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Here are 5 great tips on how to successfully balance being a CEO and a full time artist

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Valerie Khoo Summer in the Hamptons in situ

You love your work. You love running a business. And there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your team pull together and achieve a great goal. But, secretly, you also have another passion – it could be art, winning a kickboxing championship or to act on the stage.

You may not have confessed yours to anyone yet. But you know it’s there.

For years, I loved the idea of creating art. But I was busy with building a business and nurturing a community of writers, which is why I founded the Australian Writers’ Centre. I had aspirations to turn it into a national organisation and make it the leading centre for writing courses in the country.

With the help of a wonderful team, that happened. But my secret creative dream of creating art never went away. About a year ago, I finally gave in to it. I took those paints and brushes I had been collecting – but never using – out of the cupboard and finally used them. This turned into an obsession that has resulted in converting a section of my home into an art studio, selling artworks to collectors from all over the world and immersing myself into the world of artists, galleries and exhibitions.

But hey, I also have a business to run right? So what happens when you’re CEO of a busy company who also has a dream of pursuing their ‘hobby’? How can you balance the two, be great at both and not burn out in the process?

Give yourself permission

Give yourself permission to do this one little thing for yourself. You don’t have to commit to a whole new side career. Let yourself explore whatever it is that’s piquing your interest. Remind yourself that this is good for your soul – and if you’re feeding your soul, you’re going to be happier, more stable human!

It took me years – decades even – before I finally allowed myself to take those paint brushes and canvases out of the cupboard. I told myself I was too busy building a business for that kind of folly.

But immersing myself in the world of art has renewed my creative mojo in all areas of my life and business. And. yes, I wish I had allowed myself to do this much earlier.

Be ruthless with your time

If you’ve discovered the activity that feeds your soul, make time for it, That means blocking it out in your diary. But also making it easy for yourself to pursue it.

When I knew I was serious about pursuing my art, I set up various “workstations” in my art studio at home. I have five workstations or easels that are set up and ready to go at any time. So when I’m literally waiting for paint to dry on one painting, I can walk to another station and work on another one without having to set up or pack down any equipment, paint or materials.

Find mentors

You probably have mentors in your business. But I also recommend finding mentors for your hobby. They will be able to fast-track your learning, smooth out the bumps and just save you a lot of trial-and-error learning – because they’ve done it all before.

Stop trying to do everything!

On a practical level, understand that you can’t do everything. Outsource what you need to. In both my work as a CEO and an artist, I’ve realised it’s vital to get the right support in the form of mentors but also people to whom you can outsource certain activities. For example, I wouldn’t have the time to do everything I do if I also had to clean my house! So I have cleaners. I know I’m not Superwoman -– even though I sometimes delude myself into thinking I can do everything.

Let yourself dream about the possibilities

It might be a hobby but let yourself dream. When I started creating art, it was just a creative outlet. But as more and more people started buying my pieces, I realised there was something more to his ‘hobby’. It’s now a fully fledged art practice creating artwork and providing consulting services, with a growing team.

I know there are some people who say “Oh no, I don’t want to be paid for my passion because that would take the joy out of it.”

I don’t believe in that at all! I’d certainly rather get paid to do something I love – rather than get paid to do something I hate or am ambivalent about.

Do what you love, let yourself dream – and feed your creative soul.

Valerie Khoo is a visual artist and CEO of the Australian Writers’ Centre. She is also the City of Sydney’s Curator of the Sydney Lunar Festival, an arts and culture festival that attracts over 1.3 million people.

Valerie Khoo
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