When collaborating, setting out to achieve is the ship, not clarifying expectations, the iceberg
wear my work ethic like a badge of honor. My former roommates will tell you how often they saw me in the middle of the day — never. I would flit between coffee shop work sessions, meetings, pitches, the gym, and screenings, only to roll into my room at 10pm, wake up, and do it all again. I’ve always worn a lot of hats because I have a lot of interests. In the past 8 years, I’ve called myself a student, an actor, a writer, a producer, a podcaster, a teacher, a bartender, a nanny, a co-founder of a media company, a script doctor, a web designer, a blogger, and most recently, a vocalist and producer of the indie band, Alice Bloom.
I wrote a song with my boyfriend for a competition…for fun. 7 months later, we were ensnared in a hairy fight about work ethic, balance, and general care for this thing we’d created. Then a realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
I’d been here before.
I started a blog with one of my best friends. It began as a desire to write more. Over the course of a year, it became a podcast production company, a host of a monthly open mic, an employer to several, a community, and a burgeoning media company. We had merch. We had to pay business taxes. We had a fan base. Suddenly I woke up, and it was way bigger than I’d expected and way bigger than I could handle.
I had been ignoring my own trepidations about moving too fast to avoid holding my business partner back. I’d completely lost site of what I wanted to make and I failed to communicate that. Luckily, my former business partner is lovely. I sold the company to her, and we still have a friendship. But here I was, making the same mistakes, but this time, my romantic relationship was hanging in the balance.
When I was a kid, my brother would suggest books to me and I would turn up my nose at them and go back to reading Harry Potter. Eventually, I would read his book recommendation and of course, it would become my new favorite. I am stubborn. There’s a path I see before me, and I have great difficulty straying from it. Even if someone else’s suggestion is the answer to all of my problems.
I felt a similar resistance arise when my friend Maddie McGuire told me to write for Medium. First thoughts? I don’t have time for that! I’m still not where I need to be in my screenwriting career! Can I even make money?!
A lot, right?
That negative bullshit runs through my brain when anyone suggests I do anything differently. Because I don’t feel I’ve yet mastered the now. These gross feelings have a lot to do with perfectionism, fear of failure, and a desire to PROVE I can do things on my own. It’s a resistance that keeps me from “leveling up” (more on resistance in a bit).
So here I was, thinking we’d started a band just for fun. But suddenly, we were getting positive feedback. We were having conversations about branding, new song ideas for an EP…no, an album! Everything got bigger and better and more fast-paced. Everything, except for my work ethic.
I was falling short when it came to Alice Bloom. I had once again failed to communicate my desires to my partner. I refused to be honest with myself about my bandwidth. I was afraid of letting my partner down so I over-promised what I could accomplish and ended up letting him down, anyway. And I’d also once again let myself down by letting someone else lead the ship entirely.
And the weird thing was, we were both right! Me, for wanting to put boundaries around my writing, prioritizing mental health and social life in the interim. Him, for being frustrated that my extra time wasn’t going towards our joint pursuit, as I would occasionally shirk the thing he’d spent months cultivating. The solution? We couldn’t think of anything except to disband.
Until…we learned how to properly communicate.
We needed to redefine our goals since we hadn’t after the band became more than a quick side project. We sat down and got specific.
“I am willing to spend ___ amount of time on the band,” for example.
In the end, we decided to move a little slower. Instead of going full steam ahead, my boyfriend looked into other passions to work on simultaneously. He now understands my mind-set and respects my priorities. We’ve worked together on our expectations of each other.
The first step for me was being sure that I wanted to continue. Producing a band takes hours a week recording, evenings writing songs, afternoons promoting covers on social media, etc. I thought good, long, and hard about it. I found I did want to pursue the band. But I didn’t yet believe in it as a legitimate way to supplement our income.
After much deliberation, I found that the biggest source of my “slacker vibe” was resistance. I was resisting because I was scared. I didn’t feel I had time to add another, difficult artistic pursuit to the roster. More than that, I wasn’t ready to fail at another thing in my life.
Resistance usually comes from a completely valid place. If you can honor your resistance and investigate its roots, you can understand your own desires fully and learn how to communicate boundaries. A perspective that I find pretty amazing is from Steven Pressfield’s book, Do The Work. “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel”
So, here’s my step-by-step to facing this resistance and bringing your ALL to your pursuits:
CLASSIFY THE PROBLEM / WHERE THE RESISTANCE COMES FROM In my case, I wasn’t feeling financially secure. Additionally, I felt extra time should be designated to feeling more financially secure. These feelings are motivated by a negative relationship with money and a disbelief that I’ll ever be able to incur wealth on my own (that’s a whole other article). But once I identified where my fear was coming from, I was able face it, like a solvable problem. I was also able to communicate my fears to my partner, which opened up a valuable conversation.
DESIGNATE TIME TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM Turns out, worrying about the problem was the actual time suck. Suddenly, I spent a little more time solving this specific problem and a lot less time agonizing over it.
I upped my freelance work and there was a little more time here and there for Alice Bloom. Then I got comfy in my new schedule and suddenly, there was a lot of time for Alice Bloom. Not just time to get things done, but time to learn new things and open my mind.
