For the longest time, especially during my worst depression, I just couldn’t seem to find any balance in my life. I would oscillate wildly between full-on work, then full-on fitness training, then full-on creative projects that earned no money, then full-on stress about no money, then full-on mad working again to make more money, and so on.
Vicious cycle didn’t even begin to describe the nonsense I put myself through.
For the past four months or so, I feel like I’ve kept my balance pretty well in check. The various parts of my life kind of fit into a neat pyramid of priorities and objectives.
The pyramid’s base is my own personal well-being. I need a good chunk of sleep every night (7-8 hours) to feel my best, and to manage my in-built tendency towards depressive states of mind. I need to eat well. I need to remain fit and do some exercise every week (preferably every day or two). I need some time on my own just to let my head unravel – which lately has been in the form of long drives in the bus with my headphones on. I need to connect to my higher-self, my spiritual plane, regularly, and make sure I’m aligned. Without this base, everything is unstable.
The next level up is my family: my relationships with Bel and the kids. I need to make sure I am the best husband and father I can be, for them because of how much I love them, and also for myself, to honour the person I am, and the person I want to be. I am a great husband, and a great father, and I want to continue to be that for my family, so I work on it every day.
Next up is my friends – new and old – and generally my sense of connection to people. I’m a people person (no surprise there) and despite loving alone time and being utterly comfortable and at peace in my own company, I love being around people. Particularly people with interesting stories, adventurous spirits, or simply beautiful souls. People who lift me up, and make me feel connected to the beautiful parts of humanity.
The top of the pyramid is my work. I define my work in two main ways, both of which have fairly equal importance to me. My work is the stuff I do that pays makes me money – so I can live, support my family, and fulfil my personal dreams and adventures. But my work is also the creative expressions of who I am. My writing, my music, my communicating ideas to people, my photography, designing our dream home… it doesn’t matter what form it takes. The creative stuff is my art: that work that only I can bring to the world; my version of channelling the divine and making it real. When the two types of work intersect, I am loving life in spades. When it’s all creative expression and no money, I lose the muse and get stressed about finances. When it’s all paid stuff that doesn’t fulfil me creatively, I am a hollow husk of a human, gradually trudging down the path of despair and hopelessness.
My pyramid of priorities is shaped like a pyramid for a reason. The widest, biggest layer is the most important. With a strong and broad foundation, the building will stand firm, and each layer will be able to support the layers above. When all the layers are well maintained, it’s a stable, strong structure.
If I don’t pay enough attention to my personal well-being, my family, and my friends and general connectedness to people – in that order – I’m hopeless at work of any kind. If I focus too much on work (paid or creative) at the expense of my people, my family, or myself, again I become un-balanced and eventually fall in a heap. Each layer needs to be given the right amount of energy and effort to maintain it.
I’m fortunate that I feel like I am keeping my balance really well at the moment. I sleep fantastically, I eat rudely well (thanks to my wife’s super healthy super tasty super plentiful cooking), I have a spectacular relationship with my family, and I am connected to SO MANY friends and random travellers that life is regularly filled with the best bits of humanity.
My work is the bit that can wobble on a sometimes daily basis. Am I spending too much time writing and blogging, and not enough time booking jobs? Or am I focussed too hard on the money and goals, and losing sight of the joy and creativity? Despite these wobbles, I still feel like I’m currently doing a great job balancing the sometimes competing objectives of my paid work and my creative work. There are moments where the two intersect and overlap, and moments where they diverge, which still works perfect for me.
Sometimes, like most creative types, I need to force myself to do the paid work when all I want to do is get creative and arty. Sometimes, paradoxically, I run from the creative work in abject terror, throwing myself into paid work and other diversions (like sleep), when what I really need to do is force myself to be still and listen for the muse, and create.
Some friends have expressed concern that I might be pushing too hard with this daily mission to write and blog; that perhaps I might force myself into a depression or put too much pressure on myself and begin to crack.
I am humbled and grateful for the thoughts, and the concerns. I am also very aware of how I work creatively, though, and I know I need to have built-in accountability to keep me on path.
Over the past six years I have learned to identify the triggers that lead me into depressive moments, hours, or days. I have learned to listen to my body and mind, and together they have a kind of early-warning system that tells me when one of my pyramid’s layers is fracturing or wobbling. I now have regular practices to keep my personal, family, and inter-personal selves healthy and rational and calm. I’m pretty good at managing my paid work stuff with my family and personal time, partly because I can be prodigiously lazy and abhor too much work too often, but also there’s so much cool stuff to see and do while we travel, so I have forced downtime. It’s been my creative work that hasn’t had the same love and attention for a while, and it was showing in my moods, and manifesting physically.
In a calm, clear, rational moment, I decided I would like to complete my book and publish it. I committed to myself that I would do this, and chronicle the journey, to keep me the path and stop me succumbing to the inane delights of simply doing fuck all.
Creatively, I know that I need the virtual cattle-prod in the rump of public accountability to help me create and ship my art. It’s the irrational moments of fear and apathy, coupled with my prodigious laziness, that are the true enemies of my art. (No wonder that guy Stephen Pressfield called it The War of Art. Great book, by the way. Check it out.)
My job these days is to build my dreams piece by piece, until they stand before me as completed masterpieces. And I must needs keep my balance in order to be the architect and assembler of these dreams.
My dreams involve:
- being the best version of myself, and continually raising that bar
- rocking the shit out of my marriage and my parenthood
- living an unconventional yet highly rewarding life of intention and purpose
- running a ridiculously exciting business that couples profits with positive impacts, and
- fulfilling on my creative and artistic endeavours by shipping work that matters
What about you?