How to Stay Creative Without Burning Out (The Passion Paradox)

Jan 27, 2024

How to Stay Creative Without Burning Out (The Passion Paradox)

Jan 27, 2024

It’s incredibly rewarding to hear people say “Your attention to detail in every shot is obvious and impressive.

In my couch-surfing days, I always noticed the people who's work stood out to me.

I could feel their passion behind the lens.

How were they so confident?

How did they become so successful in such a short period of time?

How were they so effortlessly doing the job that I was tirelessly studying so well?

I’ve done my fair share of shot-for-shot innovations trying to emulate the frames of some of my favourite movies and shots. I quickly realized that it wasn’t just pointing the camera and pushing the little red button. There was this sort of mature language behind the choices they were making.

Doyle's work has been and will forever be a generational inspiration.

Bradford's skillful soft lighting for darker skin tones and how single-source lighting is utilized for simplicity. 

Chayse's meticulous camera placement in room corners and patience crafting in sequences.

Chivo's collaboration with directors, focusing on natural light, wide lenses, and fluid, continuous takes.

There was always a moment that stuck with me when I studied their work.

In truth, it's a huge reason why I’m here today.

I always wanted to be passionate about something that is creating memories and impacting people.

I knew that going the school route wasn’t going to give me the creative fulfillment that I desired or the freedom of my time.

My passion was far too curious to be stuck on a route determined by assessments and essays.

This leads me down these daily rabbit holes, studying all forms of art to better understand my own perspective.

Today, I’m grateful to say that I am where I’m supposed to be all due to a singular passion for storytelling.

But with passion comes a paradox: passion drives us to achieve great things in art, but without careful management, it can lead to imbalance and burnout.

With your invested time, I want to talk about four concepts that are essential for any creative, especially in the field of cinematography:

  • The Art of Balancing Technical Skills and Creative Vision.

  • Personal Projects as a Testing Ground.

  • Building and Maintaining Professional Relationships.

  • Sustaining Creativity and Avoiding Burnout.

I - The Art of Balancing Technical Skills and Creative Vision.

I was recently asked this Question: How do I balance learning new industry tools with developing my unique visual style?

The key to enjoying your work and being satisfied in your career is to use the right tools for the job. If a project needs a specific tool, go ahead and use it. If not, focus on the project's core purpose without getting caught up in technical details.

Use technology as a tool to enhance, not define.

You can have sight but have no vision.

You can also be on-time but miss communication.

You can have natural skills but not be technically proficient.

You can even have the best opportunities, and still feel like you are not doing enough.

Balancing the creative demands with personal well-being is some of the most common challenges I’ve found that people are facing.

  • An overemphasis on technical skills

  • Keeping pace with rapidly changing technology

  • Miscommunication leading to conflicting visions

An overemphasis on the technical aspects of creating can stifle the creative spirit.

But an unbalanced vision might lead to a lack of technical finesse.

The goal is to create projects that are both visually identifiable and technically sound to create a style that sets us apart from everyone else.

I spend a lot of time reflecting with other DPs about their approaches to their work, their philosophies and different work styles. We share our insights on balancing life and work. It's always fun to see how other people are approaching their storytelling without constraints.

Developing a unique creative vision is what distinguishes a cinematographer.

My journey has been about finding that balance – where technical skills serve the creative intent. Each project is an opportunity to blend these aspects.

I've experienced firsthand that you don't need a street full of equipment for a successful film. For instance, shooting a $250,000 Telefilm in Jamaica with just one lens and having it premiere at TIFF is a good example of this.

The real secret to this creative / tech balance is:

“understanding that not always being engaged in work isn't about reducing work hours or not having a job. It's about recognizing the true value of the work you are doing and knowing when to step back to reflect on its meaning.”

II - Personal Projects as a Testing Ground

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? - Luke 14:28-30

I was reading this in the bible the other day and this really spoke to me when thinking about how I wanted to approach this topic because passion projects pay the most money.

