Five tips to building personal resilience for those in the creative sector

a drop of water about to hit a pool of water, all lit in reds and oranges.If you work in the arts sector, you’ve probably caught sight of the Guardian’s piece on the fickle nature of acting, and the ultimate toll it can take on actors (also worth a read is Katie Brennan’s musings on that piece).

Basically its harsh trying to make it as an actor, and at the moment I’d extend that to all of us working in the cultural sector – it’s tough out there at the moment and getting tougher.

So how can we keep positive and focused and not sink into a pit of despair every time we don’t get funding, have to make people redundant, hear about another excellent arts project that’s closing up shop?

Well, I reckon it’s all about that jargon word ‘resilience’. Defined as ‘the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy.’

So here are my top five personal tips for keeping resilient and holding the doom at bay:

1.    Remember what you are good at

A friend of mine kept a scrapbook of all the shows she was ever in, and called it ‘Mummy’s little boasting book’. When she was out of work, she’d look through it to remind herself that it wasn’t always so. Physical evidence of our success – personal or through the organisation we work with – can really help us remember the impact of what we do, and why we are bothering in the first place. I don’t have a book as such, but I do keep physical files of what I do and will periodically leaf through to remind myself that I have made a difference, done some major things, had success. It can shift me into a positive frame of mind – useful at the moment if I start to spiral down into negative thinking.

2.    Get to grips with the pennies and get a plan

No point just hoping for the best. When it comes to hard cash, you’ve got to know what you have, know what you need and know where you are planning to get it from. As someone who works for themselves, I like to have a financial buffer in place so that if there is a lean period I don’t have to panic too quickly, but have enough time and space to really look hard for new options. Somehow, so far, they’ve always been there if I’ve just had the capacity to really look for them. Imagine the unthinkable – what if you don’t get the grant/lose your job/don’t pick up a new tender… Plan your escape routes so you have a clear couple of months to get your head straight if the worst does come to the worst.

3.    Build your barricades

Different people are dealing with the situation differently – there are ostriches who pretend nothing is happening, there are those who catastrophize for whom it truly is the worst thing in the world and there are those who can find the silver lining in any cloud, no matter how dark. I tend to get affected by the moods of those around me so aim to build my internal barricades against the first two groups and find plenty of those with the last attitude to hang out with. For me this is as much about what I choose to read as those I choose to spend time with. It’s also about what I choose to write – hence this blog this morning!

4.    Find your waterfalls

I’ve written about this before“I was asked what it felt like when I was involved in a project that gave me what I wanted; that made me feel engaged, excited, curious, active, inspired. I described it as being like swimming in, under and around a waterfall. It’s that refreshing, energizing, immersive.” For me, working on a ‘waterfall’ activity is the absolute best way to build my resilience – and I can do that with or without money, contracts, applications. It just needs me to commit my time.

5.    And remember, none of it matters anyway…

Now I don’t mean that the arts don’t matter or that I don’t matter, far from it, but I was amazed to find out recently that a year after losing the use of their legs and a year after winning the lottery, winners and paraplegics are equally happy (or unhappy) with their lives – and it’s all based on whether they were happy or not before. Check out Dan Gilbert’s TED talk if you don’t believe me and read my blog on finding happiness in seven days.

We may think we need that job, that funding, that piece of work to make us happy but we don’t. Being happy or not is a choice we make anyway irrespective of what is going on around us. For me, it’s this knowledge more than anything else that can keep me buoyant and upbeat in the face of changing circumstances.

So come on then, those are my top tips – what about you? Let’s share the wisdom. How do you keep resilient?

Image by spettacolopuro and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

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