The Balanced Artist

Balance is tricky“If you aren’t doing something improv-related at least four nights a week, then you aren’t serious about improv.”

So declared my teacher at Upright Citizens Brigade, aka UCB, and with this casual pronouncement, sent me spinning into a crisis of comedy faith.

Improv is a lifeline. It makes me light up like nothing else. But four nights a week? If I’m in a troupe I love, sure. If someone’s paying me, sure (ha). But right now? In the middle of life as I know it? I have too much else I care about. Four nights a week is a commitment I’m not willing to make.

I love improv, but I also love writing. And yoga. I’m also still new to New York, and it’s important to me to explore the city, beyond the dismal blocks of Manhattan that house UCB and its satellite training center. Plus, a girl needs time to spend with her husband, and friends, and this girl needs a LOT of downtime, otherwise I start to feel like an animal trapped in a cage.

So. Where does that leave me? It certainly leaves me questioning my future as an improviser in this town. But more broadly, it raises an issue I’m sure many of you relate to, which is: How do you balance your passions? 

There are some people in this world who have the gift of singular focus. They live and breathe comedy, or medicine, or scuba diving, and it is only when they are doing that thing that they are happy; and while this certainly must come with its own challenges, it also allows a certain ease, a certain simplicity, that those of us with multiple passions need to work harder to experience.

Yesterday, I felt off all day. Negative, and antsy, and kind of empty. Then I went to yoga class, and voila: I was transformed. I felt alive again, back in my body, grounded. Clearly, I need yoga in my life.

Right now, I’m thrilled to finally be writing a blog post again after several days, and thrilled to see what you’ll write in the comments — what kind of discussion we’ll have, and what I’ll learn from you.

When I don’t write, and blog, and practice yoga… I am less-than-me. Right now, I’m in between improv classes, and in between groups, and I feel like a string of Christmas lights with a dark patch — a section that isn’t lighting up.

I need to work harder at feeling fulfilled than someone with a singular passion, or someone less passionate overall. You know the saying, “With great power comes great responsibility”? I think passion is a kind of power. It’s a gift, and the greater your passion, the harder to have to work to create space for it in your life.

Here’s the twist: the more space I create for my passions, the easier it becomes to find the space. Wha?! It’s true. The universe rewards our commitment. It can feel impossible, fitting all those puzzle pieces into your day, but when you do it… when you do what you love, no matter how many things you love… it’s like a little space opens up where you never would have expected, and your love expands into it, and then more space, and more again…

As far as me and improv… maybe I’m just balking at anyone telling me how many nights a week it takes to be serious about something that’s been a centerpiece of my life for over five years. I do things MY way, buster. It’s how I roll.

Does any of this resonate for you? What passions are you trying to balance? Any secrets you’ve found that you’re willing to share?

Photo above by Flickr user Mo Riza. It was taken at Pearl River Mart in Soho.


12 thoughts on “The Balanced Artist

  1. Amanda. Great post.And a great conundrum, yeah?One thing that often helps ground me is the Johnstone statementthat we humans always think they are crazier than this around us. It's normal. No one else experiences every single moment of our lives but us. Ya know?So, this whole, some people are more focused thing? God, I here you. I feel it all the time. And then I find out people, some of them, think I'm more focused than they are. And maybe that's true. But I still crave more balance.I took a 5 month performance break between last August and last week an it's helped put things in perspective. All to say, Eh. I think you're doing awesome. You may not feel it, but you are most likely more focused than you know.Be well, you. And, we should catch up sometime soon. Perhaps when I'm on an NYC visit.


