We had the good fortune of connecting with Mark Crawford and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mark, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I definitely thing my work life balance has shifted quite a bit since my 20’s. As soon as I graduated from college, I felt like I tried to run a million miles an hour, work through the weekends, say “yes” to every project that came my way. I don’t regret that time because I got an incredible amount of practice and experiences by drinking from the firehose, and I also discovered not only all the passions I was drawn to, but all the areas where I did not want to excel.
At one point, when I felt like I was at my stress level peak, I wrote the four things I wanted more of in my work life down on four sticky notes, and I put these on the bottom of my computer screen. Every opportunity that came in, I’d check against my four sticky notes to see how many boxes they’d check. It became easier to say “no” to certain projects and “yes” to others, taking a lot of the emotional stress of turning down life opportunities out of the equation. Looking back, I can see how just those four simple sticky notes tangibly changed the course of my life.
So if I were to break it all down into two metaphors, I’d look at work life the same way you look at physical exercise. First, it’s a marathon; not a sprint. The 20’s feels like bursting out of the gates while you have a lot of pent up energy to work everything out. You’ve got big expectations. Your dreams are hard to contain. It’s also a time you get beat up a little bit, and you begin to discover your values, things you will and won’t stand for, and flushing out your emotional intelligence. Then around the 30’s bend in the running track, you start to understand what’s working for you and you start to focus on those things. You may slow down a little bit, but you’re really getting into your groove with smaller adjustments. Don’t ask me about the 40’s bend in the road; I haven’t gotten there yet. I can only guess that’s the time you start leaving the race track.
The second metaphor I’d throw out there as you’re working on your beach body/work life balance is that you need to balance your training. In the same way you work multiple parts of your body as you train, I try to do the same with how I choose my projects and other aspects of my life. On the work side, if I find myself doing the exact same work task every day, I try to throw in some creative wrenches to just mix things up. Some days I’m working on a film score, but I also like to have a completely unrelated unpaid passion project to just pick up and play around with. I started learning Italian this year, and I’ve actually found it exercising parts of my brain that I don’t normally exercise, and it’s helped me think a bit more abstractly about the language of music. I started learning about the science of gardening and I take certain philosophical learnings for that and apply it to my business.
Lastly, I’ve found that there’s a lot to be said about maintaining relationships. It takes work, and that work doesn’t necessarily entail “liking” or “commenting” on someone’s life update every once in a while. I’m an introvert by nature, and I know a lot of creative people like me who are of the same ilk. I actually do have to work at putting myself out there and finding new ways of connecting with people, especially in a social distanced world. It’s easy to have your head down and power through life, but when you look up you realize there’s so much more to it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
If I were to have a chat with my younger, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, straight-out-of-college self, I’d say you’re doing a great job at dreaming big, but don’t forget to go easy on yourself. I think the same applies to anyone moving into the creative professional arena in a time when social media is so prevalent. Nowadays, it’s too easy to see or follow someone on these platforms that you aspire to be someday, and feel like you’ll never get there, or you won’t get to where they are fast enough. It can warp your expectations into thinking you’re failing because you’re not meeting the goals of the outstanding outliers in this world.
News flash: being an artist takes time. Yes, we hear about the stories of one day sitting down in a coffee shop and scribbling bits of story on a napkin which then turns into the world’s most successful children’s series (gee thanks a lot J. K. Rowling), but most of the time it doesn’t work that way. We don’t hear about all the hours of practice, unique happenstances, research, failures, and heartbreak that has built up successful artists. Nowadays, we usually just get the juicy headlines.
I won’t go into my creative life story, but all I can say is that I had to learn how to be an artist by learning how to find my own voice. For some, this can be easy, but for me, it wasn’t. For a long time, whenever I put out a piece of music or created something, I’d judge it by how well it fit into the current creative world and how well it satisfied the expectations of a client or a listener. I think that works for a while, especially when you’re first getting your feet under you, but at a certain point, if you want to leave the safety of making stuff that gets a passing grade and take the next step and to try to be an outstanding artist, you have to stop listening to what others think they want from you, and start building confidence in what feels right for you.
When you come to this ledge, it’s a leap of faith that can be incredibly scary and liberating at the same time. When one hires me for a creative project now, what I hope I can deliver is not something they think they want, but something they didn’t know they needed. If film composing was like painting, I want to be hired for creating murals that fit the contours of the house, not for slapping up coats of paint before I move onto the next cookie cutter house. Slapping up coats of paint is easy. Having confidence in creating something totally unexpected is not.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people in my life I could thank, but if it came to the one that’s top of mind, it’s my supportive wife. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without her. Not only has she been there to feed me during intense creative vortices, but she’s pushed me out of my comfort zones, taught me how to be a more generous and kind person, and we’ve been able to enjoy life a lot more as we journey through it together, collectively taking the bumps, twists, and turns.
Wind Over the Earth photography by Matthew Staver