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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?