“Centuries back, passion used to mean suffering, misery, and anger. A classic example is the torture that Jesus Christ faced during his crucifixion—that's why it's often called the "passion of Christ." - Steve Magness

Salomon Ligthelm has the most beautiful article on Creative Breakthrough.

He shared so many invaluable gems, but the one that stood out the most was:

" Every new experience you take in is ammunition for your next creative idea, either consciously or subconsciously. You have to be in the world to build a storehouse of ideas, to build a storehouse of experiences. Then, you need that moment of reflection, that moment of contemplation, meditation, for an idea to drop. It can be a simple but repeatable action that your body does, where your mind is allowed to work. Then, it’s on to the tools to try and bring it to life."

All of these are great examples of how passion projects have been utilized to tell a story.

Every award ever won is the result of many failed attempts that were the sum of a risk that worked.

The goal is to use these projects to push creative limits, experiment with new ideas, and ultimately enhance your personal style.

They are the best way to learn and grow, because you don’t have much to lose.

Unfortunately, a lot of people, when starting out, are slow to turn their failures into learning opportunities.

Don’t wait to have it all figured out before you start; chase multiple opportunities.

The people you went to film school with should be your crew.

Pool your resources together and fund a week of creativity with other people in your network. If you have a camera, shoot. What good is an un-used sensor in the hands of someone who has the skills to use it?

There are endless amounts of talented actors that have scripts that I’m sure would love to have a passionate artist to collaborate with.

Even cinematographers and other filmmakers with years of experience and skin in the game forget that passion projects are what excited us in the beginning.

Last year, I did a 12-day micro-feature film for the love of storytelling and the passion the director presented for me telling her story.

It was one of the most enjoyable experiences that I’ve shared with a camera in my hands because it was an exclusive look at the new Atlas Mercury anamorphic lenses, it was the Directors narrative debut, and a testing ground for my new mentorship program.

Also, Arri Rental really supported us on the project, allowing us to get the most out of our approach to the film with the right gear and incredible support. Their whole team really went above and beyond our technical needs to prepare the perfect package for us that really spoke to the demands of our shooting schedule.

III - Building and Maintaining Professional Relationships

"You build meaningful relationships when you understand the importance of everyone around you." The Lost Art of Connecting

I might be weird, but I love studying ants.

These tiny insects may be among the oldest species still living on Earth and are incredibly smart about making friends and working together. Im sure they could teach us some valuable lessons about building relationships.

Ants are all about teamwork.

They share everything and communicate extremely well, which is something we can learn from.

When we engage in meaningful conversations, share our interests, and pick our friends wisely, we form stronger bonds.

Think of it this way: we go where we are celebrated, not where we are tolerated; similar to how ants thrive in a supportive environment.

When an ant finds something good, like food, it doesn't keep it a secret; it shares the news with the whole colony. This is a lot like networking and making connections in our lives.

Here's what ants can teach us about friendships and social interactions:

Build a circle of friends who share similar interests and values.

When someone shows interest in your ideas or work, respond with enthusiasm and genuine interest in theirs.

Choose your friends and conversations carefully, as they can strongly influence your personal development and life experiences.

Like ants, combining effort and determination can lead us to accomplish amazing things.

Adopting the spirit of cooperation and persistence, like these tiny creatures, can help us build meaningful relationships and succeed in our social and academic lives.

IV - Sustaining Creativity and Avoiding Burnout

This week I got around to highlighting some of Marlee Grace’s thoughts on how to not always be working. She said:

" being flexible and learning to say 'no' is crucial. Your work is what you define it to be, and it's essential to understand your limits. Saying yes to everything can lead to task overload and stretching yourself too thin.- How To Not Always Be Working

1) Recognizing the Signs of Burnout:

The busier I get, the more vital it is to be aware that burnout is real.

How long does it take before you feel the need for a break? If you're constantly feeling overwhelmed, it might be time to hit the pause button.

I’ve started to practice study techniques like the Pomodoro method, where work is broken into intervals with short breaks.

This has been a great way for me to be able to really focus on specific tasks for a period of time without distractions like reading scripts or journaling.

