This week Marci Alboher (One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success) published an interesting article in the New York Times called ‘Why leisure matters in a busy world’. In the article Alboher interviews Alison Link, an expert on leisure patterns whose academic work focuses on the ways in which leisure decisions can impact on incarcerated and at-risk people. It’s interesting reading, and it made me think about the place of leisure in the lives of artists and creative entrepreneurs.
I’ve already talked a bit about work/work balance as a model for managing a creative career, and how it can get in the way of work/life balance. The work/work balance is usually pretty easy to define – maybe you wait tables a few days a week and while you develop your acting career, or work in publishing full-time while you write your novel, or teach throughout the year and spend school holidays building your painting folio for exhibition. Or maybe work/work balance isn’t an issue for you because you already do what you love full-time. That’s where it gets complicated – if you’re doing what you love, is it work or leisure? And how do you know when to switch on or off?
Wherever you are in your career, chances are that whatever creative endeavour you now define as your ‘work’ made its debut in your life as a hobby. Chances are also pretty good that you love what you do so much, you would do it for free. In fact, no matter how much you earn from your creativity, you probably already do it for free to some extent, whether it’s working on your own projects, working for friends or donating your skills to organisations. If there was no money in what you do, you would probably do it anyway.
At the same time, transitioning from a hobby to a career attaches many new stresses to what was once an enjoyable activity. Where once you could do what you liked and in your own time, now you must meet deadlines and the expectations of others. Before you could while away the hours following tangents and playing; now you need to keep one eye on the clock to ensure that the pay you receive reflects the time you have spent.
Meanwhile, I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been struggling to enjoy leisure activities I once loved. Books, movies, television are all narratives that bring me back to thinking about my own skills as a writer. And any other activity I do or experience I have is something I could potentially write about. Does anyone else have this problem?
Creative work exists on a sliding scale of work and leisure. Where each activity you pursue fits on the scale depends on your own definitions and goals. I know many creative workers who fill their leisure time with more work-related activities. Sometimes it’s because it’s the only time they have to complete the work, and sometimes it’s because they are genuinely wrapped up in the task and there’s nothing else they’d rather do with their time. The creative community considers this type of behaviour normal. It’s ‘passion’. It’s also a sign of workaholism. Check out this quiz from the American Workaholics Anonymous website. The twenty questions listed – Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures? Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing? – are designed to give you an indication of whether you might be addicted to work. If you answer ‘yes’ to three or more questions you might have a problem. I answered ‘yes’ to fifteen of the questions. Uh oh. But I reckon most creative workers out there would have a similar result.
Is it okay to be a workaholic? In this field it seems like it’s almost compulsory.