Thoughts on Maintaining Balance

This piece has been something I've been meaning to jot down for a while. For me, writing is a great way to shape and critique my own thoughts. The push to write this came when I received an e-mail from an artist I follow and friend, musician Quiet Entertainer, aka Greg Freeman. I interviewed Greg when I was focusing my blog on music and he and I have since continued to write back and forth. Greg's e-mail to his fans was a good push to finally put these thoughts in my head into words.

It's always striking to me to think back about how I spend my time, doing the things I do. To me, life is a puzzle with different pieces to it: all the friends we make, all the places we go, all the media we consume, balancing work and play, and the lack of separation between the two.

In high school, a teacher once played a video about choosing a career. It was my senior year, and teachers doing that sort of thing is rather common I think. One of the young adults featured in the video was just starting his career as an engineer at Fender, the guitar company. He told a story about how since he loved playing guitar and music in general, he wanted to work close to it. So he found that electrical engineering was a degree he could earn that would help him get there. The young man was about 21 or 22, not much older than me at the time (17) or much younger than me now (28).

Years later, I'd read a story by Seth Godin wherein he shares a story of a friend of his who was also a musician that wanted badly to work in the music business. This friend of his became a publicist and  barely, if ever, plays music. As Godin tells it, had his friend followed another passion and became a high school teacher, he'd be much more likely to make great music in his spare time. By being tangentially close to music, he effectively pulled himself away from it.

One of the best secrets an artist of any kind has is their day job. The day job an important piece of the puzzle because it pays the bills, enables spending to create our art, and ultimately keeps us comfortable. I'd never considered a day job as a noble rite until recently, when two things happened: I read a piece by Austin Kleon where he strongly endorses, and he himself is a successful artist and I finally got around to watching the TV series Dexter.

In Dexter, the title character juggles between different modes of himself: his day job, his personal life and his "art work" (i.e. his vigilante killings). As a metaphor for the struggles we all go through to balance what we need to do with what we feel we must do, the show itself is a work of art. The struggles Dexter goes through as his pendulum swings between his different lives is a great illustration of how we all feel from time to time. The fact that what the character is struggling with is finding time to kill people simply ensures the storytelling survives in the television business.

The important part of balancing one's life is keeping a balance. The cliché side belongs to the day job, because it's so easy to be lulled into complacency. I could easily not make any plans with friends or start any new projects, then just come home from work each night and flip on the TV and indulge in a few hours of Fringe or Dexter (my current favorite shows). However, it's just as easy for me to over-indulge in any other part of my life, be it trying to meet interesting people through conferences or on Twitter, or becoming sucked into working on a side project like a blog or web app.

The key balance for me is finding the right place for everything and the right people to do it with.

For me, this comes down to a few areas:

  1. Day Job – Technology is a passion of mine, it always has been. Luckily I've found a way to work with it and have it be a great day job at the same time. I design ways for people to use technology, and I do that design for people who work in a domain that's very interesting to me. That last part is very important.
  2. Music/Guitar – Playing music for me has to be a social activity. I tried for years to make great music on my own and struggled constantly. Lately I've been playing music with some new friends and for the first time in a long time, I really enjoy it.
  3. Media/Entertainment – Consuming media, be it books, magazines, TV, movies, the internet and on and on, is an activity that I most often struggle to maintain balance with. I'm an introvert, but while a more social introvert, I do need my time alone to recharge. I usually couple this with watching a favorite TV series before bed or lately, reading on my iPad while eating a meal.
  4. Socializing – If I don't have ample time with good friends or make an effort to meet new & interesting people, I begin to feel isolated. Part of this is comes from me being an only child, but more so I think it's just part of being human. Likewise I've found it incredibly helpful and also mutually beneficial to be an organizer of events. To that end, I often help my good friends plan events to meet up with one another,  pitch in with a local professional group, and make a point of spending time on Twitter chatting with newer friends.

In the end, our day job is a key part of lives that should be something we enjoy doing, but it doesn't need to be the one piece of our lives that rules all else. As told by Godin, Kleon, Dexter and yes, even high school career day videos, life is a careful balance of all the different things we both want and need to do.