Balancing Rest and the Hustle (The Struggle is Real)

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So today was supposed to be the post where I tell you that my sheet music store has launched and my tunes are ready for purchase. But I'm not done yet.

I feel like I need to explain why it’s not ready, since I had hoped to finish by the end of last week, and I’m not going to finish this week, either (I, like most humans, am bad at estimating how long things will take to do). I also know that I don’t really need to explain, since these were self-imposed deadlines and no one is mad at me, but the reason I haven’t finished the project is worth talking about: I decided to rest instead of working more.

Rest instead of work?!

That feels weird, almost subversive to type, since musicians are supposed to always be hustling or whatever, but if you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I disagree with that notion.

I’ve been feeling kind of sick/low energy off and on for the last week, and last Friday after going to Creative Mornings and having a 2-hour rehearsal, I was spent. I had already done everything that needed to be done that day, but I had so much trouble convincing myself that I was allowed to rest! I kept feeling guilty that I wasn’t working on editing sheet music, having visions of what all of my other musician friends must have been working on, making mental calculations of how many hours I had already worked that week and whether that afforded me some couch time - total craziness! I’m my own boss, in part, because I want to have control over my own time, which means that I can do what I need to do more often (and I often turn into the kind of boss that makes you work too much).

After a bit of mental arguing and a walk to process my thoughts, I decided to take the rest of the day off, and spend it watching TV and reading, which is apparently what my body was asking me for. I still felt extra tired all weekend, so I continued my relaxation, which, on one hand, felt great (I rarely give myself that much), but there was still a bit of nagging guilt about my looming deadline. Since I know what it’s like to feel burned out, I always respond sympathetically when friends need to cancel or postpone something, for whatever reason. If they need time to rest, I 100% support that, but I am still having such issues extending this sympathy to myself! I also know that when I push through instead of resting, it just prolongs the amount of time I feel sick or tired. Rest is a necessary part of the work cycle, and our health is absolutely essential to fuel our hustle (and my friend Amy has a whole podcast about this!) 

 My rest/relaxation mentor Rusty the Cat, who, admittedly, does not pay the bills, but is really good at what he does. (Full disclosure: I’m on the couch with Rusty on my lap while writing this.)

My rest/relaxation mentor Rusty the Cat, who, admittedly, does not pay the bills, but is really good at what he does. (Full disclosure: I’m on the couch with Rusty on my lap while writing this.)

Listen to your body

I always attempt to take extra-tiredness or slight sickness as signs from my body that it needs rest, but it’s still really hard for me to actually cancel or postpone something having to do with my own work, let alone something involving other people! I always feel like I need permission to do so, and I obviously struggle with giving myself that permission. (Embarrassing example: last March I launched myself into a bad case of burnout while TAKING A CLASS about rest. Mara’s class is great, BTW, but you actually have to take the advice to get a lot out of it. 😳)

Also, what’s tricky is that balancing needed rest time with work time is always a moving target, especially for educators like myself with ever-changing workloads who are trying to balance teaching with performing and our other rotating creative pursuits. There’s also the tendency not to realize that we need more rest until after we’re already exhausted or sick. I wish that this were a how-to post with a tidy resolution, but I’m still figuring it out (I think most of us are). I’m at least doing better at recognizing my own work cycles, behavioral patterns, and the signs of the slippery slope toward burnout!

The real question is: WHY?

Why am I working so hard? Part of it is that I’m working on a project that means a lot to me, but part of it is still that baked-in Midwestern-farmer-descendant work-yourself-into-the-ground-because-that’s-what-we-do quality that I try so hard to lose.

Is it worth it to push through when you’re not feeling great? Maybe? Sometimes.

There are a lot of factors to weigh: whether you’ll be able to rest more after the period of “hustle”, how healthy you’re feeling, whether additional stressors are present in your life right now, whether it’s a typically busy season, etc. When it comes down to it, is it worth it to you to give up rest, time with loved ones, hobbies, home-cooked meals, etc. in order to pursue your career goals? Or how much of that is okay to give up? And for how long at a time?

My work has always been really important to me, but I think that I have always swung too far to that side of the rest/work seesaw, at the expense of a lot of things, including my own health. So, even though I do struggle with it, I am committed to resting and recharging as a basic personal value, even if it means that I make a little less money, or that some of my goals take a little longer to achieve. After all, no one ever says “I wish that I had worked more” on their deathbed. I want my workload and lifestyle to feel sustainable (which is obviously going to be different for every person). 

This is not the post I thought that I would write this week, but these important questions are always rumbling around in the back of my mind (unless I’m too busy to think about them!), and I wanted to share my honest experience, since they might be in yours, too.

The sheet music store is coming!

As for the sheet music store, this is an idea that’s been brewing for a long time now, so it’s important to me to finish it soon, also because stagnating to-do list items start to rot and fester in my brain, making me feel even more stuck than I would have otherwise (the topic of Tuesday’s Instagram post. So, barring any further sickness, I am planning on finishing it by the end of January for sure, and I will welcome you to check it out next week!

P.S. If you want to stay in the loop about this kind of thing, you can also hop on my mailing list:

To start, I’m publishing 5 pieces, a mix of piano pieces and lead sheets:

  • Anelante, a Brazilian choro serenata (both in lead sheet format, and fully notated for piano)
  • Gingando, an uptempo Brazilian choro (lead sheet)
  • Rusty’s Dream, a funny little chase/pounce adventure about my cat (piano piece)
  • Centimonk, a piece dedicated to Thelonious Monk on his 100th birthday (lead sheet)
  • A nostalgic autumn-themed waltz that still needs a name! (piano piece)

(If you have any ideas, let me know, and if I use your idea, I’ll send you a fun surprise!)

The store will keep growing from there, with at least 1 new piece per month for the rest of the year (and beyond!)

How do you (or don’t you) balance rest and work modes as they ebb and flow, hopefully staying sane? I’m interested to hear about it!

Rebecca Hass

Pianist and composer