WORK/LIFE BALANCE

Skeleton Working at Computer
I mentioned before how I came across a thread discussing people in this industry working themselves to death. In the last article I focused on the business aspect of it, but this time I want to talk about the actual working oneself to death issue. According to this story, the artist, likely on a big film project, worked something to the tune of 75 straight days, of 14-16 hour days without any break. He chose to cope with the high stress by smoking. The food was catered, in an effort to keep the artists in their chairs most likely, and it was unhealthy burritos and fast food fare. The guy supposedly gained a large amount of extra weight in this short time, and eventually had a heart attack. Regardless of whether or not that particular story is true, the picture that it paints of the industry, and how it operates, is most certainly true. I have seen it first hand, sans the heart attacks fortunately.

Now the first question that might come to mind is, why would the guy put up with that? Well, according to the story he was getting $1000 USD per day to put up with that. There is no doubt, some of the larger studios have no problems shelling out huge amounts of money as incentives to get artists to attempt the impossible. The thing is, these same companies don't care if they destroy the artist's health, or if they destroy marriages, break up families, or anything else that happens outside of that office, or even that particular project. As much as I hate to admit it, they are not wrong!

Just like it is not wrong for a company to outsource their labor to India, where they can receive the work they want for 25% of the cost, it is equally not wrong for them to offer a great artist and outrageous sum of money to work nearly impossible hours to get their awesome movie done on time. The reason it is not wrong is, simply, that the artist has a choice. If someone dangles a carrot on stick in front of an artist, and said artist runs off the edge of a cliff chasing that carrot, he chose to do so. This means it is the artist who placed greater importance on that incentive than his health. It is the artist who placed greater importance on that incentive than his marriage. Even if this artist should have a heart attack and die, it is no ones fault but his own.

Steve Jobs failing health
Let's look at this from another perspective. I recently wrote about Steve Jobs resigning from Apple because of health concerns. Seeing more recent pictures of him, and his near skeletal form, I fear he may have irreversibly damaged his health, and for what? Steve Jobs is a billionaire. He has been for some time. He could have quit ages ago if he desired to do so. There is no one holding incentives over his head. He is the boss. Whatever his current situation, he chose to continue working at whatever pace, or for however many hours, put him where he is now. Still, it was his choice. My understanding is that he so loves his work that it would be difficult to pull him away from it. The same could be said of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets and The Dark Crystal. He died of an illness easily treatable in todays world simply because he refused to stop working and go get treatment. This makes me seriously consider the importance of work/life balance.

I imagine that most artists love their work. When I was younger, it was easy to find myself in the studio, working until the sun comes up, simply because I just had to finish something. This had nothing to do with bosses, who had long since gone home. This was all me, because I couldn't let it go. Granted, in that day, I was young and single. Many artists I worked with, though, were not, and they were right there with me. I saw health begin to fail and marriages fall apart. I also saw the parking lot become populated with porches and BMWs, and heard rumors of huge house purchases, so there was certainly some incentive. I feel fortunate that I took some of that incentive and used it to create my own work.

Work/Life balance is extremely important to me today. Without travel and gaining new experiences, from where comes the inspiration to create? Without friends, family and relationships with loved ones, from where comes the heart and drive that goes into your creation? Sitting in front of a computer for 16 hours per day does not lead to greater creativity nor productivity. In fact, studies have found that spending that much time at work leads to the exact opposite. Look at how things have shaped up in many European nations, with some working as little as 6 hours per day. The reason is simple. It leads to happier, healthier employees. Some go as far as to say that having a limited amount of time makes employees more productive, such that they don't spend time surfing the net or chatting at the water cooler.

It is written that after the second world war, and the resulting rise in technology, many nations saw incredible leaps in productivity and increased growth in GDP. America, supposedly decided work harder and go for ever greater leaps in wealth. Many countries in Europe however thought they could work a lot less and keep the same level of productivity and growth. I like this mode of thinking. When I did Understanding Chaos, I worked very hard to do a ten minute short, 3D, cel shaded, anime film in a month. The thing is, technology has advanced so far since then. If I wanted to work 14-16 hour days, seven days per week, I could now do 30 minutes or even 45 minutes in a month, and it would be a higher level of quality than Understand Chaos! I prefer, however, to work a lot less, enjoy travel, friends and relationships, while continuing to do ten or fifteen minutes of animation per month. It's enough!

What is the rush? If you want to make your own anime, your project isn't going to run away. With a little bit of effort each day, it will get done. It is fear that causes haste, and when you work from that mindset you likely compromise your own project anyway. Relax! Let your project come alive in its own way. Get out from in front of the computer and go experience some real life. Your projects will not only benefit from this, your health and relationships will benefit greatly from this as well.

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