2) Quality Over Quantity:

"There's a paradox in life: those who focus most on success are least likely to achieve it. But those who focus less on success and more on the process of engaging in their craft are more likely to enjoy success."

This is an overused figure of speech, but it’s so true.

Focusing on a few high-quality projects per quarter is better than juggling multiple less significant ones. This approach was highlighted by one of my good friends and mentor, Dwayne from Corex Creative.

He advised me to focus my energy on fewer jobs that pay well rather than spending my time searching for smaller ones, emphasizing the importance of knowing you're worth.

You don’t have to say “yes” to every job that comes across your desk.

At the beginning of this year, I listed 300 goals that I'm hoping to achieve.

However, I'll be grateful for any one of them I accomplish, as they are all tied to meaningful and purposeful visions.

3) The Passion Paradox:

"While there are plenty of voices telling you to find your passion, there are hardly any telling you how to be passionate." - Brad Stulberg

"What is essential doesn't necessarily get your attention; what gets your attention becomes important." - Robert Stulberg

Focusing too much on success can be counterproductive.

This aligns with Jon Bon Jovi’s idea that "passion plus persistence equals possibility.

If you don’t carve out a unique voice for your work, you run the risk of falling into a trap of generic output.

It's essential to maintain your creative integrity and not let the focus shift solely to quantity.

This can lead to a loss of creative momentum and passion.

4) Selling Yourself:

“Rob & Steve Shallenberger’s advice, you’ll understand how to prioritize your time effectively, focusing on all the roles you need to fulfill in life.”

Realizing that if you can’t sell yourself, you’ll likely be overlooked.

It’s not just about your skills, but it's about how you package and present and perform them.

For instance, on a film set, learn how to be more proactive.

Be more aware of the work going on around you, not just your own.

Acknowledge the hard work other people are doing, because people notice when they are valued more than they are praised.

Even before you get on or even before you are hired for a job.

Preparing a first impressions deck for a Director, can significantly enhance your value and chances of getting selected for a job, especially if it's thorough with a well crafted vision.

5) Learning and Adapting

“When you prioritize and allow yourself to make progress, you’re more flexible in your approach, and you’re able to roll with life’s punches.”

Understanding that you might not always be the first choice for a project, but being willing to learn and adapt from each experience, is crucial.

It's about focusing on continuous improvement rather than perfection, allowing each project to contribute to your growth as a cinematographer.

A Mastery Mindset

You can be passionate about anything you want nowadays.

I’ve talked about this many times in The Visionary Enthusiast or the unforgettable storyteller, aswell as my Untold life story before becoming a cinematographer.

The only thing more painful than creative burnout is not realizing you are creatively burnt out.

The best solution is to recognize your patterns and reflect on them.

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, similar visions, but different habits and opportunities.

They just go about communicating differently.

  • If you want to keep your passion projects a priority but need people who also share the same vision as you - build a community.

  • If you want to showcase more of your style in how you see the world through your creativity - share more of your personal brand.

  • If you’re feeling ‘stuck’ where you are in your career and are looking to increase the level of your production expertise and get into new spaces - get a mentor.

There will always be opportunities available for employers searching for someone just like you to meet all their requirements.

That person is you!

What you do differently from others to stand out is your competitive advantage.

  • How you sell yourself in just 30 seconds - this is your elevator pitch

  • The connection made by someone who leads to a job offer six months later - this is your network

  • Showing up early on set, well before the scheduled call time - this is your mindset.

As a boxer, your job is to stay in the ring as long as you can without getting knocked out.

As a cinematographer, your job is to get your work in front of the right people and become uniquely recognizable.

You do that by focusing on both details and pleasing others.

Use your personal projects to try new things and learn how to get noticed in a busy environment by applying unique principles that most creative people don't know.

Once you have people's attention, you can work together to re-direct their intention where it will have the most impact.

That is how you withstand the Passion Paradox.

Create

Curate

Collaborate

Adapt

Attract

Apply

Thank you for reading.

I pray wherever you go, you grow.

God Bless.

- Sincerely Jordan

It’s incredibly rewarding to hear people say “Your attention to detail in every shot is obvious and impressive.

