first question I always say is, are you passionate enough about the subject or are you doing it for the views? There's a big distinction between the two.

Because those who love what they do and they can wake up every morning cannot wait to get in front of that camera or cannot wait to write that blog post or post those pictures, those are the people who've got the right mindset coming in and, probably, longevity versus the people who are living to the algorithm. What are people into today? I'll make those videos today. I'm going to try build up my channel based on a trend because then you're on a very fast pace to that burnout.

Josh Zimmerman: We're all chasing views

Liron Segev: We're all chasing views

Josh Zimmerman: It's an ego thing, right? It makes you feel good. The bigger you get, the more numb you become to them but those numbers do equal your income. I highly encourage everyone to also branch out and diversify your income just in case something turns with the system. I'm using big air quotes, "algorithm."

Liron Segev: Not in case, because it will change.

Josh Zimmerman: It will change. Right. I know someone who went from making $50,000 a month to five overnight. That's going to shake you to your core. Anyone that is chasing views, you know, I haven't really worked with anybody who is... I wouldn't advise anybody to ever start a channel just to chase views.

The people that I work with, and the creators that have huge success are people who are creative at their core and ended up starting on YouTube just because it was an outlet. It wasn't to get famous. If you are out there and you are trying to do that, there's other ways to do that.

Liron Segev: People do fall victim to those vanity metrics at a point.

Josh Zimmerman: All the time. 100% and they are corrosive because of the fact that it is these numbers that... Here's the big thing, people forget that those numbers are actual people.

Liron Segev: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Absolutely.

Josh Zimmerman: Right? When you take a step back or you lean in and you look at, you know, somebody says, I only got 40,000 views on this video. I go, okay, well, do you know how many people Madison Square Garden holds? They'd be 50, 60, 70,000. I said, try 24. I believe 24, 25,000 people.

I go, how long did it take you to get those 30,000 views? Well, it took me a day or two. You're up there at the top of selling out Madison Square Garden. You've surpassed most celebrities that have events at Madison Square Garden.

Liron Segev: Completely, on that point, on the subscriber numbers as well. I often see in our chats where people say, I only have 300 subscribers. I only have a thousand subscribers. I say to them, great, if a thousand people were coming for dinner tonight, is that a lot or a little?

When you start making it real and we tell them that when we speak on stages in front of a thousand people is considered a big stage, it becomes real because those are eyeballs. Those belong to people. It's not a number, it's a person.

Josh Zimmerman: Right. That's the thing that makes this journey really difficult because a lot of the time when you start to really grow, there is a wall that goes up of everybody wants access to me.

Being a creator can sometimes be pretty lonely because you're just staring into a camera. What people don't understand is on the other side, what we call is breaking the fourth wall, you're looking right into the camera. That person, that viewer, that fan that is watching you is having a one-on-one dialogue with you. You have somebody who is creating content on their own and there's a lot of eyeballs. It's an isolated life.

Then when you go out into the real world, you're bombarded with all these people. That's a shock to the system as well. Going back to your point, what I encourage everybody to do, anyone who says about subscribers, it only takes one. It only takes one.

I can't illustrate that better than, you know, in 2014 I was at YouTube Nation, which was the official daily show of YouTube. When that came to an end and people were, you know, our fans were really upset. I read a comment and I didn't read comments a lot on the videos, but one of them was from this little girl who said, this was a daily show. She said, I don't know what I'm going to do every day when I go to get chemo. That knocked me over.

Liron Segev: Completely.

Josh Zimmerman: I've never forgotten that to this day. That's the power of somebody making a comment or watching you, you as a creator or as a other viewer have no idea how much you are helping people that are watching your content.

Liron Segev: It's funny how those comments stick with you. There's a person that I interviewed a little while ago, Joe Scott. He's got this amazing science and question channel. His story is very much the same where he made videos and he stopped for a while, and then when he made his new video, he said, I'll never forget it. It was mister electric popsicle, something like that, some username that he knows.

