It’s an age-old problem. You work strange hours. You’re working all hours to establish yourself or survive. Or you simply get so focused that you forget everything else. All these are reasons why your friendships and emotional support systems can suffer badly when you have a creative career. Too often, your clients are expecting the impossible of you – and you probably pretty much deliver it. But that’s not a sustainable way to live your life.
Male artists often underestimate the power of friendships
Comforting as the myth of the ‘tough guy’ is, it’s not a healthy role model. All of us, male or female, need people we can share fears with, be emotional and vulnerable with, and gain comfort from. And I think creative people need it more than most, because of the pressures of their careers. Many men expect their girlfriends or wives to do this for them, and unconsciously believe that friendships are simply for ‘hanging out and having a laugh’. That may work for a while, but it can put an intolerable strain on your relationship. It’s a romantic myth (and a very unhelpful one) that your partner should be ‘everything you ever need’. No one person can ever be all that another person needs. It’s too much pressure. And what happens if your relationship breaks up?
Embrace the ‘friend zone’
If you’re male, you’ll probably have heard other men complaining ‘Not only did she not want to be my girlfriend, she expected me to be there for her and offer her emotional support!’ Now that seems like an outrageous expectation to some men – because commonly their male friendships don’t include the emotional support element; only their romantic ones. But women’s friendships do. The woman described here is actually treating the man who’s complaining like a real friend – and would probably be up for emotionally supporting him too! A wise man would take advantage of that as part of his overall support system since his male friends are either unlikely to offer it, or when they do, are unlikely to be as practiced at it. The ‘friend zone’ is no bad thing.
Friendships help you regulate your hours and keep you balanced
Time spent with friends may seem like time wasted – when you could have been working on your career. But your emotional self, which does an awful lot of hard work when you’re an artist, needs time to rest and recuperate. In other words, you can use the time spent with friends to help you regulate your work hours and days – so that you get proper rest at the optimum intervals for producing good work. I know that sounds very ‘cold’ but I want to give you a reason to feel good about putting time for friends and family aside regularly. Even in career terms, it isn’t a waste of time.
How to nurture your friendships alongside your creative career
1. Use your calendar – Your calendar is already your best friend when it comes to planning your working life. But you can also use it to make sure you get enough ‘down’ time. Make a note of every event you hear of that you might like to go to – and issue invitations well in advance. You’ll unconsciously ‘work towards’ that break – and it’ll be a proper mental rest.
2. Encourage last-minute invitations – If you find yourself unable to commit because your working life is chaotic, ask your friends to include you in last-minute get-togethers. Thank them profusely when they do, especially if you’re not able to attend. It’s a good way to break things up.
3. Set up lunch dates and ‘tea’ dates – It’s good for you to work regular hours in your studio. For a start your brain gets the message that the ideas need to start flowing at 9am (or midday – whenever you start work). Doing this means you’ll also break at a regular hour for lunch or tea/coffee. Which means you can invite friends to join you confident that an hour off in their company won’t impinge on your work.
4. Prioritise important events – Regardless of how important your career is, you don’t want to neglect the important events in your family and friends’ lives. Your elderly grandmother’s 100th birthday, your own wedding anniversary or a friend’s wedding are not events you should try to avoid. Make space for them and be there for the important people in your life. You need their love and support – and it has to be a two-way street. And it’s what they deserve from you too.
If you want to know more about how to get the professional and emotional support you need, you’ll find more information in ‘Organizing for Creative People’.