Doing something you love for a living is undoubtedly an enticing idea, but what most people fail to realize is the downside of this notion: the difficulty to know when you are simply doing too much of what you love.
Often, artists see themselves working day after day, hour after hour, never acknowledging the need to rest until all of a sudden you feel like there is something wrong with you.
So how often have you felt a mental block that appears to stop you from creating anything you view as “worthy”? Or how often do you feel like you don’t have what it takes anymore, or even feel symptoms of stress while you claim there is no way you are working too much?
Years ago, when I started training dance in London I remember one of my good friends and mentor, a successful industry choreographer, say, “I’ve been dancing too much. I can’t create anything at the moment, so I’m going to visit a museum.” From the very beginning I was intrigued by those words. How could a visit to a museum help you to create choreography? According to him, you can’t keep crafting new concepts while being immersed in the same art form you are trying to create. In other words, you can’t generate new notions in dance by being immersed solely in dance, the same way you can’t work on a monologue by insisting on the same ideas that so far haven’t worked. For him it was not only inspiration, but also a break from his stressful daily work.
In my view, there are two fundamental reasons why as artists we need to learn to detect signs of stress. These may be hard to sense at first due to the fact that contrary to someone who may not appreciate his regular job, more often than not we are filled with fulfillment doing what we are doing, giving us no clear reason to stop. Your health is the first main reason.
We are always excited for tomorrow, the lack of routine in our daily lives keeps our hearts pumping and our brains constantly wired. This is what we love about our lifestyles. But it takes its toll. On the top of all the work, most of us continually look to improve, whether it’s by taking classes or simply training on our own (not to mention those other artists who also have a second job to help them financially). This will eventually burn you out and often make you temporarily sick, “forcing” you to take a break the hard way.
The second reason—and the one I feel is worth deeper analysis in this context is creativity. No matter what your art form is, creating for days on end will leave you feeling like you have nothing left to give. As the years went by throughout my career, my friend/mentor’s words about going to the museum started to make a lot more sense. As a choreographer, how could I create new concepts in dance if I’m only immersed in dance itself. Every so often I have to do something different, something that not only gives me a break from my daily routine but also stimulates my brain in a completely different way.
This is understandably so much easier said than done. If you are a passionate and ambitious artist, you will feel like you are never doing enough. Especially in the age of social media when everyone else’s work and accomplishments are thrown in your face first thing in morning when you look at your Facebook News Feed. Comparing your success with others’ can leave you overwhelmed, feeling irrelevant and it will keep you working even when you should be resting.
I am the first to admit that I have always had certain difficulty to find a happy medium between my eagerness to succeed and a healthy lifestyle that allows me to grow in a sustainable, healthy, and stress-free way. But over the years I gathered some advice from my mentors and peers that I like to pass on to my fellow artists.
Having two days off per week would be ideal, one of which to be spent focusing on the business side of your career, and the other focusing on resting and taking your mind off the art you do. Use that time to find peace and break free from all the pressure and expectations to which you subject yourself. Having a list on your wall of all your achievements to date will help you stay confident and reassure you that you are on the right path—and that you deserve to rest. And finally keep in mind you are very lucky to do what you love, and that you have worked to make that possible. There is enough space for everyone, and others’ achievements are no more than a reflection of your own success. Create the habit of loving and supporting other artists in their accomplishments and this will motivate you to pursue yours in your own time without the pressure of competition.
You will go through different stages, and not always have the opportunity to take 2 days off every single week. But in my experience, pursuing a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is imperative to have a lasting career. It is a work in progress but worth to try as it will eventually help you getting closer and closer to a healthier and more creative you.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.