What do you do…when you're not… doing “what you do?”
How does a free-lancer deal with their "downtime" effectively without losing their sanity or getting off-track?
Dear Valerie ,
Oooooh, gurl: [*deep sigh*] ... good one.
Everyone knows the drill—"down time" comes along, and, as ever, we begin to do The Dance— yes, THAT dance of trying feebly to NOT LOSE OUR EVER LOVIN’ MINDS.
By this point, I know better than to think the first 48 hours after a job are going to be anything more than me glued to my sofa, my cat staring at me blankly, watching crime shows as I pad back and forth feebly from bed to sofa to fridge.
A career in the arts more often than not comes with huge periods of hurry and flurry, often followed by (sometimes loooooooong) periods of said "Downtime." One day you are knocking ‘em dead, filming your commercial, doing your guest arc, breaking hearts in Pippin, running from audition to audition, slaying the crowds, kicking ass and taking names, and the next day?
“Hello, Unemployment, how can I help you?”[*Violin music*]
You can’t “get arrested”
Auditions are slow.
Auditions aren’t slow, but no one wants a [inset-exactly-what-you-are] type.
You aren’t working for another 3 months.
You are working, but you’re called for two hours a day.
…You get it.
It’s a serious bummer.
During this downtime you may start to get itchy.
Or, if you are anything like me, you find the first 48 hours GAH-MA-ZING, and euphorically jump around the streets of the city—('I am free! I am a vessel of infinite possibilities! I might go to Antarctica! I might learn Japanese! I might build houses in Nicaragua! I might be able to finally focus on a new skill or technique and be a STAH!')
This feeling is immediately followed (at exactly hour 49) by finding myself in the fetal position, totally FREAKING THE F**K OUT.
If you ask me (and you are) “Downtime,” if utilized appropriately, can be a great opportunity! But it CAN lead to feelings of boredom or discouragement if you do not stay motivated. So DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN! You must learn to create happiness, and actively find ways to keep moving forward—we should never become complacent; doing even one lil’ thing every day can help you to stay motivated, keep your “knives sharp,” and will certainly help bring you closer to all of your goals.
I like to call downtime “Strategic Re-engagement.”
Now, okay, that may sound a little dry, but it is also active and positive. Dr. Brené Brown calls hers “Whitespace,” and I like that too, for sometimes re-engagement means going internal, taking that bubble bath and binge-watching ‘Downton Abbey;’ and sometimes it means putting on your big-girl pants and just gosh-darn-taking that real-estate course. And, yes, sometimes it means being a little busted and taking that temp job at Loserville Café. But ALL of these are valid, acceptable, and just a part of The Thing of being any kind of freelancer.
Here are a few practical tips for making the most of your downtime:
Nothing… and I mean Priscilla-Lopez-Original-Cast-of-A-Chorus-Line-N-O-T-H-I-N-G is going to happen at all if you don’t start with #1.
Make a freakin’ Plan already.
You take your pick— quiet-time or hard-work time, both are critical.
Quiet time is essential because it gives you the space to reflect on your life, make plans and re-charge your batteries.
Hard work is vital to all true growth.
Having a freaking PLAN will just help you get the most out of your time, and thus the most of your life.
A) Before downtime begins, ask yourself what you're hoping/expecting to get out of it.
- Do you want to do something productive, just have fun, or need to genuinely recuperate?
- Do you want to mix active and inactive options?
- Is there something specific you’ve been meaning to do for a long time? (Visit Norway / join the World Sudoku championship /take a clown class?)
- Are you on a time/ money budget?
B) Jot down a few downtime options, and how much TIME to dedicate to each activity. 1- 4 items is a good start. It can be anything from learning to juggle, visiting family, to pargeing your driveway.
C) Make a schedule.
Busy people often “blah” away valuable downtime because they haven't scheduled a gosh darn meaningful thing into their falsely busy lives. But “resting-artists,” are often more guilty of “frittering” the downtime away than anyone. Where oh WHERE did October 17th get away to while I was not-online-shopping/ playing video games/ watching Judge Judy?
Just… suddenly it was 10pm.
Have some ideas.
Commit to an exact time when your downtime ends.
Set an alarm if it will help you.
2. Take (an actual) freakin’ break.
But actually do it.
The last week of July I was on my first vacation in 8 years. (?!!) EIGHT. YEARS. I went to Lake Tahoe with my brother and his young (gah-dorable) family. I was discussing how excited I was to possibly return to Lake Tahoe next summer—this is how the conversation went:
AL: This place is so beautiful—I’ve never been here! I’m so excited to return next year! JORDAN: You’re coming back?
AL: yes, I am singing in the music festival next summer.
JORDAN: How are you going to get time off from work?
AL: Well, I actually get to take a few vacation days.
JORDAN: …Wait. So… you are going to take a vacation from your 8-shows-a-week schedule, to go… work more? Just... in another place?
AL: …Um. Okay, yes. … I take your point.
