Work/Life Balance for Busy Arts Professionals

Last week, I had the privilege of appearing on a panel at the Dallas Symphony’s Women in Classical Music Symposium. The Symposium is the brainchild of Kim Noltemy, the fabulous CEO of the Dallas Symphony. Over the course of four days, the Symposium features an amazing array of speakers discussing topics relevant to women in today’s classical music world. My panel, Making Time for it All: Getting Ahead without Losing Yourself, focused on work/life balance. With Cece Smith, Chair of the Board of the Dallas Symphony, as the moderator, I shared the podium with a fabulous group of women:

Those of us involved in the classical music world—indeed in the world of the performing arts—lead busy lives!

Musicians and artists engage in a wide variety of activities both for creative stimulation and financial stability, from rehearsals and performances to tours, festivals, teaching, collaborations, and tending to the business side of their careers. And arts leaders juggle myriad strands of activity to make big dreams with less than optimal resources.

That’s just on the professional side. We also have families and friends, invest in our health by exercising, pursue personal development and/or spiritual activities, and also kick back to have some fun!

Managing all of these strands is complicated! So here are the observations I shared at our panel discussion on how to experience work/life balance in today’s busy, chaotic and fascinating world.

Challenges to Work/Life Balance

My biggest hurdles regarding work/life balance boiled down to two illusions:

  • Expectations of having it all…at once

In the early part of my career, I bought into the message of

“You can have it all!”

I interpreted this as …

“You can have it all at the same time.”

What a recipe for stress and burnout!  Instead, I learned that you can have it all… in the course of your lifetime. The reframe of stretching out the time period in which to have balance was extremely helpful.  It meant that I devoted long hours to establishing myself as a lawyer in the first part of my career and then I refocused my priorities once I had my two children. Then, as my children grew older, I refocused my priorities yet again to find a better match between who I was and what I did professionally. This dovetails nicely with the observations in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review that work/life balance is a cycle, not an achievement.

  • Perfectionism

People trained in the arts strive to achieve high standards of excellence. That’s great and also has a down side: striving for perfection often translates into the illusion that you have to do everything perfectly! That certainly was my experience. In fact, perfectionism is one of the “creativity killers” that I cite in my book, Creative Success Now.  You can read more about the creativity killers here.

When it comes to work/life balance, I have learned to assess what needs to be done with 100% of my effort and energy and what to let go of and do at 80%. It’s an interesting way to apply the 80/20 rule of time management which posits that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts!

Having the 80/20 rule has helped me to pick and choose where I put in my top energy and where “good” is good enough.

3 Top Tips for Work/Life Balance

Once you probe these two illusions, what can help you to experience more work/life balance?

The key is to have filters on what to say yes to in your life.   Here are the three filters I shared in the panel discussion.

  1. Get clear on your life purpose

Your life purpose is how you contribute your best qualities to connect with the audience you most care about and serve the world to make it a better place. It is the intersection of your passions and interests, your strengths and talents, and your way of serving others.

Knowing your purpose has many advantages:

  • It is a practical application of your passions and values.
  • It helps you frame inspirational and meaningful goals.
  • It inspires you to pursue your vision with confidence.
  • It provides intrinsic motivation to pursue what you want to accomplish.
  • It provides a roadmap for your future.
  • It helps you filter what to say yes to in life and what to turn down.

Moreover, knowing your life purpose provides intrinsic motivation to do your best work. That’s because you see your work as a calling (where you serve the world and feel deeply aligned with what you do), as opposed to a job (where your paycheck is your main motivator), or a career (where you seek external validation from your title or salary). And according to the research by Yale School of Management Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, perceiving your work as a calling can help you to find greater meaning and satisfaction in your life and work. 

What helps is to have a life purpose statement.  It provides clarity around what you want to achieve, a sense of direction on where to start, and the motivation to make it happen. It also can inspire you to greater heights.

Here is my life purpose statement:

To inspire and empower joy and flow and spread creativity throughout the world.

Everything I do professionally—whether it is teaching, coaching, writing, and speaking—all flows from these principles. I also aim to bring this spirit to my relationships and to other areas of my personal life.

I am finding that post-COVID, many of my clients and students are hungering to tap into their life purpose and re-examining where they are at. In fact, I am helping a lot of people these days to draft a life purpose statement.

You can write your own life purpose statement by following my 4-step process.

  1. Know your values

Values are the core principles that run your life. They help to define who you are and what is truly important to you. In fact, knowing your core values serves as your compass for making major decisions. The more that you align with your core values, the clearer you can be when it comes to making choices in one’s career, personal life, relationships and creative activities.

My top core values are life-long learning/creativity, relationships, and authenticity. Any opportunity I take on has to involve a learning and creativity component and connect me to others. Plus, it has to feel like the real me.

For example, last year, I did a TEDx talk on Cracking the Code on Creativity. It was a tremendous learning experience and I thought about embarking on a speaking career. But speaking to large audiences does not involve the type of relationships that I like to nurture through teaching and coaching. Instead, I am expanding my coaching practice and taking on a few new teaching engagements that connect me to leaders in the creative space.

To find your core values, I invite you to download my values assessment.

  1. Focus on your important work: Quadrant 2 time management

Quadrant 2 time management comes from Steven Covey, author of the iconic book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey created a model based on what is important and not important and what is urgent or not urgent, divided into four quadrants.

Quadrant 2 on the top right represents things that are important to you but not urgent. By focusing on your Q2’s, you can build your life in meaningful way. It’s how you can put your values and purpose to work by prioritizing:

  • Inspiring and important long-term goals;
  • The relationships you want to cultivate;
  • Values-driven work;
  • Creative thinking;
  • Learning; and
  • Planning.

And here’s another interesting Q2 activity: rest and recreation. For busy people in the arts, rest and restorative activities are crucial to experiencing work/life balance. For me, I meditate daily, exercise 5-6 times a week and make sure that I get a good night’s sleep. All of this replenishes me to do my purposeful work.

See which of these ideas can help YOU to experience work/life balance!