I turned 50 a few weeks ago. I marked the occasion without too much fuss or fanfare, no big party, no big event but instead surrounded myself with family and a few close friends. For me, it was a time to sit and reflect, consider and take stock. After all, I have managed to stick around for 50 years, which is quite a big deal considering a few friends didn’t make it this far and they would have loved to have had the chance to celebrate their 50th Birthday at some point.
My social media feed has been awash with comments from my peers (also turning 50) reflecting on memories, stories and thoughts about their half a century birthdays.
“I remember cycling to university like it was last week, I can’t quite believe it” one of my friends stated with shock at turning 50 this year. People tell you that time seems to speed up as you age and it certainly feels that way to me. It seems endless when you are young but now the days and weeks seem to flutter past with increased regularity. Age and aging plays on my mind more. Watching my child grow, marking out small moments of independence as I step further and further back to loosen the reins and watch her lead her way.
I want to embrace this older version of myself. A new chapter if you like. I am still here and there is much to do. I have a list. Lists are good. Fifty things to do for 50. It’s a chance to connect, reconnect and challenge myself.
A more considered work/life balance has become a prominent feature as I have aged. Ensuring that I look after myself and my family has become key to my every day. But a more common feature is maintaining my health and wellbeing. I am ever mindful of the friends and family that do not have the luxury of good health. So, I am grateful for the way things are for me. I have started to walk more, turn off my phone more, ensuring that I don’t work late into the evening or weekends, eat better, spend quality time with friends and family. Make memories and challenge myself. Less worry time or at least more manageable worry time. There is so much more to do.
However, far to many of us that work in the creative arts world often place our health and wellbeing as the last task on our long list of things to do. We often work long hours, experience professional isolation, have less money and work under repeated deadlines, funding and uncertainty. We aren’t alone in this practice.
Recently, I have been working with Arts on Prescription, (more on that in another post!) with a keen eye on the Social prescribing model which has had increasing involvement in the everyday. Social prescribing, sometimes referred to as a community referral, is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. It’s not for everyone but as our health and wellbeing becomes a standing feature as we age, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way which supports improved wellbeing. It works to offer individuals the opportunity to take greater control of their own health as part of enabling communities.
It can involve a variety of activities including volunteering, arts, gardening, befriending, cooking and sports to name a few. But does it work ? Yes it does! There is a growing body of evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health outcomes. We all want a better quality of life and whatever works, works well for some people. I know older people who have been referred to a social prescribing model, meeting it at times with challenge and reluctance but it did add a wider network of support and improved their long-term health which they value greatly. It essentially works to connect, learn, grow, give and be active. It’s not an easy fit and does not support everyone yet but its a start and that is a good thing.
Thinking about my Engage Extend leadership course, where I have been researching and interviewing arts leaders, I have also been reading Brené Brown (a researcher professor who has spent the past two decades studying and researching shame, courage, vulnerability and empathy) who talks about “the challenge in leading in a culture of never enough” in her book “Daring Greatly”. She talks about the notion that leadership doesn’t have anything to do with positions of power or status but more so it is about leaders who hold themselves accountable for finding the potential in people and process.
“Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process” states Brown. But it also plays a major part in how we lead, our voice, being truthful to who we are and our values as well as being kind to ourselves and others. So, how do we ensure that we as artists lead with a degree of vulnerability in ways that also maintains our own health and wellbeing. How do I lead in a way that looks after me as well as others ?
Leadership in any arena can be hard and especially difficult when things don’t go as planned or at times are unpredictable. However, staying close to our values and who we are and want to be, appears to be the key. We do have to take risks, challenge and be vulnerable to uncertainty but we also need to connect, be active, take notice, learn and give. In principle that could be taking notice of your friends, yourself, your health. It could be ensuring that we go for a swim or a walk or just moving more regularly or volunteering, helping and connecting with yourself and others.
So back to vulnerability which so often defines our little or big moments of fear, sorrow, joy, disappointment, shame, creativity and so on. It is nakedness and exposing. I know that I am not a fan of it myself but without it we don’t get to enrich our work, our connection, relationships and our creativity.
How does any of this connect ?
In my opinion, we cannot have good leadership without vulnerability. Vulnerability is strength, it is daring. It is having difficult and challenging conversations which can be exposing and uncomfortable at times for all involved. It can be about learning difficult truths about ourselves and others but still managing to show kindness.
In order to work at a deeper level with communities do we need to be more courageous about ourselves and where we are placed within the conversation?
We often work to enrich people, empower communities to grow, improve and develop both independently and collectively but how much of that are we modelling ? How about we start looking after ourselves more ? We are also part of those communities as well. We are individuals who need to enrich our lives with better health and wellbeing outcomes.
From interviewing artists as part of my Extend Leadership programme, I have noticed a few things. One is the importance of kindness in your practice. Kindness to others and ourselves even when it is at its most challenging but also the importance of self-care, of peer support and connection and finally the chance to connect with one another. Put our computers down, turn our phones off and pick up the phone or meet up in person and talk. Relationships are key to everything that we do in this sector so its vital that we maintain that peer support and connection with one another.
In the next year, I am seeking out more conversation, to interview and collect more stories from artists and communities about their journeys. It will be a chance to share, connect and grow. I want to understand everyone’s journey and find a way to share these stories.
For now, stay healthy people. Stay connected and build relationships.