As a creativity coach, I have an obligation to walk the talk. It’s important to me that my coaching strategies come not just from training and books, but from real-life experience and an active personal practice. If I were to champion the virtues of an early morning creative practice, for example, while I was secretly sleeping until noon and hadn’t flexed a creative muscle in years, I’m pretty sure that most of you would call me a fraud. And I’d have to agree.
In this vein, I recently came to an important decision.
I often work with clients who struggle with extreme shortages of time but are seemingly unable to edit anything out of their schedules. Looking in as an outsider, it’s not hard for me to identify items that might merit the chopping block in order to free up time for creative work. While I can make gentle suggestions, ultimately, those decisions can’t come from me; they have to come from the client’s own shifting perspective. That shift requires looking at everything with openness and a willingness to see beyond “I can’t.”
This year, like many of my clients, I found myself in the position of having too much to do — way too much to do — and being unable to see how I might do less. “But it’s all good, important, relevant stuff!” I told myself. “I’ve already gotten rid of the obvious things!” (Volunteering for the PTA, for example. Duh.)
Many of you know that in January of this year, I opened Open Studio Groton, a brick-and-mortar studio here in Massachusetts, with my dear friend and business partner Ellen Olson-Brown. Open Studio was launched as a place where people in our community could connect, create, and grow. Looking back over the year, we have an amazing collection of successes to celebrate. Connections have been made over ideas, projects, and conversations. Artwork, manuscripts, businesses, friendships — all were created in our cozy little space. Individuals connected and grew in their own ways: some developed into stronger writers through our writers’ workshops and writers’ groups, some became more flexible yogis through Buddha Nest Yoga, some enjoyed our other diverse offerings, from blacksmithing to writing a personal creed. Four talented artists had shows in our space. Personal friendships were formed; our community grew stronger.
To our surprise, our little experiment turned out to be sustainable. We hit the black in late spring, even while we were still refining our elevator speech. (“What *is* Open Studio, anyway?”) But over the months, we often scrambled to keep all of our many studio balls in the air. The marketing alone, as with any business, was a considerable undertaking. (“Crap! I need to write that press release within the hour!”) Other areas of my life were neglected this year. One of you dear readers even wrote to me to inquire about what happened to my formerly monthly newsletter — which was just one of several sacrifices (my garden, my sanity, and the folding of clean laundry were a few others) that I didn’t want to make.
Ellen and I both have other businesses to take care of (in addition to coaching I own an editorial services business — and Ellen is a children’s book author and children’s yoga instructor). Open Studio made so much sense, bringing together so many of our passions — and it still makes sense. But in the space of a week this fall, we went from planning 2013 to acknowledging that if the two of us wanted to stay sane, we needed to pull back, take stock, and reaffirm our primary commitments.
It isn’t easy to let go of something when it’s relevant to your life work, the community supports your efforts, and you’ve already launched on your planned trajectory. But the inescapable truth is that there are only 168 hours in the week. When there are too many things to fit in your box, you have to take something out. In this instance, you can’t actually get a bigger box. It’s really that simple.
And so it became clear that while the studio as a business is sustainable, the time that it requires on both of our parts is not. As I sometimes remind clients, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” My threshold for investing personal energy — and time — has to have a finer filter. Because energy, like time, is finite. I am committed to my personal writing practice. I am committed to my coaching work. I am committed to my editorial business. I am committed to my family. I am committed to myself: reading, yoga, breathing. I am committed to moving slowly enough that I can savor where I’m at. Because if I’m not savoring, what’s the point?
The studio will close on December 31 and Ellen and I will turn with renewed focus to all the other things requiring our attention. But we’ll have a few more ounces of focus at our disposal, and a few more minutes at hand. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job with everything that remains. Most importantly, we’ll celebrate the success of 2012, and affirm the value of doing a little less — and doing it well.
Oh, and by the way. Stay tuned for my next newsletter.
(Ellen Olson-Brown contributed more than a few words to this post. Thanks, E.)