The Workaholic Pedestal
We freelancers have a tendency to never truly be away from our work, regardless of the time or day of the week. Especially if like me, your work station is in your home. We work long hours and dedicate ourselves fully to whatever project we have at hand. We loose sleep, skip social gatherings, eat whatever is quick and easy so we can get back to work. I have noticed that there is a sense of pride in general among freelancers that we are so in love with our work that we can dedicate ourselves this way. Passion for your chosen profession is definitely a plus!
However, I have also observed a downside to this part of freelancing. That dedication can cross the line into an unhealthy workaholic lifestyle, and other freelancers actually encourage it. There is an underlying unspoken rule in freelancer culture that if you’re not working, you’re slacking. I’ve seen other freelancers take subtle stabs at their peers for taking time off to see family, to tend to daily life, or to just have a day (or three) to simply BREATHE and do something other than art. Doing things like comparing your work load with others’ work load, making yourself out to be the harder working one. Referring to things like showering, cooking, and cleaning as “free time” or “vacation”. It creates or adds to guilt surrounding work, which is really not a nice thing to do to your friends and peers.
The disclaimer here is that clearly not every freelancer does this, and I think those that do are not being purposefully malicious, so please don’t misread this as an attack. I’m guilty of playing into this myself, we are just falling into a part of the starving artist stereotype; The idea that your chosen craft/art must encompass ALL of your being, every day and every moment for you to truly be passionate about it.
The truth is, there IS life outside of art and work, and it’s not a contest. We are living beings that must eat and sleep, and we are social animals that must have a connection with others. So not only do we HAVE to do things other than art, but it’s also ok to spend time doing other things that make you happy. It doesn’t mean you are less passionate about your work, or that other artists who spend more time on theirs love it more.
And yes, there are deadlines we must work under. But none of us want to be starving artists. None of us enjoy loosing sleep, eating crappy or skipping meals, working our fingers to the bone, letting friendships fall apart… These are not good things. You aren’t a cooler or more a passionate artist for making those sacrifices. So I think instead of putting that lifestyle on a pedestal, we should be encouraging one another to take time to care for ourselves, and to have a life outside of their work. Just like anyone else doing any other kind of work. =)
YES. Thank you. It makes me really uncomfortable when I hear professionals saying things like “if you are not drawing 24/7 you’ll never make it”, implying that having outside interests or taking care of yourself means you will fail. You undoubtedly need to be dedicated and focused to succeed as a freelancer, but what is the point of having the so-called freedom that freelancing is supposed to provide you if you can’t even leave your desk every once in a while? Exercise, get outside, socialize, have other hobbies. I’ve found I’m more productive and happier and healthier and more passionate about my work and my career when I take time off, every day, to get away from work for a little while. Building a career is important and rewarding, but your life is not comprised solely of the amount of work you are able do. Your life is not defined solely by how many hours you clock at your work desk.
THANK YOU x2. When people are like “oh my I was so busy I forgot to have lunch” I’m like excuse me?
I’m going to sit down for AT LEAST 20 minutes to have a proper lunch and it ain’t gonna be no sandwich either. It’s going to be a proper meal on a plate. And a soup too maybe.
I’m Portuguese you can’t feed me sandwiches
This is… important for me. I have never experienced either side of the interactions talked about - other freelancers giving my time off the side-eye, or I giving it to others - but I do this to myself, often badly.
Though I’m more aware of it these days and am able to mitigate it to some extent, I do have a standing pattern where I overcommit and then push myself savagely to pull off a successful juggling act. When I’m in the middle of a full-throttle drive, I often come home from my day job and then paint until I fall asleep, and on my days off I paint for something like 13 hours - I calculated at one point that during these periods, I work well over 100 hours a week between art and job. Meal breaks are fast affairs, absolutely espousing the ‘fast and simple’ idea; sometimes I’ll allow myself a half hour to an hour of downtime along with it, but sometimes I won’t.
I know it’s unhealthy, and I’m doing my best to ease off of the cycle. A lot of it stems from some twisted shit during college, and what’s not helpful is that the same twisted shit has come to make me fiercely proud of the idiot lengths I can push myself to.
The first step was becoming aware of it, and the second step has been the long, slow, sometimes halted progress of consciously reminding myself to adopt healthier work habits.
It’s difficult, though, when the most common phrase I hear in praise is that I’m such a hard worker, and that I went from being thoroughly mediocre at the beginning of college to being good because I put my nose to the grindstone so constantly. I know that being hardworking is not inherently unhealthy, and that there is in fact a line between that and what I sometimes do, but it’s become so easy to step over that line that it’s only by very deliberate choices I stay on the right side of it more often than not these days.
This is important.
I trashed my health so badly doing this 2001-2005 that it took me until 2011 to fully recover.
There were a few years where if I wasn’t overworked, I was convinced I was screwing up. And yeah - so not a good place to be.
I still like to work hard, often for crazy stretches of time. I’m deadline-oriented, always have been. But there’s time for mellowing built into the deadlines now, too. Having someone remind you of that every now and again’s a good thing.
Long but VERY important.