creative thinkers: flexibility & balance with stephanie fizer

80 hour work week or 4 hour work week? Work til you burn out or work til you should rest? Ignore unnecessary tasks to keep producing or break from work to tend to the details of life?

It’s no wonder this is a hot topic in our crazy world of nonstopness. The hands of the clock seem to be going ever faster and the responsibilities we face grow ever more numerous. And as we think more about balance, we have to consider the flexibility we can allow ourselves. Whether you earn income from a creative business or you are thinking about your own job creatively, the question of how much flexibility you can afford (read: handle) is inextricably tied to questions of balance.

I recently spoke with Stephanie Fizer, a full-time artist & illustrator, about this topic.

Tara: You recently talked about the “Fine Art of Slowing Down” on your blog. You’re working smarter, working less, and producing more. I’ve seen a lot of discussion around this lately – and we’ve even talked about it on Scoutie Girl. Do you think the 12 hours and out of control work ethic are important at the beginning of a business? Or can you skip ahead to the “working smarter” part?

Stephanie: It’s funny because I was seriously just thinking about this the other day! And you know, I really don’t think you can skip ahead, I think you have to put in the long, hard hours to really appreciate the business that you’ve built and to really appreciate how wonderful it is to work smarter and work a bit less. But you know I’m one of those stubborn people that has to do everything the hard way first before I can really see the better way to do things.

Tara: I don’t think that’s stubborn! I think that’s just normal.

Stephanie: Well that’s good to hear.

Tara: That seems to be the consensus around the issue. Yeah, it’s good to talk about taking lunch breaks or 4 hour work weeks – but if you want to do something great, you have work your ass off first.

Awesomeness comes easier as you go along.

Stephanie: And you know even though I’m working smarter and all that, I still catch myself working long hours.

Tara: I think we always will. Comes with the territory of doing what you love – and ya know, I don’t think I’d want it any other way.

In reading your “Quit Your Day Job” interview, I found out your parents run a small business. It’s great to have that kind of support! Unfortunately, not everyone understands being self-employed or running a creative biz. How do you respond to others who don’t understand that you have “a real job?”

Stephanie: I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to explain to family–even to my parents–and friends exactly what I do on a daily basis and why I can’t just drop everything whenever they call. There is always a certain flexibility with this whole work-for-yourself gig, but if you give yourself too much flexibility, you’ll never get any work done at all! I’ve found that it’s helpful to set boundaries with those people who don’t believe that I actually have a real job, like letting them know that there are certain hours of the day when I am usually working hard and very focused and that during those hours, I can’t just drop everything for a three hour lunch or a dip in the pool–although as miserably hot as it’s been it’s hard to turn down a dip in the pool!

Tara: So true – both about the flexibility & about the HOT.

Stephanie: I had to have the flexibility talk with my parents too, which cracked me up because they are business owners too and have always dealt with the same thing.

Tara: It really makes me wonder what the line between flexibility and work is. As a society, we’re edging towards more flexible work environments but, as a work force, I really wonder if people can handle it!

I’m with Stephanie on this one. I need boundaries for those around me. My ability to have any sense of balance in my life is tied to my ability to rein in the flexibility I feel around my creative career. If I want to achieve balance, I have to accept a less flexible work arrangement (note: it’s still pretty damn good…). And if I want to maintain ultimate flexibility, I have to accept a less balanced life.

What do you think? Do you prefer balance or flexibility? Or can you have your cake & eat it too?

Read the first part of my interview with Stephanie on creative ownership.

10 thoughts on “creative thinkers: flexibility & balance with stephanie fizer

  1. Tara and Steph,
    What subject isn’t more prevelent than “industriousness” as an artist? I love this post because it uses the word “boundaries.” Steph says she has to give them to other people, but creatively we have to create them for ourselves, too.

    I love this bit, from an online bio of author Anthony Trolloppe.

    “Trollope regularly produced 1000 words an hour before breakfast- his page contained 250 words. “Perhaps the main characteristic of writers like Jane Austen and Trollope is their complete non-literariness”, noted Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature (1938). “Indeed, you would say that they are without the passion to write that distinguishes a Balzac, a Dickens, a Thackeray or even a genuine artist like Gautier.” Trollope spent three productive hours a day at his desk, before a quire of paper, pen in hand. “I always began my task by reading the work of the day before,” he wrote in AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (1883). “I would strongly recommend this practice to all tyros in writing”. Rewriting Trollope considered “a waste of time.” In the evening he enjoyed playing whist at the Garrick Club. ”

    Take a look at the list of Trollope’s “Selected Works”! You have to scroll through it!

  2. Thank you! I’m often at war with myself regarding the never-ending work required to get something off the ground vs the ideal of the 4-hour work week, skeptical of (and even wondering if I’d be happy with) the latter but having to justify the late nights (I have that pesky day job that I *usually* enjoy, I just need more!) to friends and family who don’t get that when I say I’m working this weekend I’m loving it, not hating it!

    Balance is a good goal, one these days I’ll get there, but for now it’s balls to the wall and swing for the fences!

  3. Balance vs. flexibility is something that I constantly try to maintain. It requires work and care, just like anything else, but I think it’s possible to have your cake and eat it, too. I think the key is knowing what you want and what you are willing to let go.

    I’m like Stephanie – I have to work it out myself, but doing it that way means I learn a lot about myself, how I work, and what works best for me.

    And it’s so true about boundaries. I never thought I would have to verbally tell everyone I was working, but I did (and still do from time to time).

  4. I see nothing wrong with having your cake and eating it too! I think it comes down to knowing yourself. Everyone has different limits and needs in order to “feel” balanced. The combination of routine or chaos unleashed all depends on the personality we are dealing with…so you really have to figure out what works for you. Once it works, then you’ve found your magic formula. I don’t think there is a universal system that just works for all personalities!

  5. I struggle with this notion of just how flexible I can be on a weekly basis. It is actually quite time consuming in its own way, all this thinking and justifying – because really I should be able to just get onto my work day as it suits me – like anyone else working in a formal environment. But for some reason others do not see it that way and that adds pressure. I have got better at not taking phone calls, ignoring emails and chats as they appear but I still feel I have to explain my motives more than I should. I certainly do not expect it of others and would never dream of calling a friend during working hours but for some reason it seems it is not the same for a lot of us out there in the creative world.

  6. Wow, does this post hit home for me. As I struggle to define the direction I want to take my photography business in, I’m finding that my thoughts are usually always consumed with work/creative ideas. So even when I’m doing other stuff, my brain is still some place else. I know this is typical! And exhausting. I agree with Linda’s comment, that everyone has to find their own sense of balance. Still working on finding mine.
    And yes, boundaries are so important. I’m always having to gently remind even those closest to me – my husband, close friends – that I have scheduled work hours just as if I worked in an office. I’ve found that putting it that way helps.

  7. I don’t think that you can maintain balance, without flexibility. Things change, day to day & in order to stay balanced, you have to be flexible & change with them. We definitely need goals & boundaries, but they need to be somewhat fluid & not rigid, in order to keep up with an ever changing world & maintain a balance with life. Of course, we don’t have to declare our ‘fluidity’ or let every little thing interfere with what we are trying to achieve, only flow with the unavoidable. So, I guess I’m saying that not only can you have your cake & eat it too, but you should.

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