In my couch-surfing days, I always noticed the people who's work stood out to me.

I could feel their passion behind the lens.

How were they so confident?

How did they become so successful in such a short period of time?

How were they so effortlessly doing the job that I was tirelessly studying so well?

I’ve done my fair share of shot-for-shot innovations trying to emulate the frames of some of my favourite movies and shots. I quickly realized that it wasn’t just pointing the camera and pushing the little red button. There was this sort of mature language behind the choices they were making.

Doyle's work has been and will forever be a generational inspiration.

Bradford's skillful soft lighting for darker skin tones and how single-source lighting is utilized for simplicity. 

Chayse's meticulous camera placement in room corners and patience crafting in sequences.

Chivo's collaboration with directors, focusing on natural light, wide lenses, and fluid, continuous takes.

There was always a moment that stuck with me when I studied their work.

In truth, it's a huge reason why I’m here today.

I always wanted to be passionate about something that is creating memories and impacting people.

I knew that going the school route wasn’t going to give me the creative fulfillment that I desired or the freedom of my time.

My passion was far too curious to be stuck on a route determined by assessments and essays.

This leads me down these daily rabbit holes, studying all forms of art to better understand my own perspective.

Today, I’m grateful to say that I am where I’m supposed to be all due to a singular passion for storytelling.

But with passion comes a paradox: passion drives us to achieve great things in art, but without careful management, it can lead to imbalance and burnout.

With your invested time, I want to talk about four concepts that are essential for any creative, especially in the field of cinematography:

  • The Art of Balancing Technical Skills and Creative Vision.

  • Personal Projects as a Testing Ground.

  • Building and Maintaining Professional Relationships.

  • Sustaining Creativity and Avoiding Burnout.

I - The Art of Balancing Technical Skills and Creative Vision.

I was recently asked this Question: How do I balance learning new industry tools with developing my unique visual style?

The key to enjoying your work and being satisfied in your career is to use the right tools for the job. If a project needs a specific tool, go ahead and use it. If not, focus on the project's core purpose without getting caught up in technical details.

Use technology as a tool to enhance, not define.

You can have sight but have no vision.

You can also be on-time but miss communication.

You can have natural skills but not be technically proficient.

You can even have the best opportunities, and still feel like you are not doing enough.

Balancing the creative demands with personal well-being is some of the most common challenges I’ve found that people are facing.

  • An overemphasis on technical skills

  • Keeping pace with rapidly changing technology

  • Miscommunication leading to conflicting visions

An overemphasis on the technical aspects of creating can stifle the creative spirit.

But an unbalanced vision might lead to a lack of technical finesse.

The goal is to create projects that are both visually identifiable and technically sound to create a style that sets us apart from everyone else.

I spend a lot of time reflecting with other DPs about their approaches to their work, their philosophies and different work styles. We share our insights on balancing life and work. It's always fun to see how other people are approaching their storytelling without constraints.

Developing a unique creative vision is what distinguishes a cinematographer.

My journey has been about finding that balance – where technical skills serve the creative intent. Each project is an opportunity to blend these aspects.

I've experienced firsthand that you don't need a street full of equipment for a successful film. For instance, shooting a $250,000 Telefilm in Jamaica with just one lens and having it premiere at TIFF is a good example of this.

The real secret to this creative / tech balance is:

“understanding that not always being engaged in work isn't about reducing work hours or not having a job. It's about recognizing the true value of the work you are doing and knowing when to step back to reflect on its meaning.”

II - Personal Projects as a Testing Ground

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? - Luke 14:28-30

I was reading this in the bible the other day and this really spoke to me when thinking about how I wanted to approach this topic because passion projects pay the most money.

“Centuries back, passion used to mean suffering, misery, and anger. A classic example is the torture that Jesus Christ faced during his crucifixion—that's why it's often called the "passion of Christ." - Steve Magness

Salomon Ligthelm has the most beautiful article on Creative Breakthrough.

