Lisa Robbin Young

The Creative Entrepreneur's Dilemma

I've had a fairly open calendar today, as I'm prepping for a trip that will take me out of town for five days. The day was pretty calm, but this evening is bustling.

It's almost a whirlwind of activities: reviewing the schoolwork that needs to be done, trusting my husband to feed and care for the kids, and all the last minute "mommy stuff" that has to happen before I can confidently get in the car and make the 12 hour drive to Minnesota.

But what I really want to do is... write.

I want to sit here, in front of my laptop and coax the words out of my head, out of my heart, and onto the page.

I want to jam to some Diana Krall, keyboard clacking, and just trust that "the world" can get by while I'm in "the zone".

I want to play and create, and not worry about the fact that tomorrow's picture day at the elementary school, and oh, what will my first grader wear?

So I hurry through the must-do's of bringing hubby up to speed, and put my nose back in my laptop.

Then the wave of guilt washes over me and starts bickering with my artist.

"You're going to be gone for FIVE WHOLE DAYS! The least you could do is spend a little quality time with your family before you leave."

"You're kidding, right? The kids have been sick all week! I've been here taking care of them, and NOT focusing on creating, writing, or sharing my art with the world. The least you could do is cut me some slack and let me enjoy this creative space."

Oy. Even I am not immune. It's a conversation I've heard in one form or another in my head for the last 7 years. The good news is that it doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to.

This is our greatest dilemma: wanting to create and wanting to have a life.

It's easy as a creative entrepreneur to get so wrapped up in our world-changing work that we lose track of time, forget to eat, sleep, or even acknowledge the other members of our family - sometimes for days! There are legends floating around about how computer programmers spend days in front of the screen, not showering and barely eating until their code is picture perfect.

While I'm not quite that bad (knock on wood), I know that it's very easy to let our art "distract" us from life.

On the other hand, it's also incredibly easy for us to let the "shoulds" of the world preclude us from diving into our work in the first place. I remember my mother telling me that wanting to be a rock star was nice, but I really needed a "backup plan" if that didn't pan out.

I spent 15 years working on the backup plan instead of being a rock star. My informal survey of other creative entrepreneurs would indicate I'm not alone in that ark.

Artists have historically been sliced and diced walking this razor's edge.

Thomas Edison would sleep on his desk in his office with a book for a pillow, not even taking time out to go home and see his family. Steve Jobs completely denied the existence of his first born for years. And lets not forget all the flak Jennifer Aniston and Oprah have gotten over the years about choosing their art over having kids.

It's not an easy choice - your art or your life? Even the typical type A personality recognizes the flaw in this question. Why do we have to choose one over the other? Some would say you can't have everything. After all, where would you put it? But I don't want everything. I only want what I want.

Finding the "yes, and..." in all this...

But most of us aren't mega-wealthy yet, so we still harbor responsibility for caring for our family in some way. And even if we don't have kids, it can still be tough competing with the demands of other people in our lives - parents, friends, colleagues, and even clients.

The fact is, our art is our life. It's an extension of who we are. It permeates our being. It's not something we can just put on a shelf and turn off at the end of the day. Believe me, I've tried.

What worked better for me was to get clear on what really mattered in the total package that was my life.

The Five Key Areas of Success

In all my trying to get things done, the major components of my life shook out into what I call the Five Key Areas of Success. In essence, if I neglect any one of these areas for too long, a part of me dies. Because creating my art isn't just about family, or even money. Here's how I broke it down:

  • Faith - My core beliefs, my spirituality, the things that inspire me
  • Family - people who are close to me, who share a bond, not always a blood relative
  • Fitness - Mental, physical, spiritual, emotional - if it has to do with my health, it's important.
  • Fortune - money, yes, but also my business health, my network health, and how that fortune gets built (creating on deadline).
  • Freedom - time for fun, friends, being me and creating art on my own terms.
When I neglect faith, I die spiritually. When I neglect family, I die socially. When I neglect fitness... well, I'll just die. And so on.
For the past four years, I've been using a system I developed to help me navigate these key areas in a way that makes sure I get the most important stuff on my radar completed - without neglecting my art OR having a life.
As a creative entrepreneur, we can be tenacious like a pitbull, not letting go of our project because it's "almost finished" - even if it's the third dinner with the family we've skipped this week.
Put it down. It will still be there when you get back, and often, your brilliance will shine even brighter after you've taken a rest.
Besides, your kids and your spouse want to know what your face looks like. They love you whether or not you've got that thing finished; whether or not it's perfect.
They just want to love you. So let them.
Give yourself fair boundaries. Enforce them with others and enforce them with yourself. It takes practice, but the rewards are SO worth it.
Hubby's home, and dinner's almost done now. It's time for me to close, but before I do, let me ask you what YOU are doing to keep healthy boundaries between your art and your life? And what are you doing to find the "yes, and" in creating your great work?




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