Balance: probably not so balanced at all

December 12, 2013

It's the season of reflection, and I've been reflecting on creative business-related shizity. Particularly: this thing called balance, which is a pretty zen-sounding word. On the other end of the spectrum from 'balance' we have overwhelm. I once was so overwhelmed that I purchased a book about how to deal with overwhelm....and then naturally felt more overwhelmed. So there you have it. But this year I realized that I don't have to be in one camp or the other-- somewhere in between is just fine. Like a lot of artists I know, my commitments are pretty varied, and I try to make time for a little of everything. I could break most of these commitments/activities into the following categories: 

1) Creative projects I do because I love them.
2) Creative projects/jobs I do because they pay well.
3) Household + family responsibilities.
4) Quality time with the people I love.
5) Quality time with myself.
6) Actions that insure that I will have more projects I love and/or more big bucks in my future (updating my website, applying for a grant, continued education).

That is a lot to coordinate, and I don't have a magical solution to doing that-- I think it's always at least a little challenging, and slightly un-coordinated and messy. What I've been realizing this year is that some chaos can't be controlled, even with better time management or a carefully arranged to-do list. And for me, a little chaos is worth it if it's making me happy, and it's making me happy if it's moving me in the direction of my long-term goals. So maybe the biggest balancing act then is between:

 The things I need to to do today to meet deadlines and pay bills and be happy and healthy and sane
(the short-term)
 The things that plan for and move me towards the future dreamy things/projects/life I'd like to have
(the long-term).

Looking back on this year, this particular balancing act was fairly successful, and I wanted to share what helped. Three particular things come to mind:

First: Choose A Focus (Micro vs. Macro)
Just like it's impossible for most of us to create and analyze at the same time, it's difficult to think about the long-term and short-term at the same time. By nature I'm a big picture, long-term thinker, and sometimes this sucks a lot of energy and time out of my schedule and the project or task I'm focused on. For instance: I know that at some point in the next year Ben and I will more than likely be moving into a new house. It's easy to get fixated on how and when this is going to happen, and what that's going to look like. But meanwhile, I have a client deadline and a rehearsal to plan for, and a few emails to respond to. The long-term things are made easier by focusing on the task at hand and getting the little sh*t done every single day. It's nearly impossible for me to show up fully to what I have to do TODAY if I'm fixated on six months from now. 

At the same time, the big-picture stuff is important. I try to sit down about once a month for a couple of hours to think about the long-term stuff so that I avoid fixating on it every single day. I attempt to break down some of my long-term goals (say, updating our website) into smaller actions (writing a new bio) so that they seem less daunting. And it just feels good to know that I'm not ignoring the long-term. Also: this means that when I'm reminded of a grant deadline, I don't need to start from square one to think of a project and proposal-- I already have some idea of what ideas would serve my long-term goals

Second: Stop The Inspiration and Act
My friend and brand designer Kathleen wrote a great Letter For Creatives (sign up for them over here) called Less Thinking, More Doing. It turns out that many of us are waiting for just a little too much inspiration before we act. So, stop reading the blogs and books, and start taking a step towards something you want to create. There is no perfect time, and all the planning (or inspiration) in the world will not make it perfect. I started this blog space roughly 2 1/2 years ago, and I continually tweak things. If I'd waited for it to be just right, I never would have started. If I were to let myself get focused on perfection with this post, I'd never hit publish. Kathleen offers up some great suggestions for acting, like setting a timer for 15 minutes and seeing what you can get done in that time, or tweaking one thing on your website that's bothering you. The point is to take some kind of action-- even a tiny one.

Third: Go For Grey 
I think most of us are trying to bridge the gap between where we are (the job or clients or creative projects we have right now), and where we want to be (the job or clients or creative projects we want to have in the future). I've realized this year that there's a lot of grey area between the two, and that's great-- it's not a clearly cut, magical transition. And even when we get to these future, dreamy-sounding projects, we'll probably just dream up new ones-- there'll always be future goals. Even during weeks that aren't filled to the brim with work that I absolutely love, I try to make sure that there's daily space for some of it. Again: small but regular actions. For instance, maybe I write an email asking someone to perform at a Small Art, or work on a chunk of a blog post, or tweak the exercises I use with clients. Maybe I don't have time to spend the whole day rehearsing, but I do have time for 20 minutes of rehearsal in my living room. 

I'm happiest when I stop giving energy to some made up idea of perfect balance and absolute-- all of the puzzle pieces in their place at the same time. Instead, I've been shown time and time again that the messy, grey area is the place where most of life happens, and that in this area things still get done, and forward motion still happens. I'm aiming for a 2014 with fewer lists and less micromanagement, and more comfort with this middle ground. Truth: it's a lot more fun and less overwhelming in the middle. 


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