He shared so many invaluable gems, but the one that stood out the most was:

" Every new experience you take in is ammunition for your next creative idea, either consciously or subconsciously. You have to be in the world to build a storehouse of ideas, to build a storehouse of experiences. Then, you need that moment of reflection, that moment of contemplation, meditation, for an idea to drop. It can be a simple but repeatable action that your body does, where your mind is allowed to work. Then, it’s on to the tools to try and bring it to life."

All of these are great examples of how passion projects have been utilized to tell a story.

Every award ever won is the result of many failed attempts that were the sum of a risk that worked.

The goal is to use these projects to push creative limits, experiment with new ideas, and ultimately enhance your personal style.

They are the best way to learn and grow, because you don’t have much to lose.

Unfortunately, a lot of people, when starting out, are slow to turn their failures into learning opportunities.

Don’t wait to have it all figured out before you start; chase multiple opportunities.

The people you went to film school with should be your crew.

Pool your resources together and fund a week of creativity with other people in your network. If you have a camera, shoot. What good is an un-used sensor in the hands of someone who has the skills to use it?

There are endless amounts of talented actors that have scripts that I’m sure would love to have a passionate artist to collaborate with.

Even cinematographers and other filmmakers with years of experience and skin in the game forget that passion projects are what excited us in the beginning.

Last year, I did a 12-day micro-feature film for the love of storytelling and the passion the director presented for me telling her story.

It was one of the most enjoyable experiences that I’ve shared with a camera in my hands because it was an exclusive look at the new Atlas Mercury anamorphic lenses, it was the Directors narrative debut, and a testing ground for my new mentorship program.

Also, Arri Rental really supported us on the project, allowing us to get the most out of our approach to the film with the right gear and incredible support. Their whole team really went above and beyond our technical needs to prepare the perfect package for us that really spoke to the demands of our shooting schedule.

III - Building and Maintaining Professional Relationships

"You build meaningful relationships when you understand the importance of everyone around you." The Lost Art of Connecting

I might be weird, but I love studying ants.

These tiny insects may be among the oldest species still living on Earth and are incredibly smart about making friends and working together. Im sure they could teach us some valuable lessons about building relationships.

Ants are all about teamwork.

They share everything and communicate extremely well, which is something we can learn from.

When we engage in meaningful conversations, share our interests, and pick our friends wisely, we form stronger bonds.

Think of it this way: we go where we are celebrated, not where we are tolerated; similar to how ants thrive in a supportive environment.

When an ant finds something good, like food, it doesn't keep it a secret; it shares the news with the whole colony. This is a lot like networking and making connections in our lives.

Here's what ants can teach us about friendships and social interactions:

Build a circle of friends who share similar interests and values.

When someone shows interest in your ideas or work, respond with enthusiasm and genuine interest in theirs.

Choose your friends and conversations carefully, as they can strongly influence your personal development and life experiences.

Like ants, combining effort and determination can lead us to accomplish amazing things.

Adopting the spirit of cooperation and persistence, like these tiny creatures, can help us build meaningful relationships and succeed in our social and academic lives.

IV - Sustaining Creativity and Avoiding Burnout

This week I got around to highlighting some of Marlee Grace’s thoughts on how to not always be working. She said:

" being flexible and learning to say 'no' is crucial. Your work is what you define it to be, and it's essential to understand your limits. Saying yes to everything can lead to task overload and stretching yourself too thin.- How To Not Always Be Working

1) Recognizing the Signs of Burnout:

The busier I get, the more vital it is to be aware that burnout is real.

How long does it take before you feel the need for a break? If you're constantly feeling overwhelmed, it might be time to hit the pause button.

I’ve started to practice study techniques like the Pomodoro method, where work is broken into intervals with short breaks.

This has been a great way for me to be able to really focus on specific tasks for a period of time without distractions like reading scripts or journaling.

2) Quality Over Quantity:

"There's a paradox in life: those who focus most on success are least likely to achieve it. But those who focus less on success and more on the process of engaging in their craft are more likely to enjoy success."

This is an overused figure of speech, but it’s so true.

Focusing on a few high-quality projects per quarter is better than juggling multiple less significant ones. This approach was highlighted by one of my good friends and mentor, Dwayne from Corex Creative.

