Your music career or your love life — you choose

It’s an impossible trade off. And it’s the dilemma every artist faces on some level. Your music career or your love life — How do you choose?

No matter your gender, sexual orientation, or marital status, there are a number of career-related factors that make romance for musicians problematic.

This rarely discussed issue is a source of stress for many musicians. (So thank you, Brandon, for raising this “elephant in the room” topic in our MusiciansMakingIt FB group.)

Full disclosure: I’m the last person to be giving out relationship advice. I’ve had a rather checkered history in that department.

Still, there are a few points I’ve learned the hard way. Points to help BOTH your music career and your relationships.

Let’s dive in.

Does it have to be a trade-off between our music career and our love life? Do we have to sacrifice one for the other?

A little background: I attended an all-girls high school for the performing arts in the 70s when the women’s movement was ramping up. And somehow, this left me believing it was an either/or choice.

You could either have an artistic career and be fully committed to that, or you could have a love life and a family. One or the other: your art or ‘real life.’

Whether we made the choice consciously or by default. Whether we later regretted or not, it was a choice.

It turns out this wasn’t just a 70s thing. Here’s a recent quote on the subject . . .

“Some women choose to follow men and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.”
     — Lady Gaga

Of course, there are successful musicians who manage to have both thriving artistic careers AND satisfying, stable home lives. Maybe not as many women as men, but let’s examine strategies and perspectives we can all use to improve our situations.

Finding balance between your music career with your love life

Let’s focus on a set of factors that play into finding this elusive balance.

1. Clarify your needs

This past week I heard David Lang’s Manifesto performed by the vocal group Cantus. It’s a setting of Google auto-completions of the phrase “I want to be with someone who . . .”

Manifesto is essentially a wishlist of traits people want from a partner. The text includes to “be with someone who won’t get tired of me . . . Who is exactly what I’ve said I always wanted. [And] who accepts me for who I am.”

We’re all human. We all want unconditional love.

As musicians, we want our significant other to put up with our “artistic temperament.”

And we want a “get out of jail free card” for periods of high stress, when we’re on deadline, cramming for a concert, or otherwise going off the deep end.

We all have needs and wants, realistic and otherwise.

It’s a lot to expect of a partner, right?

2. Clue in to the give and take of relationships

For all that you are wanting or expecting from a partner, consider what your partner wants from you.

If you’re like most musicians, your art comes first. It’s the thing you can’t live without and it’s your first priority.

So your partner may feel caught in a 3-way relationship. If your art is your first love then your partner has to be content playing second fiddle.

This can be a set up for resentment about the time and emotional energy you need to devote to your art.

Add kids to the equation and now we’re talking REALLY difficult balance issues.

What helps?

3. Apply the golden rule

You have the choice of what version of you to bring to the relationship.

No matter how busy you are, you can find the small “every day” ways to bring loving kindness to your interactions. LA-based shrinks Phil Stutz and Barry Michels (authors of The Tools and Coming Alive) talk about these as “microtransactions.”

These are the thoughtful actions that speak volumes about who we really are and how we treat and value others.

Examples include taking the time to bring our full attention to our loved one’s account of how their day went. It’s offering to help, it’s cleaning up after ourselves and others. It’s saying thank you and meaning it. And it’s smiling and asking how are you doing? and then listening attentively.

Real habits of respect and loving kindness can brighten the other person’s day as well as our own. These habits carry far more weight than the “love you” we may automatically say when we’re hurrying out the door or saying goodbye on a call.

4. Manage your time so you can fit in having a life

Ultimately, what we most want from our partners — and what they want from us — is attention.

But when you’re juggling your art with a day job and you’re under a deadline with a grant, commission, or concert, attention feels like the last thing you have to spare.

How are you supposed to fit everything in?

It’s not just your love life that suffers. Because you can’t advance your art if you’re not getting any sleep. And if you’re not tending to your spiritual and physical health, your creativity is suffering.

The best reasons to manage your time is for the quality of your art AND the quality of your life.

5. Be a pro: make a plan

I get it. Most artists hate planning and hate having a schedule.

No one wants to feel as though they’re punching a clock. We want freedom to let the muse speak to us whenever and wherever.

But planning is NOT the enemy of artistic freedom. It’s actually the secret to getting more work done at a higher level.

“Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied. ‘Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’”
     ― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Prolific artists plan. They respect their artistic work by making consistent time for it. That way, they can allocate time for their other priorities as well.

The problem is, too many of us try to manage time by deadlines. We procrastinate starting projects and then pull all-nighters to meet grant or commission deadlines, letting everything else by the way side, including our partners.

If you’re caught in this pattern, it’s a disservice to your art and your career. AND your partner.

Of course, many of us are simply trying to do too much.

Making a plan and a schedule can at least help you map out how you want to proceed. That way, you can be more considerate of your partner and make the best use of the time you have.

6. Clean up your habits, live by your priorities

Make your priorities real. Turn them into scheduled, consistent habits. That’s how busy people make time for what matters to them.

For example, consider a weekly date night. Make it a commitment because your relationship is a priority.

Have a consistent wake up time and bedtime if sleep is a priority.

If you meditate, pray, or practice yoga, adopt a daily routine to help you start the day with a clear and positive mind. If creativity is a priority.

Build a project management habit. Start large projects early and work consistently on them. That way, you can build in time for family and friends. And still have the time to improve the work over the final weeks instead of cramming at the last minute.

“Most artists spend the vast majority of their time dealing with immediate problems. The PR package that was supposed to go out two days ago. The grant that’s due Friday. The communications that stream in all day every day.

Planning lets us spend a small amount of time on the big, long-term things that are most important to us. And that means those big things will actually happen. Planning shifts artists from reactive to proactive.”
     — Andrew Simonet, Making Your Life as an Artist

7. Define success for yourself

This week, spend 10 minutes in a quiet undistracted space thinking about what kind of life you really want for yourself.

Think through your values and priorities: what matters to you most. The version of you that you most want to bring to others.

Then ask yourself, how you are making good on these priorities through your actions.

Think about how you can demonstrate your values and your priorities in your schedule, and in the way you treat your partner, your family, your colleagues, and yourself.

Small investments of time in planning, in listening, and in focusing, can transform your whole life—your relationship, career, and more.

We are all works in progress. Here’s to getting better, one day at a time.

I’d love to hear what’s working for you in terms of work / life balance. Join the conversation in our free Facebook group. Happy to welcome you to our supportive community!

Looking forward,

Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well

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