Whenever life has been quiet enough for contemplation, I spend time thinking about finding the right creative balance. I think about what it means for me, what it means for Jeff, and I either ask or observe the creative people in my life. I’ve noticed four broad camps:
Work a soul-crushing job out of necessity; do nothing creative, fall asleep in front of TV each night out of emotional exhaustion.
Have job that is both lucrative enough and enjoyable enough for the foreseeable future; do side-hustle in free time.
The dream (for some): a full-time job in their field, with full-on creativity and regular pay and benefits.
Freelance: all the freedom and most of the creativity, worry about money.
I have experienced all four camps over the years and they have all shaped me.
For the purpose of my following ramble, let’s put money aside. Whatever camp you fall into, the importance of money and meeting your responsibilities is a given.
Sadly, I’ve spent the longest amount of time in #1. But I can’t be too hard on that experience. I made some of my best friends at that place. The regular pay wasn’t fantastic, but it was solid and covered my needs. After a while I could do my job so well that it freed up my brain for other things. When I started having trouble sleeping and wondering when life would get more interesting and fun, going back to school in the evenings was the answer – it’s not a coincidence that I started sleeping better the same night I enrolled for journalism courses. And being treated badly by my managers got me in touch with my anger. Instead of losing my temper, I plotted my escape. It took ages, but the day it finally happened was one of the happiest days of my life.
Camp #2 is something I’ve experienced less often, but I know others who have done this for most of their careers. Sometimes their day job inspires their creative side-hustle, especially comedians and satirists who collect the ridiculous things they overhear or experience and mine them for all their worth. Sometimes they use a pseudonym. They can retain more creative control because they don’t have to make a client happy. This blog fits that category. I need an outlet where I can write whatever I want, without feedback and change requests.
I’ve also lived the dream of #3, except that I didn’t find a fully creative job to be all that it was cracked up to be. Trying to be creative first thing in the morning or on demand is not something I’m great at – especially when I’m doing an overwhelming number of creative things all at once, all with terrifically tight deadlines. I found myself longing for quiet admin tasks to calm the ‘ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!’ my mind was screaming while juggling. To be fair, I was in charge of photography, graphic design, web design, reporting, writing, and social media, so the whole experience was a big trial by fire. Looking back I learned so much, mainly how to breathe, focus, and learn how to do new things under pressure. I continue to have the utmost respect for graphic designers. Give me that same type of job again but with only writing and editing, and I think I would thrive – there is a part of my brain that loved the rapid-fire, never-a-dull-moment nature of that gig.
It’s not a surprise that #4 is my favourite, although I have to come to it rather cautiously, and after much planning and saving, in order to cut down on the stresses. I love being able to go for a walk on a beautiful afternoon, plan a trip when prices are low, go out on weeknights without worrying about tomorrow morning. But, the flipside of that spontaneity is unpredictability.
I haven’t mentioned camp #5 yet, mainly because it’s the hardest one to manage – having a substantial chunk of time off. The absolute dream for creatives. Used properly, it can change your life. I’ve also had fruitless time off, when I was still blocked creatively out of lack of confidence, and did nothing of note with the experience, except maybe to overcome burnout – which is not nothing. I’ve also had incredible inspiration that comes from the quiet, and yes, the boredom, of not working. This move to England was inspired by a few months of unemployment and a frustrating job search. It became clear that Toronto was not the place for us, but I would have never come up with those insights while working full time and only having three weeks off each year.
I also didn’t rush back into the workforce upon moving to Leeds, and while it made me uncomfortable, I’m now glad I took that time to settle in slowly and figure out my next steps. I was tired of taking whatever came up and was finally in a position to find the right fit.
It’s interesting, and not surprising, that my time in Leeds has been the most creative of my life. Whether it’s writing about the places we travel to, or my stranger-in-a-strange-land experiences here, I’ve also had more fun with photography, learned how to knit, and have dabbled in the world of soapmaking. I have small business ideas constantly flitting through my head, for both myself and friends. My creativity finally has time to talk to me and I am listening.
Take the above photo. This photo represents everything I hoped to change about my life once moving to Leeds. While in Toronto, as I divested myself of most of my worldly belongings, except for my favourite clothes, a few treasured books and my trusted, dependable cooking gear, I bought a proper DSLR camera. I pictured myself bringing it to Jeff’s gigs, all part of this new, bohemian spirit that was flowing through both of us, alive with possibilities of such a big change.
Put simply, this photo wouldn’t have happened if I was in a soul-crushing job. I would have begged off, not wanting to go out on a ‘school night’. I would have been too tired or might have had a migraine. Instead, I was well up for a Tuesday night in a pub, we had time to relax, have a pint and chat. Everyone had great ideas for the shoot. I felt like I could take my time and I’m proud of the result.
I don’t think I could have had a better start to 2018. Happy New Year!