I know a lot of artists that feel like they have to be all-or-nothing when it comes to their careers, and that taking time to find balance in their lives means taking time away from their career goals. Ambition is one thing — and it’s a great thing, at that — but always putting your career before your life will definitely lead to eventual burnout. And when you’re burned out, your career takes a hit. So, really, you’re not helping your career by going at it nonstop. You need balance, plain and simple.
One particular client of mine, who we’ll call Anthony, was a poster child for the “All Career; No Life” mentality. Anthony is a film composer, and for the last couple of years, he’s been building a name for himself by scoring as many low-budget independent films as he can fit into his schedule. He has a small studio in his apartment, and he spends nearly all of his time at home sliding his chair back-and-forth between his computer and keyboards. The fact that his living and work spaces are one-and-the-same makes it extremely difficult for Anthony to separate the two, and what he found was that he couldn’t stop working if he was at home. If he had time to relax, he figured that it was time that could be spent composing music. During our sessions, it was clear that Anthony was running on empty because he had no balance between his life and his career.
Once we began talking about it, it became apparent that Anthony felt that he would fall behind the pack if he didn’t keep up his pace. He considered indulging in downtime a lack of ambition, and this posed a special challenge since his home was also his studio — it meant that he could never fully relax in his own apartment. Clearly, something had to give, because Anthony had reached a level of stress that was heading in a dangerous direction. We started out by setting up specific office hours during which Anthony would work on his compositions. It took some convincing, but he eventually took to the idea that his home office was closed for business outside of those hours. He even bought a lock for his studio room and locked up for the day when he was done.
At first, it wasn’t easy for Anthony to stick to his office hours, but the more he practiced them, the better he became at separating his work from his home life. He realized that part of his problem in not being able to relax at home was that he had never invested in making his apartment a relaxing place — he had been too focused on work. So, Anthony took the time to make his apartment a space that he wanted to be in. He invested in some new furniture, bought some DVD box-sets of tv shows he’d been interested in watching, and subscribed to the New York Times so that he could read a physical copy instead of staring at his computer. It took a little bit of time and dedication to changing old habits, but Anthony eventually became a believer in balance.
So, I have a challenge for those of you who work from home (which means pretty much every artist out there, unless you have an office). I want you to find one thing you can do this week to create some separation between your work and your home life. I don’t care how small it is — this is about being conscious of how much one area bleeds into the other and putting an emphasis on balance. Trust me: making a concerted effort to NOT work during your downtime is going to make you feel great!