Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Working + Resting

There is a myth among artists, that you are either “lazy” – “not creating as much as you should be” or you are a “hustler” – “always working without rest.” They are both false and dangerous myths. There doesn’t seem to be room in the equation for a moderate, sustainable and successful artist. It’s rare to meet such a person: who can be both creative, hardworking, yet also has a healthy social life and rest periods. We don’t seem to have much role models in the “balanced artist” department.

Seal grew up watching her immigrant parents worked hard to the bone. They ran themselves ragged trying to meet the family’s basic needs. Sometimes they work two jobs, both the day and night shift. But when her family acquired enough to live by, and sometimes more than enough, her parents who had been working all their lives also did not know how to take a break. When they came home from work, they would hurry unto the next cleaning or cooking project. When Sunday came around, Dad would start vacuuming the house at 8am. He would burst into the bedroom with the vacuum roaring and made sure to hit every corner before he walked out again and slammed the door. I got the message that I was lazy for sleeping past 8am. When my sister and I tried to watch Batman weekdays at 5pm after completing our homework, they would glare at us funny. As if, “resting and fun time is only for the lazy” and “if you want to be successful in life, you better spend your waking moments working.”

So growing up, Seal thought “breaks were bad” and even if she wanted to, she did not know “how to take a break.” I bet most of us, don’t know how to rest either.

Oftentimes, Monkey + Seal run rampart into the night making art, emailing clients, turning in projects. We often run on very little sleep or break. Most of the time, it is because we are trying to make ends meet or deliver work that cannot wait. But other times, we choose to stay late and push through our own self-imposed deadlines (although we are trying to change that). The result is, we sure get a lot done, but we’re also cranky, exhausted, and deprived of rest and life outside of work or art. We often forget that “how you spend your day is how you spend your life . . . “ And if your life is all about work and art with very little room for friends, self care, or rest, then you’re really running yourself into the ground without enjoying the journey of being an artist. One day you will wake up and realize that life had passed you by.

Though Seal would like to blame her parents for passing on their workaholism, as an adult now, she realizes that it is up to Seal to allow herself a break and if she doesn’t know how to break, she needs to learn. Only she can break the spell now and wake up. To know that it’s ok to take breaks. It’s normal to take breaks. We all need it, as we need air to breathe and food to sustain us. Our bodies need to regenerate. Our minds need to refill the creative well. And counter to beliefs, breaks allow a person to actually be more productive and resilient through the next strenuous work challenges.

So as Seal is learning on how to take a break, she would like to share some guidelines that she found to be helpful:

  1. When you’re tired, take a break. Think as if you are a baby. When a baby is tired, it gets cranky. So we put the baby to sleep. When Seal is tired, her eyes get heavy, she will start munching on something even though she’s not hungry, and she’ll get really annoyed at every little thing. That’s when the red lights go off. Oh oh! Body is deprived. Need a bath, tea time,10minute shut eye, or a full nap. You’ll figure out your own personal cues to tell you that you are tired.
  1. Figure out what constitutes as a “break” or “rest” for you. No emails after 6pm. Tea time at 4pm. Sleep 8 hours regardless (if you have flexible schedule). A movie night. Music for 15minutes with eyes closed. Everyone has different ways of feeling “rested.”
  1. Resting while in Motion or in order words Resting while Working Sometimes it feels like there is no choice to but to work a lot. Especially when rent is due, bills are piled up, or client project is on the line. In cases like those, we still need to be proactive and “choose” to work. Focus on the brush contacting the canvas. Focus on the words being t-y-p-e-d into the email. Focus on the present moment of breathing in and out, hearing the hum of the computer. Focus on the voice of your client. See if you can find the breath of all things even within the “mundane.” That way, when you are super focused, work won’t feel like work. And you’ll get it done twice as fast.
  1. Know when “it is enough” You are enough. Stop. A big part of the reason that it’s hard to rest and be successful is that we don’t know when it is enough. When it’s time to rest or when it’s time to push against the mountain. We often confuse satisfaction/happiness with “career success.” Many are too often fixated on being bigger and better that we don’t enjoy the process. We are so focused on learning new skills as an artist, absorbed in our chosen field (because we love it so much) that we’ve buried our heads in the sand like ostriches, and are blind to the beauty of a simple walk through the neighborhood, a cup of coffee with a friend, or the passing of clouds after a rainy day. At some point you’ve got to realize, that although life for an artist is about the art, at the same time, it is also not about the art. When you are six feet underground, you still can’t take your “art,” you skills, or your accomplishments with you to the other side. You’ve got to be fulfilled in the present.

The best part of being an artist is living in the now. Being present at the moment. And whether you are working or resting, being aware of your breath and that you are alive, is the start to being a balanced artist: one that can see work and rest and two sides of the same coin à both starts and ends with fulfillment.