The Great Balancing Act

In thinking about what topics might be useful for entrepreneurially-minded arts folks, I was reminded of a question that came up at a career skills roundtable that Fifth House led at the University of Northern Iowa that struck me as particularly timely, yet not frequently asked.

A student raised her hand and asked, “How do you balance your professional and home lives? Do you have enough time for a marriage and family?”

Having prepped ourselves for questions about self-promotion, fundraising, organizational development, and the like, this came a little out of left field. In retrospect, I’m so glad she voiced this, because it’s a real challenge that any small business owner will face head-on.

Being in the building stages of a rapidly growing small arts organization, and being in the first decade of our professional careers individually, none of us had particularly encouraging things to say about how much time we’re able to devote to ourselves and to those we love. Starting a business can mean that you work 98% of the day, with your laptop in one hand and PDA in another. Always reachable, always on the clock.

The good part about this is that you’re spending a ton of energy and resources on the one thing that you wake up and fall asleep thinking about. It is the passion for our work that fuels our desire to strike out on our own in the first place, and to selflessly understand that the 9-5 workday doesn’t really exist in any project’s infancy.

But what about the risk of burnout, failed relationships, or medical ill-effects? Most people can’t keep up a the fevered start-up pace forever, and those that do tend to lose at other parts of their life, even as they win. As the amount and quality of the work/gigs/business you are generating grows, it’s time to begin to trim the bonsai and focus on those things that are important both in your business and at home.

This means choosing your projects and engagements more carefully, delegating wisely, scheduling your work time AND your play time, and remembering one of the wisest business lessons I ever heard: EFFICIENCY is the ability to work faster, EFFECTIVENESS is the ability to decide what to do and when. It also means beginning to outsource those parts of your business that someone else can do better and faster.

One of the members of our group has a friend who religiously kept Shabbat (the weekly day of rest that has its equivalent in many major religions) even through the most hectic parts of her college years. When he asked her how on earth she could afford to do it given the huge number of activities she was involved in, she replied, “How can you afford NOT to?” Having the one day to refresh and recharge gave her the energy she needed to tackle the week, and made her focus on working smart and meeting her deadlines in preparation for the day off.

It’s a lesson we can all learn and apply in our own way. Whether it’s scheduling an afternoon with your spouse, creating a daily ritual that includes exercise and time for reflection, or becoming involved in a group activity that has nothing to do with your professional life, the change of pace keeps the mind fresh, the body in balance, and the creativity flowing.

And now, to read this post 40 more times until it sinks in…!

Melissa is the flutist and Executive Director of the Chicago-based Fifth House Ensemble. She also contributes to the Entrepreneur the Arts blog.
Fifth House Ensemble

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