EDITOR'S NOTE: This edition of Square One is written by Ashley H. White
Dallas — I’ve always been a busy person. If I don’t have 18 projects going at once, I feel lost. No one who knows me will be surprised to read that.
Currently, through IMPRINT we are working on three shows as well as planning our second (!!) season, among other projects.
Finding balance is hard. You can go a week not having taken a five-minute break for yourself or for your sanity, and then stop in the shower and realize you’re standing there with shampoo in your hair, analyzing your to-do list or some decision you recently made instead of rinsing out the bubbles. I’m trying my best to stop doing that, even as our list of to-dos increases. My hair deserves better. I deserve better. And at the end of the day, IMPRINT deserves better.
I’ve been working to find balance.
How do we find a healthy work/life balance as artists? I think it’s different from a more traditional work/life balance…for many reasons. But one main reason, I think, is because our art is a part of us; it surrounds us. It’s a normal occurrence for us artistic types to drop everything to obsess over a new project, a new idea, a new venture… Letting our focus be completely swallowed by the new piece. Add a traditional 9-to-5 to that equation and you’ve got a recipe for emotional and physical exhaustion. And, for the majority of us, this work we pour ourselves into isn’t our full-time job. It’s a thing we need to do, we couldn’t be ourselves without it. It fulfills us. But we haven’t reached the point of being able to live solely on it (dare I hope and add, “yet”).
What I’ve learned so far through the sleepless nights and tireless days, while standing covered in paint, or giving notes to actors after an intense rehearsal, is that self care may be the most important part of leadership.
If we’re not taking care of ourselves and taking time for our sanity… we’re not at our best. And if we’re not at our best, the work suffers.
In my search for self care over the past six months, I’ve found a few things that really help me:
1) Admit when you need it — and don’t feel bad. Skip the party and say you need time for yourself. It’s taken me way too long to be comfortable saying no. I’ve not mastered it yet, but I have started openly telling people I have to say no for #selfcare and I’ve yet to have someone shame me for it. More often than not, the response is “good for you!” I don’t know why, but the hashtag helps.
2) Find moments of silence. I have a two-year old, so it’s rarely quiet in my house. But I actively try to find a way to sit in silence for at least five minutes a day and just… breathe. I try to clear my head and focus on nothing and ground myself.
3) Put your phone down. I love to cook dinner for my family and we have a rule against phones at the dinner table. It’s one of my favorite moments of the day, just being with my husband and son. I also try not to look at it in bed — emphasis on the “try” there… I’m working on it. But my goal is to have some “phone-free” time every day. It has done wonders.
4) Lists are everything. I now have spreadsheets on top of spreadsheets of different projects and to-dos. I didn’t used to be that way. I thought I could keep track of it all in my head. Not the case. Lists (especially color-coded) now keep me sane. I’m also not sure there is a more gratifying feeling than crossing something off when you’ve completed it. Hell, sometimes I write things down just so I can cross them off a few minutes later.
Oh, and putting a notepad on the table next to the bed for those middle of the night ideas. I used to type those into my phone, but then would wind up in a 3 a.m. social media scroll-fest instead of going back to sleep.
5) Know your needs and make them a priority. I’ve worked to define what it is I need to feel balanced. From those small moments of meditation in a day to evenings dedicated to staying in, spending time with my family, and staying healthy.
One thing I’ve done my absolute best to do from the very beginning of this is take time for family. I’m proud of having been able to do that — and nothing keeps me more balanced than moments at home with them. When I start to feel myself move slightly off kilter, a trip to the park or zoo, or a date night is what’s truly needed to put me back on track.
On a typical weeknight when rehearsing a show, I start rehearsals at 7:30 so that I can still pick up my son, take him home, cook the family dinner, and change before heading out the door. Is it 30 minutes later than most evening rehearsals? Yes, but making that slight adjustment to rehearsal schedules has a huge payoff. It works to fulfill my spirit. In this season of busyness, those dinners, the moments with my family, the designated nights off — they save me.
I’m not saying I have a perfect system, and I won’t pretend I don’t sometimes still find myself standing in a daze with bubbles of shampoo in my hair, or gazing blankly at a restaurant menu trying to figure out what it is I’m reading. But I will say taking decided steps toward taking better care of me has had a great impact on my entire self — and the commitment I’m able to make to my projects and my partners on this journey.
Does perfect balance exist for people like us? I really don’t know. Maybe the path of an artist is finding moments of clarity in the chaos… like I tend to find spending time with my family. It’s only through allowing ourselves these moments of self-care and balance that we can thrive.
I’m working on it.
» Ashley H. White and Joe Messina are co-artistic directors of IMPRINT theatreworks
» Square One now runs on the third Monday of the month
PREVIOUSLY IN SQUARE ONE
- Septempber: Should We Start a Theater?
- October: Taking the Next Steps
- November: Planning the Season
- December: Finding the Right Space, Part 1