He said, "Where have you been, man? I've been waiting for you." He said from that day onwards he made every single video for that user. That's how he had it in mind because he made that connection because at the end of the day, it's a person watching your content.

Then, once we have that amount of stress on top of us having to deal with brands, and having to deal with monetization and algorithm changes, and thumbnails and titles and, and, and, and, and... that stress becomes ridiculously compounded and compounded and we do not take a break. Is that one of the causes of burnout?

Josh Zimmerman: Yes, but there's another big piece of it and it's actually chemical related. When you're stressed, adrenaline is released. You only have so much adrenaline in your system. When that happens and you run out of adrenaline, it sort of taps out. It's like we don't have any more and the chemical that replaces it is cortisol.

Cortisol is the chemical that induces fight or flight or freeze. When that happens, blood rushes from your extremities and goes to those core organs that you need to survive. What it also does is it usually goes to the right side of the brain. I mean, it goes all over, but the right side of the brain is the creative side.

The first thing that it does is it kills creativity because that's not something you need to survive. You need to know how to climb a tree if a bear is chasing you. This is what's happening. You get stressed, your adrenals are empty, your cortisol is in there and is literally blocking you.

The chemicals are literally blocking those neurotransmitters from being able to have you create. Now you stress even more because you can't come up with any ideas. More cortisol is released. You can't think of any more ideas. You get more and more frustrated and you start spending so much energy trying to take one step and you're putting even more stuff in front of you that's blocking you from taking that first step.

That's when burnout happens because you have no more energy left because there are actual chemicals in your brain that are stopping you from being creative.

Liron Segev: Almost becomes that deer in the headlights situation where you just don't know what to do next.

Josh Zimmerman: Well, the death spiral.

Liron Segev: You're right.

Josh Zimmerman: Because you can't move forward. My job is to help bring those cortisol levels down, help with relaxation which also distresses and flushes that cortisol out, which then allows those neurotransmitters to start sparking again. That's one of the biggest things that people are not aware of is that, and what feeds into all of that is not having boundaries and not having some kind of structure because the creative life, the creator life is really structureless.

Liron Segev: Yes, definitely.

Josh Zimmerman: I say that with a big asterisk because you do have, there's different things that you need to do. Listen, when there's a TV show, when there's a movie, anything else in entertainment, there's something called the hiatus. It's when you go on break.

The industry has built that in on the entertainment side, on the traditional side, because you can't be running all the time. If you can, you just need a huge crew to be able to do that. The other piece is that everybody on set knows that they have a specific job and they know what they're supposed to do, and when they're done, and when they get paid.

There is still creativity and there's still burnout in there, but if you are the star of a show, you know you show up to set at 6:00 AM, here are your lines. Hair and makeup is coming in. You can go get some food now. From this time to this is a call sheet. This time you're going to be doing this scene, this scene. It may be a extremely long day that you may burn out and run out of energy, but there's a structure to it. Our industry doesn't have that.

Liron Segev: At all, and especially since a lot of us are... You know, we're rowing our own boat in the sea of YouTube and it's a lonely world. In front of the camera, usually from a little home studio, a little home office, sometimes even in the bedroom. There really isn't a separation of church and state. There isn't a separation of here's my work. I'm now physically leaving to go to my personal life.

Josh Zimmerman: Correct. You're operating in a vacuum. My job is to snap both of those ends of that... If you think of a vacuum, like a little glass tube and you're in there, my job was to snap both ends and to bring some oxygen in there for you to be able to look around and realize that there are things going on that you didn't even know were happening.

We can all talk about it with each other but until we get to the bottom of it and actually move into it and figure out what's going on, nothing's going to happen to move forward.

Liron Segev: Okay. Are there any warning signs that I should be looking out for to say, whoa, it's time to get off for a little bit. Take a little bit of a break?

Josh Zimmerman: When you're tired.

Liron Segev: Okay.

Josh Zimmerman: It really is, and there is a worry of, well, I have to put this out. I have to get this out. As soon as, and that's normal but as soon as you start to lose that spark. You start to feel that candle light starting to dim a little bit, that's when red flags should be going off.