  2. I love this post. A lot. It's wonderful that you recognize what's important to you and what lights you up inside. The large majority of people, for one reason or another, don't even know what those things are. Either they haven't taken the time to be introspective enough or they are of the mindset that you don't get to live out your dreams and this is the real world and blah blah blah.I do NOT have singular focus. Ok that's a lie. I do but only when I'm in the middle of a specific task that needs to be done. I hate multi-tasking on that micro-level. On the macro level, however, I have so many interests and varying passions that to choose just one would seem like a travesty. There are a minimum of three to five occupations I could focus on that would bring me happiness and joy but to choose one of them and limit my exposure to the others is a sacrifice I'm not willing to make. I realize this means I'll probably never be a master at a craft – or if I am, I'll be 90 by the time the mastery kicks in. But I'm ok with that. I like being able to fit into different circles of humanity. In high school, even though I was a band geek by label, I was the type who flitted from one social group to another and was able to be a part of more peoples' lives that way. I've never really lost that ability to be a life chameleon and it's served me well thus far.I'm getting off-topic, sorry.Mainly, what I wanted to say is that you choose the level of interest and commitment you give to the things in your life. Socially and economically we tend to forget those things and let external pressures influence us way more than internal dreams and goals. Luckily, you are cognizant of this and refuse to yield. That alone makes you a stronger person and it will also make your goals that much more special because you'll know that they've come from your wants and needs and no one else's.A friend and I run a Meetup group for "developing careerists" where we have a small group of people meet once a month and discuss goals and dreams and methods to improve ourselves based on individual interests. Last night was our "Goal-setting" meetup and I learned a lot about the brain and how it rewards you. Going back to what you said about time opening up for your passions the more attention you give them…the brain is the same way. Dopamine is the feel-good drug. The more you achieve your goals, the more dopamine allows you to feel accomplished. It's only when you deny yourself your goals that anxiety and fear creep in. So basically the brain is rooting for you to win and it's only the doubt and external pressures in life that can take you off course and allow the negativity to filter in.So yeah. In short, love this post. ❤


  3. First, I really like how you included "down time" as one of your passions… I feel like I would be so much more productive if I didn't crave so much down time, but I do.I completely understand this dilemma. And I have absolutely no idea how to perform the balancing act. My solution has been to focus pretty much exclusively on theater, and have subsequently let all my other passions languish at its expense. Which is a terrible plan, because when I get frustrated (and I do) with theatre because it's not enough for me and *I'm* not enough for it, I have no other outlet to turn to. Which is sort of why I started blogging. An attempt to reignite the embers of other formerly joyful aspects of my life…


  4. Brianne, I was the same way in high school! Not a band geek 🙂 — but also not really a part of any one group. I flitted between, just like you. I had friends that complemented all the different parts of me — indie film lover, goofball, angsty teen girl… I LOVE what you shared about how the brain works. It reminds me of an idea from The Artist's Way, which is my bible in many ways: that it's harder NOT to be creative, than it is to be creative. The energy and effort we spend avoiding the thing we love is ultimately more draining and difficult than simply doing the thing. We make things harder than they have to be.Leigh…re: downtime, glad to know I'm not the only one (actually, I think there are hordes of us..we're just closeted). Let us proclaim our need for downtime loud and proud! Also, reading your comment reminded me how lucky I feel to have blogging as an outlet…not just a place for personal expression, but a way to connect with like-minded souls, AND a stage where you can try out ideas for life before you trot them out offline…an improv stage ;)Jon, I'd love to catch up! And I'd love to hear more about your professional break… how did you spend your time? Do you feel like you're approaching work differently as a result of this break? I remember you used to go on those silent meditation retreats, which sound really intriguing to me after spending a lot of quiet time at Kripalu late last year…


  5. Amanda~I TOTALLY resonate with this and even wrote a post yesterday about desiring to make more choices in order to be more focused in order to better accomplish my goals.My advice is this:You've narrowed down what you NEED to have in order to feel happy. You love improv but it's a hobby and any hobby you would be devoting 4 NIGHTS a week to had better be a tip top priority. But you can have improv class 1 NIGHT a week and still have it be a hobby you love. And when you are in between classes, perhaps just going to see your friends perform in THEIR improv shows once a week will ignite that spark you feel being dimmed,


  6. Amanda,Great post! I have often felt the same way with my many vocations and avocations! I know it's hard to shrug off a comment from someone in one of your passion fields if you respect them but I'd also say your timetable and schedule belong to you, not them. You're not living their life, so they have only limited authority to comment on yours (even if the remark wasn't *directed* at you)!BTW, love this new site and your tag line. I would steal the tag if I wasn't such a nice person (LOL)!–Liz 😉


  7. Yes! We are made up of so much and to just focus on one thing for life seems ludicrous to me! Life's ever-changing and we should be too."The energy and effort we spend avoiding the thing we love is ultimately more draining and difficult than simply doing the thing." – You said it, sister!!We are so good at finding excuses for why we shouldn't be doing what we love and we should spend more time finding excuses for why we should.