So. Be present in the moment, Sleep in once in a while (it will envelop you in warmth, coziness and rainbows—just don’t do it every day). Read, grab a pal and organize to do something actually FUN, switch off your devices, take a trip, or maybe even just be idle for an entire weekend!
That's right. Take a break. A real one.
And if you have any doubts about how to do this guilt-free? Watch your pet. The Kween herself Tatiana Angela Lansbury Romanov sure knows how to make the most of her life’s work of downtime; take a leaf out of Tati’s book and take four naps…
3. Improve a skill-set / Brush up
Many of us unknowingly put limits on ourselves too often.
Don’t limit yourself.
You can be anything and anyone that you want to be and not just like in the Hall & Oates song.
If you’ve come to the big city with ‘nothing but a dance belt and a tube of chapstick’ to pursue your dream of working as an artist, then one can almost guarantee that you’re talented in some manner—some of which you may not have even considered yet.
I remember the first time I ever took an African Dance class at The Guthrie Theatre… “Whaaaaat the actual hell is going on…?” I thought, as I stomped wildly across the floor to admittedly fantastic but super-intense drumming. What the hell was actually going on was I WAS KICKING MAJOR ASS AT AFRICAN DANCE and totally nailing life! New passion, new respect, new self-possession about an innate mastery I never knew I possessed all because I said “F*** it” and dove in just because. Taking the time to explore these other areas of our art is crucial to creating a diverse artist and human being – which everyone should aim to be.
4. Get a job. Yep. That job.
You are going to become obsessed with getting a new job. Not only because you need to feed your hungry belly, pay your landlord and not starve your pets, but also because you probably just can’t handle how much you feel like your talent, mind, energy and passionate self are being wasted.
I understand that, and you need to know how valid, human, and understandable those feelings are. But obsessing about the next “gig” (as in “everything will be okay when I finally book XYZ”) isn’t the answer to your distress.
A new artistic job is NOT the answer to your existential problems.
Some kind of job is gonna feed your cat and occupy your mind.
5. Live an Artistic Life
It is easy to get tied up in your "Career Identity—" you know the one. The one where your entire existence and feeling of life-purpose is tied specifically to being PAID for your art? Yeah, that one. It makes sense— there is a tremendous sense of professional artistic “legitimacy—” as in: “If I am paid to do it I must be the real thing.” While that is true, it is also true that creating art, and practicing artistic living for its own sake makes a human being no less an artist.
I challenge you (and all artists, professional or non) to view your entire LIFE as an artistic opportunity.
To live your LIFE artistically.
Elizabeth Gilbert (beautiful writer and author of Eat Pray Love) has written and entire book (that you should buy right now) on the subject of living creatively.
“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person […] A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
She is, of course, deeply correct. One of the glories of the arts themselves is that you can participate in them at any level and have it edify and glorify your life!
That means you can:
- Work in an office and paint on Sundays.
- Sing in a choir
- Join a community theatre
- Start a blog to chart and share your writing (how do you think London Still started?)
- Take “old-lady” tap class
- Practice cello BECAUSE IT MAKES YOU HAPPY, and it is fulfilling to develop mastery for any reason.
But that’s not all.
Living creatively and artistically is not just for the artsy-types or the creative elite. There is not “Creativity Membership Club” in which one is either already a member, or never will be. Don’t allow your childhood “creativity demons” (like that meany-pants art teacher that told you you couldn’t draw because your sky was green and unicorn had three horns) torpedo you. Creative living is for ANY-and-EVERY-one.
That ALSO means you can:
- Start a blog about whatever
- Create THE most beautiful birthday cakes for your children
- Write hand-written letters
- Throw beautiful parties
- Revel in your personal sense of style
Searching constantly for creative outlets and sources of expression and you will feel far less frustrated about your “real life,” and it will also make you healthier in general. But literally. Science says so.
Vulnerability and Shame researcher Brené Brown (one of my total heroes) says:
“the notion of ‘I’m not very creative’ just doesn’t work: ‘There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.’”She also points out that
“Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”Think of art, and of creativity as a WAY OF LIFE, and watch out world! You are on the super-highway to happiness, self-fulfillment, and super-strength vitality! Now, if that isn’t a superpower I don’t know what is.
6. Lighten the heck up.
When presented with the choice between being cranky or being grateful, my dearest friends, please CHOOSE JOY.
Now I am not talking about denying your very real feelings of disappointment or rejection (you’d be a big ol’ weirdo if you never did—as well as a big ol’ pants-on-fire), I am talking about choosing how to RESPOND to those feelings AFTER you have felt them. Do you LIVE in the muck like a muck-monster, or do you rise up, wipe the dust from your face and continue on with dignity and gusto?
Respond to situations, rather than give in to knee-jerk Reactions.
Remember you have the gift of being alive.
You have a consciousness, you are capable of ideas, tasting delicious food, listening to music, holding hands, playing in the snow, loving and being loved.
We are on this planet ONCE, and that is IT.
Lighten the heck up.
You got this.