What’s Painting Got to Do With It?—Strategies for Unlocking a Richer, Healthier Life

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on June 8, 2020 in Live Better

I recently finished a new painting—which is relevant from two trending perspectives.

First, it fits into a broader trend of focusing less on “job” and more on “living.” To wit: I happened upon a British publication in my recent reading, and inside I found a story headlined: “The benefits of flexible working.” It basically made the case for the death of the nine-to-five workday, reporting that a flexible day—the kind of day I regularly write about—leads to increased productivity, reduced stress and burnout, better job satisfaction, and a healthy work-life balance. 

Second, it fits the side-gig theme I also write about regularly. And that is becoming increasingly relevant to our lives as we venture deeper into the yet-unknown aftermath of the coronavirus. 

You and I—Gen Xers or baby boomers—no longer have the luxury we once did in crises past. I still remember the stories I was writing for The Wall Street Journal’s Money & Investing section back when the technology sector imploded in 1999. I was assuring boomers and Xers that we still had plenty of time to repair the damage.

Now, we’re in a different head-space because we’re at a different age. We don’t have the time to repair the damage. But I don’t say that from a “sky is falling” perspective. I say it more as a wake-up call to see the possibilities now in front of us.

Maybe I’m wrong—maybe I am just reacting emotionally to this particular moment—but I feel like we are at an inflection point as a society. The coronavirus has altered the path of our history. We were, as a species, heading down a particular path, the same path we’ve been heading down for decades, largely uninterrupted by much of anything, except some technological advancements here and there. 

But it wasn’t like the corporate world was rapidly tracking toward a work-at-home structure. It wasn’t like we were headed toward an environment in which somewhere between 25% and 35% of the country was unemployed, including more than 14% of workers over the age of 55.

And yet, here we are…

I don’t see those situations changing. Companies have now had a taste of worker productivity at home, and they’re happy with what they see. Equally important, company execs are seeing the cost savings of not having to operate an office building. Given Corporate America’s love of profits gleaned from cost-cutting, the early adopters are already building an at-home workforce. Second- and third-wave adopters will follow suit soon enough.

Employment, meanwhile, will not return to pre-coronavirus levels anytime soon. I’ve seen estimates from respected economists talking about the U.S. needing a decade to absorb what has just happened. Maybe that’s accurate; maybe that’s reactionary, too. Frankly, it’s impossible to gauge right now because we are still in the midst of it. This isn’t over yet.

Which brings me back to my painting and the opportunities it represents in terms of work-life balance and side-gigs…

I write a lot on any given day. But I get burned out, too. I get tired of words after a while. I want something different to occupy my brain. Sometimes that’s building a crypto-coin mining rig. Sometimes it’s just walking around Prague for a few hours. Or planting veggies in my balcony garden…or, as I was doing recently, it’s painting during the day.

It’s a mental break.

I was spending a few hours a day painting, usually in the middle of the day when the light in my apartment is nice. It’s relaxing. It occupies an entirely different set of skills. It lets me stand up and move around instead of sit. And it’s not something I could ever do in a traditional job setting. At the Journal, I was always at my cubicle, and when I was burned out on words, I had no outlet except to stop writing…but with my editor sitting directly behind me, I always felt “watched,” which just left me stressed.

But in my digitally nomadic life, I’m free to balance my work and my life in ways that complement each other and rejuvenate me. I don’t feel the stress I once felt because now, when words annoy me, I can walk away from them and do something else. And when I come back, I’m ready to write. Often getting away gives me a chance to think about what I want to say, and the ideas flow more smoothly.

This, I have to imagine, is what so many work-at-home newbies are feeling these days, and why an increasing portion of them say they don’t want to go back to the nine-to-five setting.

The other aspect here is that you can use this heathier work-life balance to create an income stream from a hobby. I already have a side-gig as a freelance writer, but that’s just more writing. Many times, I don’t want to go from writing one thing, to writing another. That’s when words start to annoy me and, honestly, my brain just stops. Hard as I try to focus on writing a paragraph, I can’t. At that point I know I need to get away from words.

So I fall back on my hobby, which also serves as a potential income stream.

With this latest painting, I’ve actually turned it into a T-shirt and a mug on one of the many websites that exists these days that allow side-hustlers to sell print-on-demand products such as T-shirts, mugs, puzzles, posters, etc. 

© Jeff D. Opdyke

If you’re wondering, this is the painting. I call it “My America”…

I just listed the T-shirts and other items last week, and I really have no idea if the design will sell or not. Then again, I don’t paint with the idea that I will generate income. I paint for the creative outlet it provides…but if it generates a bit of cash on the side, all the better. 

Ultimately, what I am getting at is this: Coronavirus has fundamentally changed our world. So, we have to fundamentally change too. See this opportunity for what it is: A chance to build a better work-life balance and to use your skills—even a hobby—as a source of potential income.

By Jeff D. Opdyke