He advised me to focus my energy on fewer jobs that pay well rather than spending my time searching for smaller ones, emphasizing the importance of knowing you're worth.

You don’t have to say “yes” to every job that comes across your desk.

At the beginning of this year, I listed 300 goals that I'm hoping to achieve.

However, I'll be grateful for any one of them I accomplish, as they are all tied to meaningful and purposeful visions.

3) The Passion Paradox:

"While there are plenty of voices telling you to find your passion, there are hardly any telling you how to be passionate." - Brad Stulberg

"What is essential doesn't necessarily get your attention; what gets your attention becomes important." - Robert Stulberg

Focusing too much on success can be counterproductive.

This aligns with Jon Bon Jovi’s idea that "passion plus persistence equals possibility.

If you don’t carve out a unique voice for your work, you run the risk of falling into a trap of generic output.

It's essential to maintain your creative integrity and not let the focus shift solely to quantity.

This can lead to a loss of creative momentum and passion.

4) Selling Yourself:

“Rob & Steve Shallenberger’s advice, you’ll understand how to prioritize your time effectively, focusing on all the roles you need to fulfill in life.”

Realizing that if you can’t sell yourself, you’ll likely be overlooked.

It’s not just about your skills, but it's about how you package and present and perform them.

For instance, on a film set, learn how to be more proactive.

Be more aware of the work going on around you, not just your own.

Acknowledge the hard work other people are doing, because people notice when they are valued more than they are praised.

Even before you get on or even before you are hired for a job.

Preparing a first impressions deck for a Director, can significantly enhance your value and chances of getting selected for a job, especially if it's thorough with a well crafted vision.

5) Learning and Adapting

“When you prioritize and allow yourself to make progress, you’re more flexible in your approach, and you’re able to roll with life’s punches.”

Understanding that you might not always be the first choice for a project, but being willing to learn and adapt from each experience, is crucial.

It's about focusing on continuous improvement rather than perfection, allowing each project to contribute to your growth as a cinematographer.

A Mastery Mindset

You can be passionate about anything you want nowadays.

I’ve talked about this many times in The Visionary Enthusiast or the unforgettable storyteller, aswell as my Untold life story before becoming a cinematographer.

The only thing more painful than creative burnout is not realizing you are creatively burnt out.

The best solution is to recognize your patterns and reflect on them.

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, similar visions, but different habits and opportunities.

They just go about communicating differently.

  • If you want to keep your passion projects a priority but need people who also share the same vision as you - build a community.

  • If you want to showcase more of your style in how you see the world through your creativity - share more of your personal brand.

  • If you’re feeling ‘stuck’ where you are in your career and are looking to increase the level of your production expertise and get into new spaces - get a mentor.

There will always be opportunities available for employers searching for someone just like you to meet all their requirements.

That person is you!

What you do differently from others to stand out is your competitive advantage.

  • How you sell yourself in just 30 seconds - this is your elevator pitch

  • The connection made by someone who leads to a job offer six months later - this is your network

  • Showing up early on set, well before the scheduled call time - this is your mindset.

As a boxer, your job is to stay in the ring as long as you can without getting knocked out.

As a cinematographer, your job is to get your work in front of the right people and become uniquely recognizable.

You do that by focusing on both details and pleasing others.

Use your personal projects to try new things and learn how to get noticed in a busy environment by applying unique principles that most creative people don't know.

Once you have people's attention, you can work together to re-direct their intention where it will have the most impact.

That is how you withstand the Passion Paradox.

Create

Curate

Collaborate

Adapt

Attract

Apply

Thank you for reading.

I pray wherever you go, you grow.

God Bless.

- Sincerely Jordan

Re-calibrate Your Vison with J's Journal - a growing community of filmmakers committed to revolutionizing filmmaking.

Vision, Impact, Empower

Re-calibrate Your Vison with J's Journal - a growing community of filmmakers committed to revolutionizing filmmaking.

Vision, Impact, Empower

You are Seen

Last updated Jan 20, 2024 at 9:44 AM.
© 2023 Jordan Oram.