Moving toward the big picture and thinking of things like your career goals, personal milestones, and creative identity can inspire fear, denial or apprehension – especially for creatives who work for themselves.
Nikita, a burn out coach and consultant who helps people reflect, prioritize, and manage their life goals, offered some advice about stepping back in order to move forward. He didn’t only emphasize moving forward – but moving in a conscious direction.
Most of his clients benefit from a daily reflection period. Just 5-10 minutes to think about their underlying motivations and drivers allowed them to reassess and reboot, without getting swept up in competing goals.
Upon hearing this from Nikita, I was reminded of the talks that we had on protecting your sacred downtime. Creatives often place too much emphasis on ‘uptime’ where they are constantly planning, problem solving, and producing. As a result, times of rest and relaxation may be treated as things that ‘just happen’ on their own. To maintain a healthy mind, body, and creative career, we must maintain a deliberate and intentional approach to our downtime.
I recently read a book called Grit by Angela Duckworth, that featured a doctor that pioneered some of the first large-scale mindfulness programs in American hospitals. Among his long volunteer shifts and struggles to make ends meet, the doctor maintained a self-reflection practice where he meditated daily and made journal entries. His discovery is surprising but truthful for many young professionals. He said, “I woke early in the morning and I worked long into the night. Many details escape me but I do remember this: it wasn’t until I stopped to reflect until I realized what had happened.”
We can get so caught up in the never-ending to do lists and upcoming deadlines in the freelance world. It isn’t until we step back that we can truly get perspective on the bigger picture of our careers and our lives.
Perhaps a more drastic, long-term approach to such reflection is a practice borrowed from academia – the sabbatical. Stefan Sagmeister, design rockstar and recreational nudist, outlines the average western career structure in his TED talk The Power of Time Off:
- 25 years learning
- 40 years working
- 15 years retirement
He has decided to reconfigure his career – and his life – by taking 5 years off from retirement. Instead, every 7 years he’ll take a year off.
Among the obvious pros of this approach, Sagmeister notes that this adds a great deal of perspective and value to his daily work. The time off and mental distance flows back into the work he does on a daily basis.
Another, slightly less famous but equally awesome designer, is my friend and former design instructor, Jayson Zaleski. Upon facing some large turning points in his life, Jayson decided it was time to reevaluate his approach to his creative work. After dedicating a decade of his career to a high-profile design studio in downtown Toronto, he found that he hadn’t created any personal work in ages.
He decided to take a year off to live a frugal lifestyle enriched with lectures, art events, and plenty of reading. To record all of his new ideas, Jayson started journaling and sharing his drawings over Instagram. The floodgates were now open. Over the course of several months, Jayson amassed a following of over 6,000 without investing any time into personal marketing.
“Your work at times might seem self-interested or selfish but pursuing personal work can effect your style in ways of output that are almost unimaginable,” Jayson shares.
Even if you are exploring creative passions or pursuits for personal gain, they can ultimately influence your professional success as well. Usually in unexpected ways, and often for the better! While regular vacations limit your ability to filter your experiences and enact long-term lifestyle changes, a longer leave can have profound effects.
Jayson has seen changes in his professional life, where much interest has come not from design work but from the new personal projects he has undertaken. His minimalist lifestyle has also had an impact on other areas, inspiring him to take a new approach to budgeting and time management.
“By reflecting, the active decision of scaling back and living a more modest lifestyle has impacted and influenced my life in ways that were completely unforeseen when starting this journey,” he explains.
Nikita also reminds us that we can continue this practice in more moderation, recognizing that not everyone has the flexibility or luxury of an extended break. “It doesn’t have to be so formal. It doesn’t have to be a year long. It can be a weekend off or a week off. If you can’t take a couple days off, there’s probably an issue with your business.”
We can get so locked up in our continuum of goal setting and performance evaluations. In this whole tangle, one can lose touch with the things that are important to us and drive us.
Whether you are struggling with a project brief, personal practice, or your broader career goals and definition, optimism is key to success and balance. Step back and stay positive to achieve your goals, improve your output, and push your practice into new territories.