My name is Michelle, and I’m a recovering Digital Project Manager.
You see, I was a digital PM for awhile, back in the heady days of 2015, a distant blur now. And then I became a digital strategist. “Cool,” I thought. “A totally different job, how exciting!” And then weeks and months went on and I found myself thinking, “Hmm. This seems an awful lot like what I was doing before. What gives?”
Months turned into almost a year and I became more disillusioned and confused than ever.
So what is the actual difference between a digital PM and a digital strategist? It’s taken me awhile to learn.
Seriously. The best advice I received for dealing with feelings of burnout was a few days ago, and that advice was: when you are so fed up that you just don’t care anymore, actively attempt to care less. Like just really get all the giving a shit out of your system. Stop caring at a molecular level. Split the atoms of the fucks you do not give, and then split them again. Create a nuclear meltdown out of all the energy that you’re not caring with. Enough metaphors for now…
In my situation, I could never focus on what I was supposed to be doing, due to a number of factors, some of them complex and one of them just being that I am an insane, quality-obsessed, control freak bitch-ola. I was so used to responding quickly to everything that came my way — emails, Slack messages, carrier pigeons — that people expected it of me, and I felt like I owed it to them.
But then my boss told me something radical. Like some life-changing shit right here. She said, “Just… don’t.” That’s basically what she said. There were more words and it sounded better than that, but that was the gist of it.
It’s difficult to accept failure. I think that’s part of human nature — to be proud, defend ourselves, survive, and dislike failing. But sometimes we fail as human beings, and as project managers. And sometimes, spectacularly, we fail at those two things at the same time.
I’ve been a total failure over the past few months.
I started this blog, intending to keep it going with new content twice a week. Fail.
I transitioned out of project management recently, but didn’t actually transition out of it because I’m a total control freak. Fail.
Even though I didn’t transition out of it, I still failed at doing a bunch of PM stuff properly. Fail.
I couldn’t think of new content ideas to save my life. Fail.
I lost my focus, my energy, my drive, and my love of what I do (temporarily). Fail.
I ate an entire tray of four cinnamon buns and washed them down with an entire bottle of wine. Fail (or… win?).
I think the important thing to remember here is that cinnamon buns fix all failures until you step on the scale and feel like a failure in an entirely new way. Not as a project manager or a human being, but even worse, a failure of a woman for not fitting into your pants anymore.
Whatever your hustle may be — design, coding, strategy, project management, writing, something unmarketing related — you started doing it because you loved it. You continued because you loved it. You can’t imagine yourself doing anything else with your life, but yet, you hit a point where you just want to quit. What’s going on?
It’s not a lack of passion for your work. It’s not because of boredom. It’s not because you want to do something else.
When you feel that feeling of loving what you do and being convinced that you’ve never been more connected to and passionate about your work, coupled with a feeling of absolute dread about going in the next day or doing any of the tasks on your list, congrats — you’re in creative burnout.
Everyone has had a “worst project ever”. Mine has been recent and is still ongoing. I don’t mean it’s the worst because the work is bad or the client is bad, quite the opposite with this one. Our team has created amazing work and everyone really cares about this project. The client is fantastic and smart, willing to think outside the box when it comes to design and to take our input. When it finally completes, it will be a great piece of work out there in the world.
But that’s the problem, when it finally completes.
It’s easy to blame others when things don’t go as planned but project managers need to be bigger than that. If it didn’t go according to plan, it means your plan didn’t work. Why not? Where were you? Why weren’t you paying attention? Or if you were paying attention, why did you miss the clear red flags that things were going awry and your plan was not working? How come you didn’t fix it?
This post is for all my DPM peeps out there. That stands for “digital project management” in case you manage projects from under a rock. So, while I no longer work full-time in digital project management (I only dabble, as now I am a strategist/writer full-time), I’m still passionate about client relationship management and making sure our lovingly crafted digital projects go smoothly. I’ve found that now being on “the creative side” has given me even more passion for project management, as I feel like I have a better idea of what it’s like for the people I used to schedule and plan for, both internally and externally.
But we’ve all been there: the digital project that goes completely off track and looks like it’s destined for the rubbish pile or worse, public consumption as a warped, ugly version of its formerly wonderful concept. Let’s face it, it’s usually a website.
So what do you do? How do you tackle this seemingly insurmountable beast and tame it back into a (oh god here comes a cliche) beauty? By following these oh so useful tips of course.
But first, we need to identify the signs of a project going off the rails… We’ll assume it’s a website for the purposes of this example because, well, it probably is.
If you’re like me, you sometimes struggle to come up with new ideas to write about. Or, even if you happen to have a decent amount of new ideas, you struggle with getting them down on paper (err… screen) and just writing it all down into some sort of format that makes sense. Fear not, fellow blogger, I got ya covered today.
I have like 17,000,000 drafts started in WordPress right now, with a title and maybe a one sentence idea of what I wanted to write about so that I’ll remember later when it comes time to actually write a post. I thought that was a good strategy for awhile. And for awhile, it worked.
But I soon realized that my system wasn’t enough to keep me constantly inspired and writing quality shiz for this blog thingy all the time. I felt very accomplished jotting down my headline ideas and rough article ideas, but when the time came to actually write, I was often lost and felt rather meh about it. I spent a lot of time procrastinating (sometimes that can be good because my house is pretty clean now).
There are lots of great blog post planner templates out there to download, so I got some. But I found that a lot of them were kinda what I was already doing – jotting down the gist of your idea, or the headline, and planning those out for the month. But I wasn’t able to find anything that captured all the pieces to think about for each post in a way that was quick and easy to write down, and that still motivated me to actually write the damn post sometime this century.
I think the hardest thing about working in an industry you’re really passionate about is the eventual feeling of “Is this worth it?” that creeps into your mind. If you’re like me, you’re a 110% kind of person. All in or all out, there is no in between.
I’m happy and proud to be doing something I love for a living. I love the sense of accomplishment my work provides, and being surrounded by so many talented people with big ideas. It’s fantastic and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But sometimes, it still gets tough like anything else.
I guess some people call that burnout, but that’s not really what it is. To me, true burnout is when you are literally so done that you cannot be any more done. You know it’s time to walk away, find a new path, burn bridges to the ground, whatever. You want out of where you are.
But that’s not what I feel sometimes at all. Like I said, I wouldn’t change a thing. So it’s not burnout, it’s just a temporary case of a lack of fucks to give.
Once your supply of fucks to give is restored, all is well.