  8. Monica, it's so funny that you use the word "hobby," because for some reason I have a negative association with that word… as though it connotes a lark, something I'm not-so-serious about. I think of improv more as a passion. But really, what's wrong with the word "hobby"? This is something for me to reflect on….Liz! Thanks so much for stopping by, and I'm so glad you like the new site… and tagline 🙂 Brianne: Word. 🙂


  9. Hi Amanda! Awesome post. This post totally reminded me of how I felt when I worked on Broadway shows. I got some "advice" very similar to what your UCB teacher said to you. He felt that if there was anything, literally anything, other than Broadway theatre that I could for a career that I should go do that other thing. He felt theatre was too difficult a road unless it was the only thing I really wanted to do. I resented that advice for a long time and recently it did start to click with me. I have a lot of other interests outside of Broadway theatre, a lot of other things I'd rather do with my life. A life in Broadway theatre didn't allow for those things because so many people out there are willing to dedicate every fiber of their being to it. As much as I hate to admit it, that guy was right. Broadway theatre, in the way that I was involved in it, wasn't the right match for me. There is certainly a way for me to be involved in theatre on my own terms in the time that I want to allot to it, but not in the way that I was in my very early career. I realized that it actually all comes down to what we really want to achieve with our art. For me, I'm thrilled to just be writing and teaching yoga and enjoying theatre as a spectator and fan. Maybe that will change down the line, but for me this level of involvement in multiple areas is really thrilling to me right now!


  10. Oh, does this ever resonate with me! One of the reasons I went into journalism was that it gave me a chance to look around other worlds that I won't be able to make a career — I'm interested in so many things that I couldn't give anything up, but I can't actually DO everything.There are people who hit on something that gives them so much pleasure, it eclipses everything else they could do. I have a friend who is an amazing singer, and she just shrugs and says, "I'm lucky I can sing, cause I can't do anything else." She is utterly absorbed in music and singing, and she's very happy. Then there are other people — like me, and like you. So many things spark our curiosity, it can be hard to focus. I understand what your improv teacher is saying, and I can understand wanting to have "serious" students. In order to be a pro and maybe get on SNL someday, you probably have to do four nights a week at least. But to have improv be a part of your life, to get better slowly and enjoy what it can bring to the rest of your life — four nights a week is probably not required. Another thing that helps me is to remember that life goes in cycles and seasons. You'll have seasons when you want to do more improv, or more yoga, or more writing, and then other things will fall aside for a little bit. But they're not gone forever — you're just in a different season. This is what I tell myself now, as I spend a lot of time with my 2-year-old and don't have as much time for my many interests and pursuits: this is a season in my life, and it'll change before I know it. Love your writing, thanks for sharing.


  11. What a thoughtful post! It resonated with me because I just resigned from Actor's Equity. That was a HUGE decision, and one with which I feel comfortable. I call myself "an actor with a good day job." And that's how I've always treated my day job–second. But as I keep getting better at what I'm doing in my day job, as I take on larger responsibilities and finding that I like it, I wondered why I couldn't be good at more than one thing. Can't I excel as a performer AND lead an education planning council? Can't I sing "Sweet Child Of Mine" AND research supply chain initiatives?Yes, I sure the hell can. I know this might sound more like time management than balancing passions. But I'd rather not do anything half-assed, and I think that for a while the job was not getting the best parts of me. I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict that actually neither my artistic endeavors nor my work was getting the best parts–why should the best parts be put in boxes and kept only for what I think is fun? Think of what I could do if I let go of the "I'm an artist and therefore only need to make money to get me to my Next Big Break" train of thought, focused on where I am at any given moment, and committed my passionate self as much as possible?…with downtime, of course. Love me some naps and being alone with the cat…Thanks for letting me think out loud. Thanks for getting me to THINK!


  12. Thank you all so much for your incredibly thoughtful comments. Reading them again this morning I was struck by the idea of spaciousness… which is what I just wrote about in my last yoga post, but I hadn't connected the dots until just now. You're right, Tara, that there are seasons in our lives just like the tides…things we love move into the forefront, recede, shift to the left, shift to the right. I'd only applied that notion to people til this point, but it can apply to our passions, too. If something is shifting, maybe don't try so hard to lock it in place. Maybe watch it drift, with interest. And Toni, your comment is the embodiment of the improv concept of "yes, and" — yes I'm an actress AND I love working with an education planning council. Allow ourselves to be surprised. Allow room in our hearts to love new things, even things we weren't expecting to love. I'm so glad you found my post useful :)Christa, your comment touches on one of the hardest things for me, which is accepting limits. I balk at limits. I always want there to be a way. I think you're right that it's about identifying goals. Do I want improv as a casual creative outlet (albeit one I love), or do I want comedic acting as more of a centerpiece of my life? I don't know….


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