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How I Beat the Burn Out

It’s 5:00 AM on Monday morning and I’m sitting in my dark office, waiting for the sun to rise. It’s completely silent except for the low hum of the air conditioner. I’m reflecting on the past two and a half months and the burn out that took over my love of photography. To be honest, I didn’t really see it coming. Maybe it was the insanely busy year I had last year. Maybe it was closing two studios and beginning the search for a better location. Maybe it was the back and forth between Baltimore and Lancaster. I’m not sure. I do know that one day I woke up feeling completely overwhelmed, not sure how to move forward, and just burnt out. I stared at my camera and didn’t even want to pick it up. In fact, I wanted to anything else except take pictures.

So I took a week to think it over. I knew I wasn’t giving up on photography. I love it and it’s become a huge part of who I am. Honestly, there’s nothing else I’d rather do. But I had to kick this cloud of despair. So I started thinking about something, anything, I could do to completely change gears and get myself creating again. I had talked about building a shed for years and decided this was as good a time as any. It would be a huge distraction, take a lot of energy, time, and possibly be the reset I needed. So I got some blueprints, loaded up on supplies, and went to work.

Instead of a small garden shed, I decided to put up a big ol’ 12′ x 20′, hold-the-mower-and-most-of-our-stuff shed. And I was determined to do it by myself. No help. After the first few days, I thought I was going to be hospitalized. I was totally in love with being outdoors, and building something with my hands. The sweat, and strain, and labor of the whole thing was like therapy. I could feel the stress and negativity going away with each swing of the hammer. It started with some simple digging to level the ground, and started to become this massive undertaking. There were days when I thought the shed might kill me. But the incredible feeling it was giving me was too much to pass up. I knew I couldn’t stop. And that was the great part about it. I had started a project that HAD to be completed. I couldn’t just leave a bunch of wood in the yard.

When it came to the roof, I finally had to admit I needed help or I would never get the plywood up on the roof. The shed was just too big and on the left side, the peak of the roof is 16 feet off the ground. I raised the white flag and had my neighbor help me with the roof. After getting the plywood up, I was back on my own to shingle it. I smelled like tar and asphalt for four days and probably sweated off ten pounds. But it was coming together. It was actually turning into something. I couldn’t believe it as I would stare out the window each night at the days progress. I was feeling ALIVE, and the stress and worry that had overtaken me was just about gone.

As I stared at this thing I had set out to build, I began to look at it as a rebuilding of myself. As the shed grew, I could feel myself becoming “me” again. Seven years of self employment had been bottled up and I was getting all the stress out. It had become so much more than a building. More than a place to store “stuff.” It was a symbol of picking myself up and moving on. Keep moving on.

Today I got the doors built and installed, as well as the windows put in. There are still some details to take care of, trim to install, and painting to be done. But at this point I have built a functional, water tight, shed. And I feel an immense sense of accomplishment and pride when I look at it. That’s my blood, sweat, and smashed fingers out there. And I know if I can get through all the labor it took to build it, I can get through anything. I’m ready to pick up where I left off, get back to work, and reclaim my passion for photography. My mind feels clear again, and I’m ready to improve as a photographer, a father, a husband, and a human being.

I have to say a huge “thank you!” to my wife, Amy, who has watched me spend hundreds of hours on this project. She had kept the kids busy and yes, lent a hand now and then when we needed to get the giant tarp over the roof when rain was coming. I also have to thank my mom who watched the kids on days when I was trying to finish up what seemed like a never ending project. So in the end, I didn’t really do this all by myself. I had the help and support of people close to me and without them, I wouldn’t have been able to get this far.

The burnout tried to get me. But I fought back and was determined to not let it define me. It’s been a crazy two and a half months, but it’s been worth every ounce of sweat and work. You really can do anything you put your mind to.

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  • Kat - Fantastic life lesson here! So important for photographers, creatives, to take some down time too!

  • Lindsay - Congratulations, Artemas! What a monumental task. I loved reading about your transition through the process, and I truly admire that you took control of your outlook and improving your mental state by doing something physical and attainable! I’m definitely inspired, thank you for sharing.

  • Betty - You are becoming Amish through osmosis—or harkening back to our Griffin ancestors who were farmers. Either way, an amazing accomplishment and a lovely reflection.

  • Artemas - Thanks Betty! Maybe it’s a blend of both? My dad has told me about our Griffin ancestors. I’ll go with them.

  • Artemas - Thanks Lindsay! It was one of the most therapeutic things I’ve ever done for myself.

  • Artemas - I appreciate it Kat! It was tough to be in that rut and away from the camera. But in the end, totally worth it.

  • Jeanne - Good job! Sounds like even photographers need some R&R.

    Beautiful shed! Now that we know you are experienced, we know who to call if we decide to do one! LOL

    Enjoyed reading about your experience!

  • Artemas - HA! Thanks Jeanne. And this will be the last shed I ever build. You may need to call Sheds R Us!

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