Finding Work/Life Balance as an Artist

I was supposed to write this post a month ago. I gave myself a deadline of April 9th, 2018. I am late because I am juggling a lot. As Artistic Director, I manage communications, grant writing, artistic projects, internship program and the dance education programming. I also work full-time in the College of Fine Arts at UT-Austin and part-time at Dancers Shape. I am also President of Emerging Arts Leaders of Austin. To top the cake, I begin obtaining my MFA in Dance in less than two months at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In between all of that, I fly home to Florida every two months to hug my family, volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas once a week, and try to maintain a social life. I love bubble baths while binge watching Forensic Files, working out, cooking, baking, hammocking, hiking and basically staying outside 24/7 when the temps are 75 degrees plus.

In the past month, I forgot to pick up thank you cards for Amplify Austin donors and I obviously have delayed writing this blog post. I have bailed on a couple of professional development events I should have been at but decided to take a nap instead. I have a load of laundry sitting on my bedroom floor that needs to be folded and put away but instead it is blending into the dirty clothes pile and I am starting to be unsure of which is which. I don’t have it all together all the time – or rather, any of the time but I do think I have set guidelines for myself to find work/life balance as a practicing artist and arts administrator that have worked well for me. Why is this a priority to me? I want to set myself up for a sustainable arts career and thriving life – one free of burn out in both areas.

If you are looking to find better ways to juggle work and life and/or avoid burnout, I hope you can find the guidelines I use helpful.

People over projects

I strongly offer this advice: Make time for people over your projects. Your projects will come and go but the people in your life will be with you forever. I am not saying all people – your stylist, cashier, or girl scout cookie dealer. I am saying YOUR people – the people that you need quality time or communication with in order to thrive as a person and as an arts professional. For me, that is my immediate family and about three close friends. I can promise you that you will feel more fulfilled and energized in your creative work when you make quality time for your people. Your relationships will feel richer as well.

Prioritize

Know how your personal needs affect your professional needs. Your personal needs will be entirely different than mine and they may even affect your creative practice differently than me. I will share mine as an example.

  1. I need to communicate with and/or see my closest family and friends frequently. I find myself more focused in my artistic work when I am able to flush out my day and ask for advice when needed from my closest family and friends.
  2. I need time outdoors (hiking, hammocking, being at the pool, etc.). I am able to approach my artistic work rejuvenated when I have been under the sun.
  3. I need drive time. I have always found that I am able to think, process, reflect, and create better when I am behind the wheel than anywhere else. I purposefully live about 25 minutes away from work so I can have this time.
  4. I need to cook/bake. It’s therapeutic to me. I also feel healthier. I also save money by cooking myself and therefore, can outsource expenses elsewhere for things that I do not have time to do.

If I am lacking in any of these areas, I find my artistic work suffers for it. I am less creative, less motivated, and actually feel more drained. Either way, we both need to acknowledge our personal needs and the effect they can have on our creative practice.

Say no

We often think that people are going to get hurt if we say no to them, but I find more often people are actually understanding and appreciate your honesty – in fact, they might even look up to you for it.

If you feel you need to say no to a potential obligation, that is enough of a reason. You do not have to reserve “no’s” for when you have other commitments solely. Saying no to an obligation can mean yes to yourself, your relationships, or your personal creative practice if you have been spending your time elsewhere.

Set boundaries

  1. Unless it is an emergency, I generally do not respond to emails after 5 PM (from any of my works) OR I read them but respond the next day. I also try to refrain from responding on the weekends if possible.
  2. If I have company in town or if I am planning a trip, I notify everyone that I am “out-of-office” – even if I plan on working a bit so that no one is expecting anything from me.
  3.     Have many hats but only wear one at a time. I am the daughter of two real estate owners. I grew up around dinners of not just casual “here’s how my day went” talk, but actual work meetings. If boundaries are not set and met, at least within moderation, it can lead to burnout of either work or relationships – sometimes even both. When hanging socially with Dance Waterloo colleagues, I generally try to not bring up business. Small talk about DW is bound to happen, but if any of us needs to start pulling out a notepad and pen, that’s when it is time to save it for a meeting.

I hope you find these guidelines helpful in your quest to practice work/life balance in the arts. If you are an arts leader, I hope you will also encourage your employees to implement modes of work/life balance. We are not art making machines. We are humans with souls, desires, and goals both within our craft and out – both must be fostered. Dance Waterloo experiences a higher retention rate among hired artists when they are free and encouraged to communicate and implement modes of work/life balance.

Most importantly, keep in mind that your work/life balance will not always be a true equal balance of all your time – and it shouldn’t be! But setting boundaries, saying no when needed, prioritizing personal needs, and remembering to make time for your people over your projects can help you determine where your time should be spent and when.

 

morgan modern dance event austin

Morgan Teel

Artistic Director & Founder

Dance Waterloo

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