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  • Writer's pictureSarah the Boltcutter

Stop the leaky tap of talent - make 2020 a year for change

I speak with creative women about their professional lives a lot. Many express a retrospective lack of agency, lurching from one too-good-to turn-down opportunity to the next within the beleaguered arts and NFP sectors.

Opportunities come as short gigs, long stints and sometimes highly coveted permanent government positions. Professional development tends to be reactive not proactive, often with little (if any) personal or external review along the way.

Maybe this is because the arts and NFP are vocational, you sure don't start for the financial security or promotional opportunities! Reflecting on traditional markers of success in standard review processes can warp your reality of what it means to have a fulfilling and sustainable career. Some"tools"just aren't helpful for people who don't tick a lot of boxes.

If you stopped and made long term plans, would you choose to work in the arts with long hours and low wages? Probably - and that brings its own mixed bag of guilt and insecurity around choices made and people implicated, but you make it all work don't you?

The cost of coping strategies

Women in the arts know how to hide family and personal emergencies, douse multiple spot-fires at once (sorry Sydney) and keep their game face on. They know how to juggle evening and weekend events, day jobs and the competing demands of collaborators and colleagues.

And thats just work, outside of work there is life or"the real world" to manage.

Compartmentalising and segregating professional and personal life is one coping strategy, and an effective one for many. But what are the knock on effects? It takes energy to compartmentalise, this energy is not going somewhere else. No really, think about that for a minute, where is it not going?

What if by compartmentalising you're not serving yourself or those around you as well as you think? What if by trying to achieve "balance"you end up doing a half arsed job at it all? A talented woman at the peak of her career recently said to me, "I have an amazing job and security. It seems counter-intuitive to worry about myself".

There are a stack of smart, experienced women in leadership positions who don't stop, reflect and review their own development, because:

  • it feels indulgent, they are making a living working in the arts.. isn't that enough?

  • they don't feel like they have a lot of choices so it feels like a futile exercise.

  • they are financially secure and THAT feels like a big enough achievement.

  • they are too damned tired!

So if you aren't "worrying" about yourself, who is?

When we stop investing in ourselves we are, more often than not, operating on auto-pilot. Sometimes this is necessary for survival, a refuel or when our focus is needed elsewhere. But when auto-pilot is on at work for long periods we not only let ourselves down but those around us.

Auto-pilot is disengaging with the controls. Disengagement within the workplace is a clear sign of burn-out. When care goes? so does passion, innovation, wisdom, leadership and mentorship capacity. This is when women stop feeling like they are contributing to something worthwhile, they feel undervalued and blah.

How to stop the leaky tap of talent

Look for the drips!

Start by knowing that just because you have one of the good jobs or you've got this far, this does not mean you don't have a right to personal and professional development. By increasing engagement in your professional life you help others.

Vague pathways, insecure funding, low national value, etc etc.. yes that all contributes to make thinking about all this hard BUT, and here's the important bit, its a shared reality - we are in this soup together. Share the load, you'd be surprised at how many people who seem to have it together feel stuck and a bit lost, lonely and frightened.

Start with a warts and all review

Sustainability is not just a buzz word, everyone has their own idea of what the good life is.

Constantly striving for 'balance' can get in the way of establishing what works for you in your situation with your financial, physical, emotional and vocational needs.

To work out what an integrated life looks like first get real about what it consists of now, be brutal write it all down. Then make a list of what detritus you picked up along the way or things you are doing with little return because you think you should. Finally rearrange the whats left in a way that makes sense to YOU and your life, see if it all fits and allows for breathing space. If it doesn't repeat the process until it does. I liken this to weeding the garden.

And voila, this is the start of your 2020 plan.

I'm a coach helping creative women in leadership roles stop the leaky tap. Get in touch if you are interested in my work.


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