(UPDATE BELOW!) Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a wonderful break and got some much needed R&R. For those of you on the west side of the European continent, I hope you stayed dry! We were flooded out of it in Ireland, with power cuts on Christmas Day and lakes appearing on our local access roads! Back to Brussels now and it’s just as wet here although there are a few breaks in the grey! But it’s getting cold finally, which is a relief! I was starting to get really worried for the plants in particular – the trees and shrubs are in a confused limbo between autumn and spring with no hard winter, and there is no way we can manage of the weeds that next spring will bring without at least one really hard ground frost. This subject has become particularly close to my mind because……… (wee drum roll……) I have my own garden!! Finally!!! We move house in March and I will have a whole 100m squared of beautiful rich garden, all to myself! I. Can’t. Wait. So be prepared for many posts on renovations, struggles with pests, questions on soil, rainfall, temperature, where to find builders’ skips in Brussels! Wahey!
I was saddened over Christmas to hear from a few friends of their struggles last year. Even a few burn outs among peers in the cultural sector. When it’s just one person you can attribute it to individual mismanagement, but when it’s a section of your peers you have to start wondering where we’re going wrong as a sector. I saw that coming myself a few years ago – the intense pressure I pile on myself regarding succeeding as an independent combined with the struggles to deal with a personal life on top. Finally I decided to give my personal life precedence over professional and I’m so glad I did this. I’ve worked hard in the last year to change my life, with a view to removing much of the added stress that comes from freelance projects and low self esteem.
It’s not easy work. Any independent in any sector can tell you this. We pile enormous pressure on ourselves to succeed, and it doesn’t help things to read blogs about “successful businesses for creative single moms” or “the perfect work/life balance for an independent woman”. The first step is to stop reading this! After that, the biggest work I had to do was to reign in my ego. It’s difficult to truly commit to a relaxed, easily managed lifestyle if your ego is constantly telling you that you should strive for bigger, better and be constantly in competition with the Jones’s. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not proposing that there is anything wrong with ambition – a sense of ambition keeps my house beautiful, my sewing projects of professional quality and my bread & butter work at a level of excellence. But there’s such thing as wild ambition that is only ever damaging. I’m saying that I had to fight my panicked reaction to the snide comments from peers (never colleagues, they’re awesome!) such as “it’s well for some” when I head home at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon; to fight the urge to say yes to every single little creative commission that comes my way; and to stop flinging myself whole into every project idea that runs across my brain. Slowly, I changed my attitude towards a more relaxed life – I quashed the ego and the shame of taking things easy slowly disappeared. Imagine that! I felt shame at taking life easier than running around like a madman! What is wrong with my generation that we do this to ourselves?! At first I responded to those snide comments with pointing out how much I get done in my morning hours, and that my pay scale reflects that I’m only in the office part time. I don’t do this any more. It’s nobody’s business. (UPDATE: I spent 45minutes trying to find an article I read months ago, to support my point here, and failed to find it. A few days after publishing this post, the piece I was looking for appeared in an article in The Guardian! Lucky lucky! Have a look at this theory about my generation. It hits the nail on the head! Also have a read of this Guardian book review where I found the piece, it’s also curious!)
This isn’t for everyone, I know. A slower, calmer life is just not fun for many people. But there has to be a balance somewhere. This burn out period is ridiculous and absolutely unnecessary. On top of all of this we should be taking care of each other. Keep an eye out for friends who seem under pressure and talk to them before the burn out stage. Make sure you work on building your community around you so that if you do need to ask for help somewhere down the line, you don’t find yourself alone on an island. This work takes time too, a community just doesn’t build itself around you!
Talking of building communities (see what I did there?! Nice, neat transition between two unrelated topics 😉 ) a few months ago myself and The Belgian joined a local GASAP and we’re *loving* it! In Brussels, a GASAP is a group of people who support a local farmer by paying in advance for a bimonthly delivery of veg. It’s self-organised and requires everyone’s input to make it a success. Our local GASAP gets our veg from a lovely young farmer called Lea – have a look at her facebook page. It’s lovely to get a random mix of veg every two weeks and try to figure out recipes for weird looking veg that you can’t even pronounce, let alone cook! And the best part is that Lea is supported in her enterprise but a dedicated group of champions. If you live in Brussels, and you want to join your local group, check out the list of GASAP’s in Brussels.
Our Bazaar creative group will start meeting again from February. Even though I’m moving house this spring, I hope we can manage to keep the monthly meetings in place as they’re so valuable in my life (and I hope in other’s too…)
Hope to see you soon!