The Work-Life-Art-Sleep Balance

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People (and companies) talk a lot about a good work-life balance but that phrase has started to annoy me. Sometimes I wish that was all I was striving for, but the life of an artist is not that simple.

First of all, let’s face it. The forty-hour work week is dead, at least for salaried workers in professional service industries. No matter how hard you work while you’re at the office, the to-do list is never done, and most companies expect salaried employees to put in late days and weekends when necessary. Some companies and some industries are less prone to fifty and sixty-hour weeks, but that has become the norm for many, in a lot of different industries.

Second of all, life is a lot of things. The life in the work-life balance is supposed to be time with your family, time with your friends, and time to relax, but no one ever talks about the time it takes to call the insurance company about the claim they just denied, or the time it takes to do your taxes, keep your house clean and cook dinner. And these days, the administrative side of life is more frustrating, and more time-consuming, than it has ever been.

That’s why sometimes I wish it were as simple as a striking a good work-life balance but for artists, we are driven by some inexplicable creative engine and we struggle for more than a work-life balance. We struggle to achieve a work-life-art-sleep balance and frequently the sleep part of the equation gets seriously short changed.

You know your art has a hold of you when it hurts in some way not to do it. Maybe a bad mood creeps up on you when you neglect your art. Maybe you end up distracted by the artistic thoughts which you don’t have time to realize. Or maybe you just hate life when it doesn’t include whatever kind of art drives you. I have stopped trying to explain why I am simply happier when I am making progress on a writing project, but I do believe artists everywhere know what I’m talking about. I have also stopped wondering where anyone’s well of art flows from, but I am constantly trying to balance my art with the rest of life, work included.

At this point in my life, here is what I’ve learned about my own work-life-art-sleep balance.

  • I would rather make less money and spend more wisely if it means I have more time to write.
  • Sleeping less is okay but there are limits and you have to pay attention to how well your brain is functioning.
  • It’s impossible to strike the work-life-art-sleep balance if you don’t make time for your friends and family.
  • The early morning is your friend if you use it wisely and actually get up when you alarm goes off.
  • If you are going to burn the candle at both ends, real food will improve your stamina and bolster your immune system.
  • Taking the time to prepare real food and eat it with your friends and family is as nourishing as the food itself.
  • The nine-to-five (or more accurately now, nine-to-six) workday is the death knell of efficiency but it cannot always be avoided.
  • Productivity begets productivity if and only if one’s categories of productivity are varied and well-rounded.
  • Whether it’s mail, laundry, or dirty dishes, you’re better off not letting anything in your life pile up, even if that means you get a little less sleep that day.
  • For me, making time to write is not optional.
  • Art includes more than just the creative part so you have to make friends with all the rest of the business and logistics that go into being a working artist.
  • The more you do, the more you get done.
  • Everything in life takes longer than you thought it would.

Unless you decide some day to give up your art entirely, the struggle to find your own work-life-art-sleep balance will never end. And unless you strike it rich, the best you can hope for is some sort of zen acceptance of this constant battle. Along the way, you can make choices in life which will tip the balance one way or another, forever or only for a time, but that’s a pendulum you have to keep tapping every now and then if you’re going to maintain your happy place and keep a roof over your head.

If you’re like me, I wish you the best of luck finding your own work-life-art-sleep balance. And let’s maybe start calling it the life-art-work-sleep balance because that’s really how we all feel. If you’re not an artist, then I encourage you to call it the life-work balance instead, because shouldn’t we all be working to live instead of living to work?

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


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