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In Creative Recovery: Healing our Inner Artist From Toxic Work Culture

By Hannah Brielle Conroy

Creativity has become a prized beacon in our societally prolific work culture- especially in the United States. And recent presence of AI, productivity metrics, and the conniving chameleon of toxic hustle culture has created an indistinguishable heaviness on those of us ardently working (and living) to exalt our artistic spark.

In 2021, I started freelance copywriting to kickstart my long-awaited writing career. I claimed this goal for myself right before graduating college (mid-COVID lockdown, mind you) and pleasantly shocked once the opportunity arose. It would be wrong to deny the indescribable high of pursuing my greatest passion while learning to make a living during a transformative time. Even while in the middle of a cross-country move, I was cranking out written content in a fashion I did not experience since before the pandemic.

But like all deliciously bewitching euphorias, there was an inevitably ego-blowing comedown.

My freelancing, at its peak, blended the allure of a part-time gig and a full-time commitment. While I benefited from the privilege of time flexibility and job mobility, I was detrimentally addicted to the enamouring validation that resulted from my work. Priding myself on being overly available and witty on a whim enmeshed my self-worth with my talents. As a result, I left my creative powers in the hands of those unable to comprehend their potential outside of a capitalistic environment. From strenuous

self-employment taxes to meticulous contracts, I was a free agent whose only true home was herself- no matter how much I relished spending time in the warm spaces my cohorts welcomed me into.

Almost two years into my freelancing, I struggled to meet every standard my upper colleagues set according to their professional objectives. I wasn’t inherently mad or offended at first because what else do you expect from a business trying to survive a capitalist climate? We all try our damn best out here, and that is a challenge in its entirety. But when I kept hitting limit after limit on my creative burnout with no energy to even cathartically journal or workshop a months-old idea, it soon manifested into an

existential frustration. So like many ambitious twenty-somethings trying to find and protect their true selves all at once, I struggled to establish more productive self-preservation to keep my damn shit together.

Starting to painfully recognise the rapid depletion of my creativity outside of work prompted me to contemplate how this impacted my long-term dreams. This particular pivot in my life direction this early in my career made the crash of reality all the more ponderous. Because when you mourn the bittersweet loss of a good thing running its natural course, you also mourn a part of you that you outgrew with it. But hey, old habits die hard but our [blank] selves live as long as we hold onto them.

woman writing in her notebook

By this point I started to resent writing, the very thing giving me solace and happiness for as long as I can remember. Where do you turn when your soul’s refuge suddenly feels too uncertain to keep searching for? Feeling lost in my inspiration (or lack thereof) was truly painful. Consequently, I was laid off earlier this year by my final freelance client after what felt like a months-long uphill battle trying to continue this unhealthy cycle. After working through my initial disappointment and insecurity, I accepted my role in my undoing. In these last few months, I unpacked how my personal experience alludes to a much larger conflict for the world and creativity as we know it.

It’s alarmingly apparent how high of a caliber we’ve commodified creativity. We see it everyday on social media, through our workloads, and even in our free time when we’re too burnt out to do anything but swell from the influx of our fatigue. And then, more horrifically, self-ridicule when we see others do it so effortlessly (comparison- it is a nasty bitch). Now we’re seeing resources like ChapGPT and Copy.AI shatter the glass ceiling with accelerated methods of cranking out content. Although I can distinguish how all those services and platforms prove resourceful, they blur the line between opportunity and scarcity for creatives who thrive in these work-forward environments.

Alongside those developments, the corporate world places strong emphasis on productivity metrics for more comprehensive analyses. Not only do these parameters exemplify our culture’s ever-evolving standards of success but influence how industry masterminds can bend work boundaries to an unsettlingly exploitative point. Mmmmmm tastes scrumptiously unhealthy when you let that truth sit at the tip of your tongue. But that crumb pales to the full body taste you’re forced to swallow when it wreaks havoc on your everyday life- and sense of future.

If we collectively choose to continue utilising creativity for the masses we must discover its deeper potential through sustainable practices. For instance, being more intentional with creative output or encouraging our audience(s) to be more mindful of their consumption. Hell, we can even start by asking ourselves “what does it mean to make art sustainable, and not just sustainable art?”. Exploring the multifaceted ways creativity guides us to perceive it outside of a success/failure or individual/social binary way of thinking, and therefore appreciating.

While I navigate this unusual recovery and learn how to return to a quasi-baseline, I respect that creativity is not an endlessly sustaining resource. Rather a soulful exploration that ebbs and flows with our spirit. And more importantly, we have the responsibility to honor it with compassion and patience. If we continue applying a toxic sense of superiority and urgency to everything we do, when are we EVER going to rest? And more importantly, fully cherish the quintessence of life’s inspirations through our

unique pursuits?

"Starting to painfully recognise the rapid depletion of my creativity outside of work prompted me to contemplate how this impacted my long-term dreams."

Throughout this intense comedown, I've slowly rescinded my self-exile from the magical realm of creativity. Taking my deliciously sweet time to fall back in love with writing has looked like copious amounts of messy journaling, anarchic brain dumps in my phone notes, and revisiting my biggest desire of all: a kickass fantasy novel. The absence of a monetary motivation encourages fulfilment over perfection but also guides me back to a fundamental understanding of my art- a joyously non-linear journey with myself and my intricate humanity. I still hold space for the possibility that one day I won’t feel as bitter or pessimistic about my time as a freelance copywriter, but for now, I call on those

feelings with brutal candidacy. I believe they’re indicative of how deeply rooted capitalist standards have festered in our way of life. It would also be hypocritical of me to say I’ll never write for work again (because who knows), but that comes with relearning how to ethically follow my heart’s desire as best as I can in this chaotic world.

My friendly ghosts of freelancer’s past may linger between portfolio samples and drafts long unaddressed, but I know that in this especially transitional time, I’ll honor the spirit of my imagination with a newfound hope that this was maybe the best way to unlock my intrinsic genius. If you’re reading this with the unmistakable ache you’re confronting similar lessons, I sincerely wish you discover your own space to re-discover why your dreams are yours in the first place. Even if you don’t, I will- because we all deserve to see ourselves for the art that we inherently are.


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