I’m going to come out and say it: among musicians, being a workaholic is like a badge of honor. And I don’t want to wear it anymore.
Of course, the problem of workaholism pervades not just our musical community, but our entire culture, and a lot of it isn’t our fault. We have to take a lot of gigs just to get by. Many of us graduated from college just as the recession tsunami started forming. Our generation has high student debt, high unemployment, insufficient health insurance, and not much of a social safety net. And even those Americans who, unlike us, have full time jobs and benefits take fewer vacation days than most other industrialized countries. Workaholism is the American way.
How often do you see someone post a tweet or a Facebook status about how many days it’s been since their last day off? About how long their day was? In December, a few friends of mine posted that their souls were for sale until December 24. It’s part machismo, part masochism; a Puritan work ethic on steroids.
Because our careers include a lot of passion projects, it can be easy to mask overwork with enthusiasm. But just because we’re “doing what we love” doesn’t mean we aren’t working. Sometimes, it stuns me what an ultra-busy musician will say yes to, cramming their calendar with “one more” thing until they collapse on some blessed Monday with nothing scheduled. It’s par for the course for musicians to eat fast food in their car, rarely exercise (cough, like me), and get sick often due to high stress and a lack of sleep.
I know all this because it used to be me, and frankly still is me in a lot of ways. But I’m working really hard (er … hopefully not too hard) to avoid living like that anymore. Here are a few things I’ve been trying to do differently:
1.) Write EVERYTHING into my calendar. Like clockwork, I’ve taught every Monday and Tuesday for years now. No need to put it in my calendar, right? Wrong. This mistake used to mean that when I looked at my calendar, my week looked more empty than it really was. I never overbooked those days, of course, but I also had an inaccurate visual picture of how busy I actually was. Now, when I see that Sunday is my only empty day for two weeks, I know that taking that $75 church service would NOT be worth it.
2.) Admit how much time my projects actually take. In a high-intensity month of administrative work for Chicago Q, I tracked my work hours and learned a lot. As I looked ahead to January, I counted my projected teaching, writing, practice, rehearsal, commuting and administrative hours, and realized that it pretty much added up to a normal person’s full-time job. Knowledge is power. If I want to take on another project, I now know that I may need to pass something off to a colleague, hire an intern or a professional, or simply let something go. Tracking my hours has helped me see reality clearly, accept my limitations and understand my own needs.
3.) Work with my mind to identify emotions and attitudes that might be exhausting me. I’ve been meditating almost every day since October. One of the things I’m discovering through this practice is that some of my attitudes towards my work are very unforgiving, judgmental, and harsh. I often tell myself that I am not keeping up, that I am failing. Wow — no wonder I’ve been exhausted! Approaching the very same amount of work with a different attitude has begun to free up some energy for me, and help me make better choices.
What are you doing differently in terms of workload in the New Year?