Everyone knows when that's happening. It's just whether you choose to be aware of it or not. Those signs are not wanting to upload, stressed, always being sick, not feeling motivated, not enjoying what you're doing. It's not that hard to figure it out, but it's really hard to do yourself.

*Liron Segev: Well, if I do want to take a break, how will my audience react? How will the algorithm react? Can I rebound from that? You get horror stories of people taking a break and never been able to rebound. On the other side, you hear people saying, I've took a three week break and it was the best thing I could ever have done for myself. Is burnout almost inevitable for everyone at some stage? *

Josh Zimmerman: Yes. Yes. All of those factors that you just talked about that you are experiencing are all little warning signs to examine it because none of those have boundaries on them.

Liron Segev: The highs and the lows are quick. You're going to have an amazing video, it's going to get great reviews, lots of comments, lots of subscribers, lots of engagement. You're so pumped.

*You're going to make your next one. If the next one doesn't perform, you say, okay, maybe it's a glitch. Maybe it's the algorithm. Make another one. If that one, God forbid, tanks, this is it, I'm giving up. *

I don't know what I'm doing. Is the highs and lows that steep, which is maybe pushing a lot of us? Do you watch those metrics so carefully?*__

Josh Zimmerman: Yeah, because they're reflection on you.

Liron Segev: Okay. I like it. I think too many people, too many creators don't see themselves as a brand. They see themselves personally as a person all the time.

Josh Zimmerman: Which they should, and it's totally understandable, but there needs to be some perspective. You need to be talking to somebody that says, wait a second. What's really going on here? Some people don't want to admit it, and some people... That may not be the case.

Again, the reason I love what I do is that there is no right answer to every single question because everyone is individual. Just like every channel is individual because it's coming from a somebody. They are an individual. The solutions are really tailored to that person.

The most important thing though is that everybody, every single creator that I've ever talked to, I really don't like using the word creator even though that's... It feels like we're looking at a zoo. Every single person that is in the YouTube or digital world feels like they are the only ones that have this problem.

Even though they talk to all, they have a lot of friends or this or that. When it's one-on-one with me, it usually comes up as I'm the only one that has this problem, Josh. I'm like, wow, actually no, you're not. Those are those kind of aha moments where you don't feel so alone anymore because this is a very, very lonely job.

There's a lot of ups and downs, but it is for the most part, a lot of people have no idea. Your fans have no idea how long it's going to take you to produce this podcast.

Liron Segev: Exactly.

Josh Zimmerman: They're going to listen to it for however long it is, but they're not going to know how long was the run time? How long did it take you to find a time for us to talk? How long is it going to take you for it to edit? How long is it for you to put into the metadata?

How is it long for you to find the story and the arc that we've talked about and cut the other pieces out? A 30 minute or an hour piece of content may take 10, 20 hours to produce. All of those 19 hours, let's say, it takes 20 hours, is energy that you've put in that nobody sees, nobody knows about except for you. What you put out in the final product is a reflection of all that hard work but everybody watches and judges that one piece one hour when you've done 20 times the work. If you don't get a lot of feedback, positive feedback or a lot of downloads or whatever it may be, it's going to hurt 20 times more. The other piece is being aware of, you know, where am I finding my happiness from?

Again, it goes back to why am I doing this? Do I want to be doing this podcast because it's going to help more people? Is there a little bit of ego in there? When is it going to stop? If it stops being fun, I need to examine what is going on that is creating it, making it not fun at all. Again, it goes back to all it takes is one. A lot of times those people that it makes the biggest change in their life, you will never hear from.

Liron Segev: Flip side of that. It takes one of these troll comments to throw you off your game completely from some random, and that's enough to throw you off to say, well, you see, that just confirms I'm wasting my time.

Josh Zimmerman: I would never say to somebody, oh, I understand what you're going through when it comes to that, but man, it stings. I've been there with creators when it happens and when they read it. When they choose now to stop reading their comments because they don't want to come across one of those landmines, which is what it is. It is a landmine and it just ruins you.

