Photo by Cindy Tang on Unsplash
I once had a therapist who told me that all therapists were crazy, but there were the ones who thought they cured themselves by going to school and the ones who realized that the only way to help people was to admit that they had issues just like their patients.
I like to think of myself as the latter, except in terms of giving advice. I give advice, not because I’m better at this stuff, but because I’m exactly as bad at it as everybody else.
Friends Jeff and Tali recently asked for advice on how to balance work and play for freelance creatives.
Good fucking question.
It has to start with self-compassion, whatever you do. Balance is more than one person can write about in one blog post. It’s a lifelong endeavor, it’s difficult, and by its very nature is opposed to almost everything we’re taught as western capitalists. Balance and self-kowledge are deeply related. No matter how well you know yourself, there is always more to learn.
Everything on this planet has a center. Everyone’s center is in a different place, and to make matters worse, it changes in different conditions and over time. Your center is a place only you are capable of locating, and even if you think you know where it is, that doesn’t mean that’s where it will be tomorrow.
The good news is, that you are the most experienced at being you. Even if you’re shitty at it, there’s still no one better. Also, creativity is also a conduit to self-knowledge, you are the first and last creative tool you will ever have.
An experienced musician will know that their instrument behaves differently when it’s warmed up verses when it’s cold. They’ll know it sounds better in certain spaces and worse in others. They also know where to go to find people who would appreciate their work, and where it would likely be dismissed.
Try and build this knowledge about yourself without falling into the trap of typecasting. Personality tests are great and everything, but they’re not you. There’s no substitute to getting quiet and asking yourself what you like and who you are. Answers may not come immediately.
They may never come.
We’ve been taught to be very transactional, especially in creative fields and especially as freelancers. That’s important, you can’t pay the rent on self-knowledge. However, there are a million ways to learn business management. I recommend The Freelancer’s Bible and The Hard Thing About Hard Things. For some reason, they’re both written by people named Horowitz. I don’t think they’re related.
But how you choose to utilize this business knowledge is going to be ten thousand percent dependent on who you are inside. Not on the expectations of your field, not on your training or pedigree. On who you are as a person. You’ll do this with or without awareness. It’s far better for you and everyone around you if you do it while fully aware.
Whatever you do in your quest for self knowledge, don’t take something that already makes you feel good and do it harder. That’s a great way to burn out. The alternative feels far riskier, and in my experience actually hurts a little bit, but you need to slow down and instead of doing it harder, do it with more intention.
I did a lot of things in my life harder, and while that hurt in a different way, I’d become inured to the pain of over-work while my inner self lay completely prone and unexamined. I never shined light on the sensitive flesh of my professional hopes and dreams because I thought that if I worked hard enough, I would probably get what I wanted without ever having to be vulnerable about it.
That’s not what happened. I burned myself out trying to work super hard and trying to balance super hard. There’s only so many times a person can aggressively take a bath, meditate, or knit a hat before they just give up and work all the time because they feel like nothing else fulfills them the way that work does.
Don’t do things you think will bring you balance just because someone else told you that’s what works for them, or because that’s what you’ve done in the past. Mindless doing is a problem many people have, and it’s wasting your energy on things you don’t actually benefit from.
In order to get away from mindlessness and toward awareness, take breaks during your day to ask yourself “what is the purpose of this action?” You don’t have to know the answer all the time. Ask anyway. Sometimes the answer will be obvious.
I’m brushing my teeth because I need teeth and dental care is expensive. I need teeth because I like eating things that require chewing. I need to chew because that’s how I start to process food into energy. I’m brushing my teeth because, after billions of years we’ve come to a point where something on this planet can care for its own teeth and contemplate the nature of those same teeth, as well as digestion, evolution and self awareness at the same time. While standing in a tiny room it or people like it made just for plumbing. And that motherfucker should have good fucking teeth.
Because when you’re trying to check off an hour of work in exchange for an hour of play, or 20 minutes of play, or whatever; you’re missing out. On self knowledge, but also on the point of this whole thing. You were not made just to toil and die. You were also not made just to play and die.
You were made to contemplate your own teeth while standing two stories off the ground. You were made to solve problems and make new ones. You are unique in all the universe and the only way to operate yourself well is to know yourself well. And that is a lifelong journey. Depending on your beliefs on the matter, it takes multiple lives and we may never ever figure it out even then.
However, once you develop a self-knowledge practice, you will be able to tell yourself what to do in order to find and maintain balance. Knowing what you need and exactly how you like to get it can only ever benefit you. In business and in your personal life.