3 Steps to Finding Work-Life-Creative Life Balance

We hear a lot in today’s world about work-life balance. Often we hear it from employers who tell us what a high management priority it is and then hire supervisors who daily act in ways counter to that philosophy. But we should never rely on others to provide us balance in life; it is incumbent upon ourselves to establish that balance. That is even more true for creatives, who must find a work-life-creative life balance.

My Portland, Oregon, interview subject in Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road, Erin Ergenbright, shared her struggle with balancing her work as a creative writing instructor, her obligations to friends and social causes, and her creative writing.
My Portland, Oregon, interview subject in Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road, Erin Ergenbright, shared her struggle with balancing her work as a creative writing instructor, her obligations to friends and social causes, and her creative writing.

Every artist I interviewed on the cross-country road trip described in Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road struggled with finding a work-life-creative life balance. This was even true for those “living the dream,” who supported themselves fully with their art. It was very easy for them to find themselves fully immersed in the back-end work of being a self-employed artist and not finding time to actually create new art. (I’m finding that now as I begin marketing Committed.)

So below I’ve outlined three tips that I learned from these artists. I repeat these to myself regularly now as I struggle to live an art-committed life:

  1. Set reasonable expectations of others: Even the most supportive person in your life is ultimately operating out of self-interest. They may cognitively recognize you provide more value when your life is in balance, but they are not going to complain if the balance starts tipping in their favor. So proactively manage expectations. Let’s say your day job is with a marketing firm and your boss wants you to conduct an analysis for a client of a new market. You’re pretty sure you could have it complete by Tuesday, so do you commit to that? I’d start by asking if Friday works, both to allow time for unexpected hiccups in the project itself but also in your personal and creative life.
  2. Set reasonable expectations of yourself: A creative is often her own worst enemy. Anyone driven to create produces a vision of what is possible, and often can be disappointed if that vision isn’t reached. Let’s say in your personal life you’ve committed to bring cupcakes to a party celebrating the end of the season for your son’s soccer team. You’ve imagined making that double-fudge recipe your aunt taught you, the one with the marbled batter and homemade icing. But have you considered that those ten-year-old boys would likely be just as happy with supermarket-made cupcakes? That time you’ve just liberated could go toward your latest creative project.
  3. Be prepared to make life changes: The work-life-creative life balance is always elusive, but sometimes it simply isn’t achievable given your current life circumstance. So what has to change? Perhaps it’s a friendship where the other person’s needs simply exceed what you can reasonably give. Perhaps it’s a boss who says the right things about wanting to be supportive but always seems to have some pseudo-emergency that chews up your creative energy and time. There will always be times where you must sacrifice some creative life moments; but if you are routinely doing that at the expense of work and life, you have a problem. To stay on the art-committed life you must make some hard choices.

There’s a recurring theme in these three tips: forgiveness. Forgiveness of the boss or friend whose expectations may exceed what you feel you are capable of giving. Forgiveness of the perfectionist in you who may be inclined to give more than is necessary. And forgiveness of the professional in you who made a commitment–a word that matters to me, as my book title suggests–and now may need to walk away from that commitment. A person who can forgive others and herself is a person prepared to live an art-committed life.

What recommendations might you have to someone struggling to find work-life-creative life balance?

19 thoughts on “3 Steps to Finding Work-Life-Creative Life Balance

  1. Pingback: 3 Steps to Finding Work-Life-Creative Life Bala...

  2. Good advice Patrick. I’m currently practicing (battling?) the “set reasonable expectations of yourself.” Since my focus this year has been on building Artist Think into a company (I am in process of incorporating!) I knew my own creative practice would be on the back burner a bit. I noticed a huge change in myself, however, when I fully neglected it. SO. I’m trying on the Jerry Seinfeld approach I’ve read about from James Clear and Austin Kleon… I’m committing to art every day. For me, this means 15 minutes. If I do my minimum of 15 minutes I get to go to special calendar and make a nice big X mark on that day. And once I’ve started to build a chain of Xs, well, I don’t want to break the chain! 🙂 I’ve already seen progress in stalled works because of this practice. It’s amazing what I can accomplish in 15 minutes!


