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Flexibility and community can help individuals balance artistic pursuits with the other demands of life.South_agency/Getty Images

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Ask Women and Work

Question: I want to pursue my passion in the creative arts, but with a full-time job and a busy family at home, my artistic pursuits keep taking a back seat. How do I make time for my passion while also balancing everything else in my life?

We asked Anuja Varghese, a non-profit professional with YWCA Hamilton and an award-winning author whose debut book Chrysalis won the 2023 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, to tackle this one:

This is something I talk about a lot – the idea of balance. I think, like me, many women are passionate about their careers (which may not be in traditionally creative fields), and have spent years building valuable experience and networks. Beyond being a way to pay the bills, we care about the work we do, and in some cases, we may be recognized as experts or leaders with much to contribute to our sectors, organizations and professional communities.

At the same time, so many of us harbour a desire for a creative outlet in our lives. Maybe it’s painting or playing a musical instrument. In my case, it was writing. I was always scribbling something, but for a long time, I relegated my writing to a hobby. It was something that always took a backseat to ‘real life’ responsibilities – my full-time job, two kids, and other family and friend commitments. When I decided I wanted to pursue my passion more seriously – without quitting my day job – I realized I needed a better strategy to achieve some kind of balance between these two important parts of my life.

The first thing I did was start investing in my creative self. Small investments, like taking local writing workshops and classes, and later, enrolling in the Creative Writing Certificate Program through University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, allowed me to carve out manageable amounts of time dedicated to honing my writing skills. And just like that gym membership – you’re more likely to make time for it if you’re paying for it!

Two other things that helped me balance my writing practice with all the other demands of life were flexibility and community. For some people, a scheduled daily or weekly time to work on artistic projects is a must. For me, my schedule is always shifting, so I had to allow for flexibility. Some days, I write on my phone while my kids are at piano lessons. Some days, I write at midnight when everyone else has gone to bed. I also started giving myself a few weekends a year where I hole up in a hotel room with no distractions and allow myself to be fully immersed in whatever I’m working on.

Connecting with a local literary community was also helpful in terms of meeting other writers, having events to go to, and sharing my work. When you’re only accountable to you, it’s easy to put your passion aside. When you connect with other artists, you become part of a larger creative community, which can support structure, balance and new inspirations in your art.

Finally – quit the guilt. We all have that voice in our head saying we should be doing something ‘useful’ instead of something artistic. It can feel silly and self-indulgent to spend time, money, and energy (all precious resources!) pursuing a creative passion. But, it’s important to recognize your creativity as an equally important part of your life and to give yourself permission to prioritize it.

Submit your own questions to Ask Women and Work by e-mailing us at

This week’s must-read stories on women and work

Women are changing the face of the death care industry

When Mallory Greene was growing up, dinner table talk with her family often centred on funerals and end-of-life planning.

Ms. Greene, who co-founded Eirene, Canada’s first online cremation arrangement service, had a father who was a funeral director and worked in the industry for 35 years. While others might have found this an odd upbringing, to Ms. Greene, it was just a normal part of childhood.

“Take your kid to work day was at a funeral home,” she laughs.

Ms. Greene originally intended to work in the financial industry after beginning her career as part of the inaugural WealthSimple team. But she began to feel a calling to work with bereaved families.

“I realized it was always in front of me,” she says. “My parents were always talking about the day-to-day in funeral services and what families were asking for. I realized there was a disconnect between the modern-day consumer experience versus what funeral homes were providing.”

Read why the death care industry is no longer a domain just for men in black suits.

‘Our clothes make a powerful statement’: How to be comfortable and look sharp in the new world of work

Dressing for success is not a just a tired cliché. What you wear to work can help boost productivity, poise and your personal brand, says a Toronto-based personal and brand stylist.

During her 20-year career in sales, Renée Lindo always made an effort to ensure she dressed well for work. Once she made the connection between looking good and feeling great, her confidence surged. Her self-assurance coupled with her competence proved to be invaluable assets at work whether Ms. Lindo was around boardroom tables, meeting clients or clinching plum contracts.

“Our clothes make a powerful statement,” said Ms. Lindo, chief executive officer of Let’s Get Dressed, a company that helps professionals to create functional wardrobes that align with their personal brands. “Clothes are how we introduce ourselves to the world and so, in the corporate setting, it’s important that we control the narrative and own our story.”

Read why deviating from the business-wear norm can actually raise your status in the workplace.

Rebecca Yarros and Sarah J. Maas are dominating the book industry with red-hot ‘romantasy’

Midnight release parties at bookstores. Eye-watering sales figures – 100,000 sold a day. Fandoms that weave elaborate theories while counting down the days to the next instalment in the series.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d teleported to 1999, back to a planet in the grips of Pottermania. But rather than the “Boy Who Lived,” we’re talking about the “Girl Who Rode Dragons.” And the “Young Woman Who Saves A Faerie Kingdom From A Dark Overlord.” Also, the “Maiden Who Takes On The Gods” and the “Mortal Avenging Herself Against Demons.”

If these synopses don’t bring to mind the series that have taken over your reading list lately, allow us to welcome you to the realm of romantasy, the red-hot genre that’s enchanting readers and conquering the publishing industry.

Shannon MacNaughton, co-owner of Calgary’s Slow Burn Books, has a front-row seat to the “phenomenon,” as she calls it.

Read how the rise of indie publishing has made it possible for authors to circumvent the gatekeepers who’d been telling them no.

In case you missed it

You failed at work. Could that actually be a good thing?

Despite the celebratory Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast, fail often” and the recent popularity of corporate “failure parties,” the stigma associated with making a mistake persists. After all, no one should be celebrating a heart surgeon or automobile plant manager who fails fast or often.

The lack of nuance in the prevalent rhetoric around the topic of failure is what prompted Harvard Business School professor Amy C. Edmondson to write a book on the subject.

“No wonder we’re confused,” says Dr. Edmondson, who recently presented her new book, Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well, at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

“The reason I wrote this book was to address and sharpen the happy talk about failure – to limit the idea of praising failure to those [failures] that are actually productive,” she says.

Read the full article.

From the archives

How to negotiate a better salary

Women can find all sorts of ways to talk themselves out of negotiating their salaries.

Reasons might include external factors such as a looming recession or market pressure, or internal factors such as not wanting to rock the boat with management. Women may tell themselves the timing isn’t right or they’re lucky to just have a job. Jillian Climie has seen it all. As co-founder of The Thoughtful Co. in Vancouver, Ms. Climie has spent her career advising and leading teams in executive compensation and corporate governance.

“I’ve seen so many successful, intelligent, strategic women at all levels not negotiating their compensation at really key points in their career,” Ms. Climie says. “We’re not socialized to ask for what we want and ask for what we need in an employment relationship.”

Studies from Harvard University and Carnegie Mellon University found that women were penalized when they attempted to negotiate for higher compensation. Research suggests encouraging women to negotiate more and differently often backfires, and 20 per cent of women never negotiate at all.

Read the full article.

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