A Year of Burnout (2023 Freelance Year In Review)

December 29, 2023

When I sat down to write my thoughts on this past year, I felt the familiar pain of self-doubt creep in. Did I really become a better version of myself as I hoped at the beginning of 2023? It’s easy to feel like a failure, reminiscing about unmet goals. But, as I look back, I realize there’s more to it than the unchecked boxes…

These posts are long, so feel free to jump to the section that interests you most using these handy-dandy links:

Part One: Dealing with Burnout
Part Two: My Top Freelance Projects of 2023
Part Three: My 2023 Freelance Income Breakdown
Part Four: Looking Ahead into 2024

Part One: Dealing with Burnout

Every year starts with a surge of motivation, and 2023 was no exception. I was excited to create content and art in hopes of creating something each month. Yet, burnout set in faster than ever. I overloaded my workload with creating new art for fun and new YouTube videos. All on top of my primary responsibilities like freelance client work and being the sole care provider for our daughter during the work week (when she wasn’t in pre-school.)

However, this year, burnout didn’t feel like I was throwing in the towel; it was seeking comfort in exploring new and exciting interests—a deceptive form of some much-needed self-care. 

Around mid-year, I went radio silent on social media. The weight of seeing fellow designers tirelessly build their online presence for connections and exposure loomed over me. But I didn’t allow it to burden me like in past years. I’d hit a point where I had enough client work—it was consistent—and I craved family time, relaxation, and hobbies, not more screen time.

Admitting that I’ve become somewhat jaded about content creation (and social media altogether) is a bitter pill. I know it could boost my success, but perhaps success has morphed for me. It’s about something other than more work, followers, or adhering to a content schedule. It’s about finding joy in the journey, even if it feels like cruising without a destination.

Despite the content and social media burnout, client work remained strong and my top priority. However, I can’t help but feel eager for the next stage of my career. One that would hopefully provide some stability. I don’t know what that means yet, but I’m staying open to any new opportunities that may come my way.

To fellow freelance graphic designers feeling the ebb and flow of motivation, here’s my takeaway: Embrace the detours. Sometimes, veering off the main road is not losing your way but discovering a new path. As I cruise on, enjoying the ride, I’m trying to remind myself that client work is the gasoline that keeps me moving forward, but the journey is about the self-discovery and growth had along the way.

My office continues to be filled with the things that bring me joy. Mainly books.

A roundup of fun stats and highlights from my year:

  • I had roughly 105 designs approved from client work.
  • I was the sole merch designer for a major city and festival here in Ohio!
  • I spent 33,692 minutes listening to music on Spotify. That’s 23 days nonstop!
  • I read every day, finishing 19 books (all fiction, mostly fantasy), totaling 7,460 pages.
  • I DM’d my first D&D campaign (and it’s still ongoing!)

Part Two: My Top Freelance Projects of 2023

Like every year, I had the opportunity to work on some awesome projects this year. Even after doing this for over a decade, I still get excited to see how my work comes to life.

One of many designs for the Dublin Irish Festival / Taking Back Sunday summer photo tee / Fall Out Boy tee for a special venue show

This is only a small selection of art from projects I worked on this past year. If you want to check out my latest work, visit my Instagram!

Part Three: My 2023 Freelance Income Breakdown

Onto everyone’s favorite section: my freelance income report! It’s also my favorite section to look back on and compare past years. Hopefully, by sharing how I diversify my income, you can find motivation and learn from what’s working for me.

Quick note: The graphs represented gross revenue before taxes or expenses.

My 2023 Monthly Freelance Gross Revenue

Freelance income is so interesting. Even though the work is never guaranteed, there’s a definite consistency in how much I earn each month, year after year. The year starts low because most projects kick off in the New Year, and those invoices aren’t typically paid until the following month. Then I’ve been lucky to get one big project towards the end of the year that’s always super unique and spikes my income. You can see that I didn’t receive a big project in October 2022. In 2021, I landed a project doing a bunch of title treatments for various TV shows. My big end-of-the-year project this year was doing all the merchandise for the City of Dublin, Ohio.

My 2023 Freelance Income Streams

This year was unique because I hardly put effort into side projects to help diversify my income. My burnout had led to me spending what little spare time I had on hobbies rather than side hustles. I’m beginning to yearn for a life more like a Hobbit than to be a “famous” graphic designer like I wanted in my early twenties.

  • Client work: Most of this year’s income came directly from client projects. Even though I didn’t pour my time into diversifying my income, I made far more this year than last. Building strong, long-term client relationships has been my key to sustainability as a freelancer.
  • Digital Products: Although I didn’t add new items to my catalog of digital products, they still earned me a little extra income each month—at least, paying a couple of bills, which is still a win.
  • My Shop: Just by existing online, I still earn a tiny amount through my shop, selling merch. My best-seller continues to be my Art Dept. hat.
  • Monotype (Font): I pour no time into this, but my Corpus Typewriter font occasionally sells, which is awesome.
  • YouTube: Even though I started the year strong, I didn’t give this the time and attention it deserves. Unfortunately, YouTube recently changed how their Partner Program works, and since I don’t actively upload new videos regularly, my channel has lost monetization.
  • Affiliate Links: This income stream has been removed due to a lack of commitment, activity, and income generated for this year.

Part Four: Looking Ahead into 2024

In 2024, I don’t want to burden myself with arbitrary productivity goals or resolutions.

Success is not measured in checking boxes, follower count, or total revenue for me. It’s a simpler, cliche formula truer to my life—happiness = success. I am successful if I can pay my bills while passionately pursuing my artistic endeavors. All while spending time with my family and learning to take better care of my physical and mental health.

Rather than resolutions, I will choose a word to carry with me through the new year. A theme and mindset I can use as a reminder. This year, I’m going with… “Catalyst.”

Cat·a·lyst (noun): a person or thing precipitating an event or change.

Choosing “Catalyst” as my theme for the year feels like lighting a fuse to a barrel of possibilities. In the coming months, I will be the spark that sets off a chain reaction for my creativity and growth.

Everything I write onto the page or design I bring to life on my computer, I’m not just creating; I’m catalyzing a shift. To me, this is more than a resolution for a better version of myself; it’s a promise to be the force that pushes the boundaries of my craft and sparks a deeper transformation.

Here’s to being the driving force in my journey, propelling myself towards a year of self-discovery, creative breakthroughs, and the kind of change I want to see in my life.

Here is my past Year In Review posts for comparison: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway