How LEGO Helped Me Overcome Professional Burnout


There’s a book by Seth Godin called The Dip that explores something every entrepreneur asks themselves every morning:

Is today the day that I quit?

On most days, we continue the good fight against our inner demons. We somehow find the courage and strength to rebuke the you’re-not-good-enough voices inside our heads. On most days, we are on auto-pilot, tending to our businesses until breaking point.


My Dip

In 2015, my business was falling apart around me. I got to a point where I almost didn’t care. Or rather, I told myself that I didn’t care because trying to fix the mistakes was an overwhelming thought I did not want to address.

Over 18-months, I had built a multi-photographer business model, complete with a physical office, a studio manager, and in-house editor. Due to a significant change in my personal circumstances, I stopped caring about my customers. I didn’t mentor my staff as I should have. As a result, referrals stopped. Business dwindled. Cash flow was dead.

On one morning in May 2015, I gave up. I was completely burnt out.

The Girlfriend Bought Me 60072

The then girlfriend surprised me one day with the Demolition Starter Kit (for obvious reasons, I wifed her). She knew that I was going through a rough patch and that I had an almost disdain for photography. Not knowing what to do, she saved my life by (a) coming into my life and (b) giving me a set of LEGO to cheer me up.


I didn’t know it at the time, but this one simple gesture by Jihyo was the catalyst for overcoming my shame.


Just about every great professional photographer I have followed (Chase Jarvis, Zack Arias, Jonas Peterson) has followed one mantra:

… fuel your creativity with personal work.

For years I had photographed couples on their wedding day—it was after all, how I made a living. However, I had left one key element out of my routine. I had nothing in the form of personal work. Nothing.

When I use the lens of hindsight, burnout was inevitable.

Everything Is Awesome

My breakthrough came when the following photograph was regrammed by an Instagram hub @vitruvianbrix. Overnight, my meagre following of 100 ballooned to over 200. Within 3-months, I had 2,500 engaged followers.


But let’s rewind.

Recovery was not overnight.

We often want it to be. But it it never is.

The Healing Process

Overcoming burnout is serious business. For many, burnout may be accompanied with depression. I certainly had a degree of clinical depression. Therefore, I will not be so bold to say that the act of photographing LEGO was the cure.






No. LEGO was part of the solution. The true source of healing came from Jihyo’s love and acceptance plus my own acceptance of my shame.


From having a poor track record with financials since joining the workforce to being unable to provide my partner with a place to live—these were my shame triggers that often manifested in fear and anger.

To learn more about shame, I strongly encourage you to watch Brené Brown’s TED talk:

With a long list of poor business decisions lying in my wake, I came to understand that my shame of letting down my valued clients had riddled me with fear. With an amazing woman by my side, with one apology at a time and one small goal of righting a wrong, I overcame my burnout day by day.

How LEGO Helped Me

Image by image (sometimes, I’d shoot 20+ frames), I started to enjoy and look forward to photography via LEGO. I was applying my storytelling to new subjects. Instead of couples, I was posing LEGO mini-figures in a way that would convey a particular message. It felt good. Really good.

I even did something unheard of. I started doing composites!




Having an engaged audience via Instagram certainly helped. With each comment and like, my confidence in my storytelling ability and photography came back. It was incredibly humbling.


But secretly, I enjoyed photographing LEGO because I got to explore my cheeky adult side.


And that is how LEGO helped me overcome my professional burnout.

It has been over 6-months since I last uploaded to my personal Instagram account. As you can tell, I no longer photograph mini-figures and I have ceased all interactions with the legography community. Unlike many other writers, my business hasn’t boomed and my wife and I are still a long way off from being financially independent. But every morning, I can answer that very same question with:

Not today doubt. Not today.

In Summary

The single biggest contributing factor to my recovery was Jihyo (my wife). Without her unwavering and non-judgemental love, I would still be lost in my shame. Without her, I would still be an angry child, lashing out at everyone in hope that nobody would see my fear.

With her, I have the courage to move past my shame, my guilt and my inadequacies and focus on making things right. With her, I have rebuilt my photography career and regained the trust of past clients.

Oh, and LEGO is awesome!


About the author: Daniel Cheung started his career as a professional photographer specializing in weddings. He is the co-founder of Angus Porter Photography. Together with his wife, Daniel now focuses on providing Sydney families with affordable and ethical visual memories. He also admits that he is rather opinionated.

You can find more of his work on the Angus Porter website, Facebook, and Twitter. This article was also published here.