If you’re like me or many of the actors I know, the phrase “work-life balance” might seem a laughable fantasy. But our culture’s romanticization of overworking is no healthier for an artist than anyone else. As we have discussed several times on this blog, an obsessive devotion to productivity will inevitably lead to physical and creative burnout. Easier said than done, to be sure. It’s something I constantly struggle with myself. But if you truly want to set yourself up for a sustainable, lifelong career in the arts, it’s imperative to start practicing setting healthy boundaries now. Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help you prioritize projects so that both your work and personal life are receiving the necessary attention.
1. Can I survive without this project’s paycheck?
We all have to eat and make rent. I’m certainly not here to tell anyone to turn down a paycheck that will help them survive. But sometimes we get so used to hoarding gigs out of desperation that we forget not every single one is life or death. Keeping your work in proper perspective will help you make decisions about your work from a place of confidence and consideration, and ultimately you will be less likely to clutter your schedule with projects that aren’t actually fulfilling or helpful to your career.
2. Am I growing as an artist?
For those rare, wonderful projects that truly challenge and inspire growth, sacrifices will be worth it. Now and then you get the opportunity that is worth going the extra mile, turning your life upside down and burning the candle at both ends when necessary. In those times, remember to take extra care with your physical and mental well being. Eat as well as you can, take your vitamins, hydrate, and carve out whatever small increments of personal time you can. Remember that during these times you might need to turn down more social obligations to devote time to your work. And remember that not every project is one of these projects.
3. Is the sacrifice too great?
It is so easy to get blinded by the eternal struggle for the next. But remember that your entire career will be engaged in that struggle. Don’t forget to live life along the way. Certainly, an actor’s schedule means we will have to make personal sacrifices. But we have the right to decide for ourselves which ones we make. Those irreplaceable moments–family weddings, births, funerals…they get space at the table too. If you’re off filming the next Game of Thrones, maybe there’s nothing you can do about it. But don’t get guilted and conned into thinking you’re not allowed to draw your own lines in the sand.
There are many pros and cons to consider when juggling your career and personal life. But when things get overwhelming or complicated, come back to these three simple questions. Take a step back and try to get a sense of the big picture. At the end of the day, no one can live your life for you. You call the shots. Someone will always be inconvenienced. Try to deal with it with grace and consideration, and remember: just because someone is upset doesn’t mean you were wrong.