Work/Life Balance / by Vanessa Longacre-Wilcox

"Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working." Pablo Picasso.
Figure 1: Only "art" I did in the spring. Map for the preschool auction I worked on.  It was a rocking good time.  You should really come next year. 

Figure 1: Only "art" I did in the spring. Map for the preschool auction I worked on.  It was a rocking good time.  You should really come next year. 

Hi!  Remember me?  No? I don’t blame you, I sort of disappeared there for awhile.  Here’s a little story about what happened.

Back before I had kids, I was a project manager in the tech industry.  And I loved it.  I wasn’t an artist trapped in a day job living a lie, I actually really loved it.  I was good at it and the goals were clear and the outcomes predictable (even the part that something will always go wrong).  There was satisfaction in helping projects along and getting things done.  I worked a lot and I didn’t mind it, it’s just what I did.  I remember a meeting with one of my bosses talking about “work/life balance” and he was worried I was working too much and he wanted me to take some time for my hobbies and I said, “Work is my hobby.”  This was the decade of lost art but for the most part, I loved my coworkers, my bosses, my jobs, and I was happy enough. 

I’ve been thinking about those conversations lately because I started volunteering (a lot) for my kids’ schools and it has kind of devoured my life whole.  In many ways the volunteering has been wonderful.  I’ve gained a greater connection to the schools that my kids are going to, formed friendships with amazing parents, raised money for the world’s most special preschool, and put my skills and brain to good use.  But it has been all consuming, so much so that my husband gave me (with kindness) post-it notes that say, “Stop me before I volunteer again!”  Ha, ha, ha, no…but really…someone stop me. 

I’ve talked before about making every minute count, about being able to work in any spare moment that you might have.  Over the last few months I have done that, just not with art.  And now that some of the projects I was working on are winding down and before September comes and I wind up again I need to make a plan to not let “work” take over again. 

Last year, for different reasons, I experienced a slump.  I went back and read what I wrote about that time.  The part that struck me was this:

“This is life.  We have to get up, work hard, eat right, love each other, exercise our minds, bodies, and creativity, every single day.  It's a tall order.  Sometimes it's harder than on other days.  Sometimes we fall.  But we have a choice every single day, in each moment, whatever our failures.”

A tall order indeed.  Even as I sit here trying to write this post I have been distracted by competing priorities.  Messages to my inbox have sent me on days-long derailments taking me away from focusing on a plan to create balance.  Writing that sentence makes me wonder, why has it been so hard to put that volunteer work down?  What am I getting from it?  Since it is all volunteer, theoretically I should easily be able to untangle from it.  But why can’t I?

Perhaps it’s partly because being busy is my most comfortable state.  And helping out is my second most comfortable state.  Sure, I like to lounge and watch movies but mostly I like to keep moving.  Being busy and getting stuff done makes me feel productive, which makes me feel good.  And feeling good, well, feels good.  Also there is a social component to working.  Usually my volunteer projects are working with other people.  I like people.  So I enjoy that.

You may be wondering, why is she telling me all this?  The reason is that if you are repeatedly failing to do something, I think you need to figure out what you are getting from failing and address the needs that are being met by that.  For example, if one of the reasons I’m prioritizing working over art is the desire to be social, I could find a way to be social in an art setting.  As an exercise, I’m looking over all the things I get from volunteering and how I could get them from art.

Social interaction
While a lot of my process in creating art is solitary, maybe it doesn’t need to be.  I could find ways to collaborate with other artists or find other opportunities to connect. For example:

  • Attend local life drawing classes
  • Start an art meet-up with friends
  • Find local artist forums

Feeling appreciated
When you are working, and doing a good job, people tend to appreciate that.  As a stay at home mother being appreciated for my work is not something that is on the forefront of my “employers” minds.  In fact, just the other day one of my kids told me, "I like doing things with Daddy better than you."  So it makes sense to me that working on projects and people actually being appreciative would be a draw for me.  It’s not just about being appreciated, it's also about receiving feedback in general.  So what if I:

  • Found a mentor
  • Worked on collaborative projects with other artists
  • Found a way to incorporate art into the volunteer work I am doing

It feels good to get shit done.  The hard part with art is not being 100% certain what it is I want to create and the problem that knowing when it is actually done can be mystifying.  Also, I seem to rebel against specific painting ideas but a general framework might help me feel productive and not burdened.  So maybe I need to think about a task list in terms of volume not specifics.  2 pieces in September, one in October, for example. 

But someone is counting on me
This is probably the hardest one to counter.  Being reliable is something I take very seriously.  And not making myself available to help feels like a character flaw.  But if I am going to create a sustainable, productive, and positive balance in my life then considering myself as someone who needs me is going to have to be taken into account. 

Looking at this list it’s clear to me that creating work/life balance isn’t strictly about making time or stopping one activity for the next.  If it were, it would be easy.  A true solution needs to incorporate all of these aspects and honor each as important.  In some cases, I think it is okay to choose to work with my community instead of creating art even if that means it slows down the goals that I set out for myself.  As long as I am making that choice consciously, weighing what I am giving up, for what, and evaluating if the trade is worth it.  Other times, I think it’s important to take my artwork as seriously as anything else I am doing, treat it as a commitment, with respect, and not let time slide by.  My hope is that if I take this approach, work/life balance will come more easily. Only time will tell.