Well-being, self-care and duty of care have been particularly heavy issues in the arts over the past few years.
Like all for-purpose industries staffed by those who believe in them most, we’ve always been better at making sure the show can go on than we have been in taking care of ourselves – and that was during the good times, which feels like very long ago.
As we enter a new year, the effects of the last three are with all of us, personally and professionally. None of us are our best selves. And precious few have had a chance to draw breath and reset.
In this post-peak-pandemic world, we no longer need to pull together for literal and organisational survival, so the impact of this new-new normal is landing differently. This manifests in remarkably similar yet hyper-individualised ways as exhaustion, frustration, resentment, intolerance and devastatingly low emotional capacity. This means many of us aren’t communicating as effectively or behaving as professionally as we may once have done, and so triggering others, who in turn trigger us back.
As Kate wrote last year, after COVID we think we know what ‘crisis’ means. But the hyper-individualised symptoms of this new situation are just as difficult and dangerous, if harder to label or see. Their impact is equally as real: burnout, illness, former best practice workplaces becoming awful places to be, and artists and employees leaving the sector entirely.
Regardless of how much we know we need to do, all of us are currently less capable of coming together to attempt to solve the problem. This is why self-care and duty of care are the pointiest end of our work right now, and the thing we’ll have to address before we can move on. If we’re too depleted to imagine a better future, how on earth are we going to get there?
A coaching approach
What we’re hearing from CEOs and managers is that the rhetoric isn’t enough. We need to work out what ‘less is necessary’ looks like on an individual and organisational level. What’s need-to-have (non-negotiable)? What’s nice-to-have (often much of our internal strategic plans)? What can be postponed, shared or delegated? When can we just say ‘no’?
That’s easier said than done, with time and energy in short supply. But taking a coaching approach to asking questions and listening to insights can help us use the new year as a turning point to move our focus forward from our difficult present to a more hopeful, healthy and productive future.
Asking ourselves what it felt like when we had a deep, rich sense of connectedness to each other can help us identify strategies to move away from hyper-individualism.
Asking our teams and peers how we can make communication an act of care can help us invest in the empathy required to remember our colleagues are experiencing the same challenges.
This needs to start from a place of self-compassion, something we’re often much worse at than being kind to others. A learnable skill that improves with practice, self-compassion can have a transformational impact on our work and well-being. It allows us to acknowledge the shared humanity of our failings and draw on the deep reservoir of support we are capable of giving to ourselves. Practising self-compassion increases our capacity to be both the person in need of comfort and the kind, calm and giving person who provides it.
Clare’s 8Cs Framework includes a range of prompts to help creative sector professionals navigate the challenges they or their teams face, by prioritising curiosity, clarity, compassion and connection, and using ‘gentle questions’ to draw on their wisdom and come to new insights.
This can be as simple as asking: What do I know? What have I assumed? What would be the best outcome? What values do I want to guide me in making this decision? What is one simple thing that could help me get there?
Self-care isn’t selfish
As a sector, we’re so good at subjugating our needs that it may feel self-indulgent to prioritise ourselves. We invite you to reframe self-care as a radical act. Increasing our capacity to find new ways forward can help build a bridge from our current challenges towards a ‘zone of possibility’ where things – while not guaranteed – seem more possible.
Let’s use our collective talents as rebels, rabble-rousers and questioners of the status quo to practise radical self-compassion and care – to reconnect with our communities to come up with more than we can do on our own, to prioritise ourselves, and each other, as the important first step in making sure the show can go on.
Hear more from Kate and Clare at their ‘Starting the New Year Strong’ webinar in February.