BE BRUTALLY HONEST WITH YOUR PARTNER It’s always hard to discover that your goals don’t match up, but a partner who really supports you will hear you when you say, birdwatching is my number one passion. I have some time to devote to our housing remodel, but I have to honor my dreams and pursuits first and foremost.
If you’re honest, you’ll go far. Even though my boyfriend wants to work more on the band, he knows that that is his decision. He is going above and beyond because he wants to. But he also understands why I put in slightly less time. This honestly helps to combat either partner feeling taken advantage of or taken for granted.
CUT OUT DISTRACTIONS Turn your phone off. Delete Instagram. Do whatever it takes to get to some good, gooey creative space. If you have a highly media focused pursuit, as I did at the media company and do with Alice Bloom, put a timer on. That time is “business building” time.
That means no idly scrolling. No checking emails. No letting kids/pets/parents interrupt. Put up boundaries around work, even though it feels like you’re just on Instagram — if you’re building your business, it’s important. Protecting this time also legitimizes it in your mind and in the mind of those around you.
BE PATIENT This is something to remind yourself and your partner. You’re just starting out! Things take time. Take it step by step and focus on the little wins. Rome wasn’t built in a day — you will not be perfect right away. I forget that I wasn’t pursuing music professionally before we started the band.
But my partner was. I hadn’t gone to one of the best music schools in the country. My partner had. Not only do I try to pull my weight, but I’m playing catch up. I’m learning how to record and write music! It’s a completely new skill! Acknowledging this takes the pressure off and helps me focus on the fun of the process.
TAKE IT CHUNK BY CHUNK If you’re like me, there’s this negative voice inside whispering that you need an entire day to really get anything done. This is the sly voice of resistance! Do some small task while waiting in line at the grocery. Plan 20 minute work sprints in between other things. Set small, attainable daily goals. Again, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and believing that it can be will be incredibly damaging to your productivity. If someone told you to build a city in a day, you’d laugh in their face and say, nope! I’m going to the ancient wine bar instead! Nothing would get done.
Take it slow, accept that you’re taking it bit by bit, and reward the small wins. And start! Sometimes that’s the hardest part.
COMMUNICATE TO YOUR PARTNER HOW YOU’D LIKE TO BE SUPPORTED We don’t all speak the same love language (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman!) and this seeps over into how we support one another. Maybe on a rough day you need a pep talk, but maybe you just need a hug. Maybe an act of service helps you do your work that day especially well. Whatever it is, ask for what you need.
I have perfectionism issues, I have doubts about my abilities, and a I’m addicted to productivity. So when a partner or a friend has judgements or opinions on 1. the quality of what I’m doing or the completeness, 2. my skill, 3. my workflow or how much time I’m putting in, I really struggle. From their perspective, maybe these topics don’t trigger so much emotion. For me, they do. These topics are a lot of what I think about and analyze all day. So it gets under my skin when people offer advice about them. They also feel incredibly personal.
I had to communicate to my boyfriend that I’m not comfortable with his opinions on my workflow. He’s a self-admitted workaholic, and that’s what works for him! But for a while, I was comparing myself to him. And he would often wonder why I wasn’t able to work 14 hour days.
We’re all different and it’s something to celebrate. But we also have to protect ourselves, especially when quarantining with someone, from any attitudes that aern’t serving us. In my experience, your partner loves you and will be glad to adjust.
DON’T FORGET WHY YOU WANTED TO DO THIS TO BEGIN WITH I was acting in London and we were putting up a Shakespeare play in 11 days like a bunch of theatre-obsessed lunatics. We were sitting, clenching over our scripts, when our movement teacher told us to get up and dance around the room. She put on John Legend, told us to close our eyes, stood on a stair and shouted, “THE REASON IT’S CALLED A PLAY, IS BECAUSE IT’S FUN!”
We all chose our careers, in theory, because we followed what we enjoyed. For artists, we sometimes sacrificed material wealth and security to do our art for a living. Don’t forget why.
BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF A phrase so overused during quarantine, I’m sure it has become a meme. But I really mean it. Just because you aern’t going above and beyond on a side project, doesn’t mean your work ethic badge is taken away. To be honest, a work ethic badge just makes us all slaves to productivity, which can strip of us any real creativity. So throw that damn thing out, anyway.
You are fantastic at a lot of things. I’m sure you devote a lot of time to health, learning, family, friends, things you love, things that make you money, your home, your dog, travel, your artistic pursuits…we all do so so so much. Why? Because we live in a comparative culture and the “American Dream” is sold to us by every snake-oil salesman who ever started an Instagram. We all want it all.
Want what makes your soul feel alive and don’t get mad at yourself when you fall short of “having it all”. It’s virtually an impossible task.
It’s pretty clear that I struggle with this myself. Being an actor/writer/producer/traveler/girlfriend/daughter/runner/creator makes me, sometimes, a “slacker” lead singer and producer. But by slowly down, taking inventory, and being honest about what I found, I was able to find something incredibly valuable.