It is so hurtful. It takes everything out of you and we focus on that because it comes from our insecurities. We have to remember to look at this and go, okay, wow, that hurts. How am I going to process this? How am I not going to just push it aside, but how am I going to process it? There's a lot of different ways to do that. That's one of the things I help my clients do because that also leads to burnout because it's like, I don't want to hear anything more even if it's just one.

I don't read my comments anymore because I had one bad comment, which you will have. Which is now deafening to the hundreds of thousands of other comments that are positive that you are not able to see because this troll.

This person who is hurting more than you decided to put something out there and hit enter. I don't want to minimize that. It is extremely hurtful. There was a creator that I knew, that I was managing at the time. I saw somebody take a swipe at them. This was someone who was trolling them for a while.

I just saw red. I was so angry, and it wasn't even about me. It was about my creator that I care about so much. I reached out to them, and they said, yeah, this person has been trolling me. What they decided to do was one of the things I haven't seen anyone else do before. They had finally had it, this creator had finally had it with this troll and they decided to pin this person's comment to the video to the top.

Liron Segev: Wow.

Josh Zimmerman: I said, why did you do that? He said, Josh, my fans will take care of it.

Liron Segev: Nice.

Josh Zimmerman: His fans just took this person apart.

Liron Segev: Yeah, I see, you forget about the army that is loyal to you though. The fans who love you for your content, who's been following you around social media, who's been constantly engaging with you because all you see is red. Talk about red to the bull. You can't just focus on that one item forgetting the entire audience around that.

Josh Zimmerman: Which is normal. That's okay. That's not something to be fixed. What it is is to be made aware of and then figure out how are you going to move through it.

Liron Segev: You know, everybody goes through some stages of some of those and then maybe it's a little bit more extreme. As they get caught up in that vortex, as you said, spiral, the spiral, the spiral, you want to be able to avoid going into that flat line when you just hang up your camera and you're done.

Is there anything we can do that maybe helps me deal with some of these issues before I'm saying, okay, I now actually need help because I cannot do it myself?

Josh Zimmerman: I would say the first thing is to reach out to me or really talk to anybody. Just shoot me an email and happy to talk to somebody. When it comes to those warning signs it is simple as when things just don't feel right and the solution is usually you can't do this alone.

It's a lonely, lonely process. You need somebody to talk to that you can trust that doesn't care how famous you are, or how much money you have, or how many views you have, and actually genuinely cares about you.

Someone who is able to tell you and ask you these top provoking powerful questions that may bruise a little bit, but they work and they help because there is no, oh no, if I say this it's going to ruin my friendship with the person or my business relationship. I don't have that. I think it's important to have people in your life that are objective.

Liron Segev: Support is where it's at at the end of the day.

Josh Zimmerman: It's all about support. It is not something to be ashamed about. If you want your business to grow, because this is a business, then I strongly suggest examining what do you need to do to make that happen? A lot of the times that is talking to somebody that understands it, that you don't have to explain it to, and figuring out a plan.

Liron Segev: Okay. That's a lot to take on but I think it's a very, very important message. I think that a lot of people need to stop and maybe reflect. Josh, if people want to find you, if they want to get more information, what's the best way to do that?

Josh Zimmerman: The easiest way is just email me, There is no barricade to get into me to reach out. You can go to my website, as well to see the different testimonials and to learn a little bit more about what coaching is and what it's not. I'm also on Facebook as CreatorCoach.

I think it was really important to state which I didn't do at the top is that there's a very, very big difference between therapy consulting and coaching. Therapies where you really look at the past and you're diagnosed by the DSM-5, by a medical professional.

Consulting is that somebody's paying you because you know more than they do about a certain situation, they're telling you what to do. Coaching is about looking forward, not looking back.

*Liron Segev: Absolutely, love it. Thank you very much for all your time in this amazing interview, amazing discussion. We will have all the show notes written up. Josh, thank you very much for spending time with us. *

Josh Zimmerman: Absolutely. I'm on all the other social media platforms too, but the quickest, if you need to get to me, shoot me an email.

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