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Forget work-life balance, fill your creative cup instead

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends, and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.” ―Brian Dyson, former vice chairman and COO of Coca-Cola

When I left corporate work at the end of 2016, I carried a dream with me. I thought that since I had over done it at work for decades, all I needed was a good long ‘break’ to reset my life and all would be well. I was confident that my balance between work and personal life was off and that it could be easily adjusted. Much like performing the hard reboot of a computer, I thought everything that was ‘wrong’ with me just needed time to reorganize itself into the right space. I’m sorry to say, 4 years on, all those assumptions were wrong. But something wonderful has happened instead.

For the 18-months I was out of the workforce, I switched my focus towards my creative projects here at DailyCreatives and travelling around the world with my husband and teenaged children. I turned my energy 100% away from paid work and devoted myself to my health, creative interests and family. What quickly became apparent to me was an impending ‘creativity v cash‘ dilemma. It was not going to be easy to turn my creative ideas into a paying gig. By the time we reached Tuscany, it was confirmed that I was going to need a job when we got back to Canada.

I had inadvertently discovered that ‘Creativity and Money Don’t Mix‘. At least that was true for me at that time. But I was also beginning to understand nuances in the way creativity showed up in my life. As my journal of our travel year shows me, creativity was growing with a regular practice of the morning pages. By taking care of my thoughts first thing in the morning, I was able to drastically reduce negative ideas from taking root and growing for the rest of the day. By starting off on the right foot, my life was much better than it had been before, even compared with the first 6 months of being off work, when I was not journalling.

Once we returned from our travels, I was back at a corporate job within days. 27 years of working in a certain way proved hard to shake free from. Stress would build up really fast, if I let it. I also assumed that company structures had evolved a lot more than they had. Instead of embracing all the new ideas in workplace innovation I had been reading about, I found not much had changed in my absence. The same was true as it had been before, the traditional corporation is often setting an example for ‘How to Kill Creativity‘. But, in all fairness, for many there is a real ‘Creativity Enigma‘.

For me it has become clear that I can’t ask too much of myself or my employer. There is a balance that needs to be created, but I find that has more to do with mindset. If I am feeling a sense of stress build from situations happening at work that are beyond my control, (which almost everything is), I am now becoming better at stepping back from the impending conflict. I cannot solve other people’s problems for them and by taking them on, I deplete my creative reserves. There is a reason ‘Why You Can’t Buy Creativity‘. It has to self-generated and stressful situations are hostile to increasing creativity.

Of course there is no magic way to reduce stress, but I am much more aware of the conditions which allow stress to build. When this happens, I am in choice for the solutions I want to take. I’ve tried everything and there are only a few things that work well. Letting off some pressure through exercise is a first step. Moving my thoughts towards the kindest solutions possible is another. Then tending to my creative pursuits. In whatever order makes sense in the moment, this is how I find balance in my life, for now. Incidentally, these practices are not found at work or at home.

I’m always on the hunt for new ideas and asking questions of people I meet who have solutions which might work for me. Inevitably the best techniques to manage stress and increase creativity, start in the mind. Being able to manage our conflicting thoughts is at the root of wellness. While others might still be looking for the holy grail in their work-life balance, my attention has turned inward. I am my worst critic. So why not become my biggest fan instead?

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