The Commitment Diet

fruits and veggiesI have noticed a dramatic increase in “busy” among my creative friends over the past few years . It seems like any time I ask how they’re doing, their eyes roll, they let out a dramatic sigh, and then they say something like, “Oh man, I’m really busy. Too busy”. I’m sure this is not unique to my little world but I can really only speak about our creative scene here in Lancaster. As the city has blossomed with its recent arts renaissance and become a true destination for artists and creative people, the opportunities to engage in cool and creative projects has increased exponentially. As a musician, promoter, producer, and podcaster I honestly couldn’t ask for a better city in which to live and work. The creative scene in Lancaster continues to thrive and I love being a part of it. Lots of people are doing lots of great stuff and as a result, they need lots of people to help.

For many years I have been one of those people who tried to help anyone and everyone. I believe in the potential of the scene and have felt like I needed to step up and do my part, and many other parts, to help out. It has been a super rich experience that has led to meeting great new friends and being part something truly special. But in the last year it caught up with me. For the first time in my life I started to burn out on the stuff I really enjoyed, which is much more difficult than burning out on the stuff I have hated in the past. By overextending myself, all of my projects suffered and I wasn’t able to fully engage in anything. Everything became really stressful as I tried to keep up, and suddenly those great opportunities became great burdens.

After several months of trying to figure out how to remedy the situation I realized that I had to be brutally honest with myself to differentiate between projects that truly lit my creative fire and projects that I just wanted to see happen for the sake of the community and those involved, but weren’t necessarily my thing. That was extremely challenging for me because I never want to let others down, and if I feel that I can contribute something to a project, my nature is to jump in with both feet. I fully understand that this is a “great problem to have”, especially as a creative person. After all, we’re often faced with such limited opportunities to be involved in cool creative projects, that we’re conditioned to jump on anything that comes along.

I discovered that there are two creative projects that I’m really passionate about. I feel both mentally and physically alive when I’m working on them and love engaging in their creative processes so much that I really don’t worry about the results. The first of these is podcasting about the Central PA creative scene. I’m over four years and 130 episodes into the Around the Wood Stove journey and I feel like I’m just getting started! There is so much more I want to do with podcasting and can’t wait to get moving. The second is a special music project that I’m engaging in with some excellent and super creative musicians. We’re building something very unique that mixes 20 years of musical history and brand new collaborations with friends I’ve met because of my involvement in the scene. I can’t disclose many details yet, but will be slowly revealing what we’re up to over the next few months. That’s it.

So, I’ve decided to go on a “commitment diet”. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t take on a single new project or commitment, no matter how small or seemingly easy. Every extracurricular “creative time” activity I engage in must be directly related to one or both of those projects. Along with my consulting work and family life, there is more than enough stuff right there to keep me appropriately “busy” while hopefully maintaining enough white space in my life for a little balance and relaxation.

As each of my existing commitments wrap up, I feel a little less pressure, a little more space, and a lot more energy for what I’m really excited about it. Much like shedding a few pounds with diet and exercise, it’s a slow process that takes a while to kick in, but eventually it builds its own momentum.

If you’re a creative person in a similar situation, I recommend looking at everything you’re involved with (and I mean everything) and figure out what’s really good for you and what’s the “junk food” of your creative diet. Then figure out a way to eat more creative “fruits and veggies”. Your inner artist will totally thank you!

  • Charlie Crystle

    Thanks for this–great post. I’ve been on a similar path, perhaps; maybe call it a path of reduction to create space to work on the stuff that matters most to me. Saying no to one thing is saying yes a second time to the things you most value.

    I’ve decided to cut down on commitments, not by saying no (I do) but by redefining exactly what my level of participation should be based on my strengths (I have one or two). I’ve cut down my board participation to just one and am stepping back from managing (mis) the gardens programs.

    For me… my strengths are starting something, a quick idea or perspective, or brief advice. So I can still contribute, but it’s with much less continuous commitment. I fall down when things need continuous or even occasional attention. I’m taking a few practical steps to create space for writing and recording–donated about 2/3 of my clothes, reducing my things by about 2/3, including furniture.

    Simplifying, I hope. or maybe creating more space for fewer complicated things :) The clutter always seems to creep back, but that’s likely because this is an occasional purge and not a practice. Need to learn about developing it into a daily practice.

    • Jason Mundok

      I love this quote, “Saying no to one thing is saying yes a second time to the things you most value.”

      I think you’re spot on, Charlie, about focusing on your strengths. I realized last year that I work best within the structure of a project (beginning – middle – end) and get bored with ongoing, endless commitments, like a band that just keeps rotating on the hamster wheel. So I’m looking at podcasting differently. I’m going to start doing it in seasons with breaks (summers off). My new music project is the same thing…it’s project based. Build something new, rehearsal it, perform it, then put it away and move on to something else. I like how theatre works that way.

      I find it freeing to identify those patterns of how you work best and then re-engage with things you love using the appropriate patterns. Everyone benefits, especially those who depend on you.

      Great stuff. Thanks for checking in.

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