Anxiety Meets Caffeine Meets Gratitude

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Balancing my work life with my personal life.

by Nina Kauffman.

Work. Life. New York. Everything in between. Nina here: intern for CMT.com, grad student at NYU Tisch, writer, director, performer, designer, teacher, sister, daughter, girlfriend, collaborator, and happily, everything in between. Balance, at this point in my career, has been pretty impossible to achieve. I wouldn’t even say that I’ve entirely achieved it yet, but I’m learning every day of my adult life. When David and Laura asked that I write a blog about my experience balancing my personal life with my work life, I was happy to take on the task, but ironically enough, I asked for an extension…because I had too much going on with my personal life and my work life. Of course they graciously gave me an extension, and here we are presently!

So! To give perspective of what I’m currently working on, I am writing two full-length musicals: one of which is a comedy-horror rock musical, and the other, a post-classical electronica pop adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut piece set in a dystopian future. Luckily, they are two completely different works, so it’s easy to transfer my brain from one project to the other. I have less than two months to complete the first, and three months to complete the second. Lin-Manuel completed Hamilton in six years. Of course, devising and creating a musical has no official time-limit. Once I’m out of grad school, I’ll be able to give my projects the time needed to breathe and find their footing. In the meantime, my focus is writing to the finish line with as much passion, playfulness, and perseverance as possible.

But wait, there’s more! I’m also working for the Tisch Graduate Student Organization, and the biggest event of the year is right around the corner, a brain child of myself and my collaborators called “Collab Fest: Devise by Day, Perform by Night.” We’re gathering graduate and undergraduate students together, and mixing them up in a 24-hour collaborative experiment. I’m looking forward to this year’s event…but anxiety over the writing I won’t be dedicating to my projects will kick in, and anxiety will meet caffeine, will meet excitement, will always meet gratitude. On top of everything else I’m doing, at the end of the day, I’m doing what I love, so it’s hard to complain. It’s even harder to balance everything, but it’s so important to acknowledge the struggle and find solutions to be my best, productive self. Here’s what I’ve learned so far in the past two years of living and working in NYC:

  • Some days will be fantastic creatively, and other days will be a fantastic mess personally, vice versa. Forgiving myself for the imbalance and the imperfections help turn the mountain into a hillside. Either way, I am more than capable of climbing.
  • One thing that I have yet to master: setting time limits. I find that when I’m on a roll creatively, I don’t want to step away from the work, but stepping away and getting a good night’s sleep is better for my brain (and hydrating, oh my goodness, I forget to drink water all the time).
  • I am an OPTIMISM WARRIOR. I try and see the bright side of every situation (which some days I’m not able to, and that’s fine too). On the practical end of my many mantras, I have a saying: “It’s going to be finished…because it has to.”
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“The Optimism Warrior” …I should make that a 20 minute musical. Also pictured, Danny Ursetti: total warrior.
  • Stop putting an insurmountable amount of pressure on myself. Give myself permission to throw spaghetti at the wall, and see what sticks. Nothing is going to be perfect with the first draft, and it’s taken me awhile to accept that, because like many other artists, I am an ultimate perfectionist, and I want to nail it on the first try. Now that I have given myself permission to let loose and take risks with my writing, I find more spaghetti sticking to the wall. Sure, it might be a little messy, but it’s worth it all the same.
  • There are no right or wrong choices when it comes to making art. The choice to do, and to do my best, is good enough.
  • Have something(s) solely for myself. For me, it’s a few things, one of which is cuddling with my cat while watching “The Office” on Netflix (and once that’s over, finding another binge-worthy show to just turn off my brain).
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Marceline, the Netflix Queen.
  • Stretch. Exercise. Move around when I can, even if it’s a simple walk around the block (yes to vitamin D). For me, it can activate something creatively that I may not have thought of before. Side note: There’s a yoga studio I love in St. Mark’s Place (Yoga for the People) and it’s donation-based. It’s been a nice way to mediate, clear my head, and get in touch with my body.
  • Make lists. Oh, I love making lists, and crossing things off. Super cathartic. If you look in my notebook, it’s filled with “to-do’s” and lyrics. It’s a fun combo.
  • Make a meal every once in awhile! Seamless is so addicting when I don’t want to leave my desk at work or my couch at home. I recently spent a week in Goodspeed on a writing retreat, and had to make every meal, and you know what? It put me in the best mood, I got to enjoy the company of my collaborators over a meal, and hey! I accomplished something.
  • Clean space. I’m so guilty of living in what I like to call, “grad school decor” (i.e., my bedroom covered in clothes and other various items…couple gatorade bottles here and there). I just did my laundry and washed my sheets yesterday and oh boy, I already feel a miiiiiiillion times better.
  • Make time for my boyfriend. Because we’re in the same program, we have a google calendar marked with days specifically devoted to “date night” (spicy!). A little organization, even in your personal life, can go a long way.
  • Come to the work with an open heart and open mind, especially when collaborating. I also occasionally bring booze and thai food to the table.
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Casually posing with one of my collaborators, Gregory F. Jackson.
  • Life happens. It happened to me on three separate occasions this year with three people I love with all of my heart. It was hard. Really, really hard. But the support of my community helped me through it. I found it was impossible to function. My mind was so resistant to making art (even more so since the election). Occasionally, I have to step away, and just breathe. Sometimes, my energy is better spent taking care of myself, so I can, in turn, take care of the people I love. Breathe. The work will come.
  • Most importantly, remind myself everyday that I am in the city I love, doing exactly what I set out to do.  I am an artist, and I am uniquely me.

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I’ve lived in New York for almost two years now. And balance will always be a struggle, especially when life happens, when bills have to be paid, and when art has to be made. I do it, because I love it. What better reason could there be?

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