  3. Nice post! This a tricky topic, because I think everyone has to find their own balance. For me a big part of it was embracing my goals and my commitment outwardly so the people around me knew how to treat me. I think that’s important; you can’t expect others to take your dreams seriously and accommodate you if you’re shy about them or outwardly doubt your choices. Maybe I’m just lucky, but once I embraced my path those around me did too, and the rest was just details.


    1. Hi Annie,

      Yes, it’s about making sure you are surrounded by the right people. I would note that someone may be philosophically supportive of your dreams, but in a crisis (one they perceive as a crisis, anyhow) their own interests will be paramount, and their support of your dreams might be in jeopardy if they perceive your dreams to prevent them from having their own interests met.


      1. I’ve experienced this several times over, with people I “thought” were true friends. You only find these things out when a situation arises to bring it out. It’s a VERY rare thing to find truly giving, loving people.


  4. Patrick, I think you have summed it up. Forgiveness is the essential and elusive ingredient that makes a creative life healthy.
    So much happens to self and relationships, mostly things not anticipated.
    Understanding that it is OK to let it go and that life is too precious to always stand and fight or feel an over-whelming sense of responsibility. A balanced long-term approach can free a person from becoming consumed by such an all-consuming field of work.
    Creativity requires a major input of oneself and subsequently, feeding the self is just as important as giving. Forgiveness is the basis for allowing oneself the space and time to replenish.
    Very important and interesting post Patrick. Thankyou for offering such a reflection.B


  5. I like what you say about forgiveness–it IS important not to be too hard in yourself. I also think it helps to take the long view. Maybe several days or a whole week may be out of balance, but then balance reasserts itself and when you look back at the month it averages out to balanced.


  6. I wish I could offer suggestions, but I’m still struggling, especially with the time-suck of social media. I am totally overextended and haven’t been able to figure out how to make it work. I’m resenting all of it because I have a hard time NOT being interested in certain things, NOT knowing how to cut back on all of it. I keep thinking it will work out, but I just don’t know when. The demands of life on and off the internet are equally demanding and, in many ways, equally important because so much of what we do now relies on internet connection (I resent that so much) yet we still only have 24 hours in a day and so many years to live and hopefully be productive. It’s just not easy. It is a struggle, and I can tell you, the kind of creativity I WANT to be spending my time on is not what I’m doing. I’m pulled in too many directions and keep hoping and praying it changes sooner rather than later. We’ll see!

    And btw, Patrick…I began reading COMMITTED last night. Up to page 26 and will read a bit more now when I go to bed. My heart aches for you and your family. Your writing is excellent!


  7. Hey Patrick, What a timely article for me! My daughter – now five – started school this year. The youngest kids in her charter school attend for half days only so this new schedule is a challenge. For me, I get about four hours a day to work. For her, it’s a challenge to be around her boring mom. It’s hard! And your point about working a lot on the backend of business really hit me; I find myself getting very upset at times that I spend so much energy on receipts, invoices, proposals etc. and not as much time as I’d like on the creative end of work. I have to remind myself of a few things in those tough moments, that I made a choice to live this way. That I’ll never get this time with my little girl back (these kids grow way too fast). And that I am getting things done, perhaps not in the volumes I’d like but I am. It’s hard to look far into the future but I do feel that I’ll be looking back on this time and feeling proud that I managed.

    Oh, Committed arrived. There’s a distraction. Thanks, man.


    1. That’s a nice distraction! Good news is that people tell me it’s a quick read… 🙂

      There’s a reason I had an example of cupcakes/soccer in there; family can be a big commitment. But with my daughter now out of the house and my son a junior in high school, I’m starting to look back more fondly on time I spent with them that at the time I found myself thinking was keeping me from doing something else.


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