Career timewasters for artists

Sheila Chandra - Thursday, August 02, 2018

Is your creative career stalling at an early stage? It’s possible that timewasters are weighing down your progress. Here’s how to spot them and deal with them.

I wrote a popular post about ways in which artists waste their work time in a day recently. Now it's time to address the other side of the equation - people.

Unfortunately it’s a given that any fledgling creative artist will come across people who appear helpful but are really there to at best waste your precious time and at worst, out-and-out exploit you. Train yourself to spot these so that you can deflect them before they infiltrate your life and start taking up your time and headspace! It’s a bit like going on a bad date – you don’t keep bad dates in your life, so why do the equivalent with your career associates?

The key is to have good boundaries and pay attention to your instincts – which, however new an artist you are, are probably good. But to help you along with spotting them, here’s a list of some timewasters that often show up in an artist’s career:

Artist timewaster #1

Agents/managers who have no real interest in furthering your career – as you see it – and are not going to have that discussion with you, but want to make a quick buck out of whatever they see as the easiest way of selling you.  The worst part is that your subconscious will believe, mistakenly, that you have taken a step forward in career when in fact you have gone at best sideways and at worst, backwards. If you can’t resolve the relationship move on as fast as you can. Ask colleagues for advice and recommendations.

Artist timewaster #2

People who make a noise about supporting your work but actually have no idea what you are doing. These folk can be useful as fans but have no place in your inner circle of advisors. And yes, family members can fall into this category as however much they love you, if they’re not professional themselves, they’re unlikely to understand what your next artist career steps should be. Appreciate their support but take their advice with a pinch of salt!

Artist timewaster #3

Other artists who are feeding off your creative energy. This is a tricky one because the beauty of collaboration is give and take. But if it feels wildly unbalanced, it probably is. These situations tend not to last very long. Keep feeding a good collaborative relationship but don't let it turn into a parasitic one. Make sure agreements and contracts are in place where they need to be. Communication is key!

Artist timewaster #4

People who love working with you but don’t want to get to the next level themselves – and don’t want you to, either. Watch out for these! Often you’ll fall into a comfortable working arrangement, and then when you’re spotted by someone who can take your creative career forward, they’ll come up with all sorts of reasons why moving on is a bad idea. If you’re not careful they’ll scare the life out of you and make you feel that you won’t be able to cope. Don’t listen. There is a chance that the opportunity has a downside you haven’t spotted, but the true test is, would the colleague wanting you to stay where you are, benefit from your doing so?

Artist timewaster #5

The colleague that undermines your confidence – and is basically all about what they can get out of the situation. This is common with band members, where there is often a hidden roiling sense of competition. It’s also a common tactic used against female singers and musicians. Watch out for the way a colleague makes you feel. The experience should feel either supportive or neutral. If you start feeling ‘wobbly’, ‘blinded with science’, ‘not good enough’ or ‘overruled all the time’ more than a couple of times with a colleague, question their motives and do what you can to remove yourself from their line of fire. And if they use ‘logic’ to argue you down, recognise that ironically they’re using logic in service of their own emotional agenda!

Artist timewaster #6

Work you’re doing for free which doesn’t repay you enough in any other ways e.g. publicity. This is probably the most common trap for early-stage artists, so watch out and negotiate at each stage until you’re happy. I don’t mean you shouldn’t work for free – but make the opportunity ‘bigger’ wherever you can so that it incorporates elements that are valuable to you, particularly PR.

Artist timewaster #7

It's a delicate subject, but I have to mention it - partners who are rigid, un-supportive, jealous or insecure will do you no good. People hardly ever talk about it, but the quality of partner you have often has a huge impact on your artist career trajectory. If they're possessive and obviously afraid that all these 'glamorous creative types' will 'steal' you (as if you're an object who will just go along with it!) then people will avoid working with you. They won't say a word - they'll just avoid you and avoid offering you jobs because they don't want to be in the path of your partner's possible wrath. Partners that undermine your confidence, and are critical of every single one of your colleagues are also trying to keep you to themselves. If they're rigid about living arrangements e.g. location or you having their dinner on the table at 6pm every night, they're also curtailing your ability to grow in your career. Another form of sabotage is neglect - and is harder to spot. Are you the one that does all the supporting? Can you rely on your partner in a crisis of any kind? Do they support you in practical ways to get where you want to go? Frankly, even aside of what any of these behaviours is doing to your creative career, you deserve better!

If you find yourself indulging timewasters, it’s worth asking yourself what the payoff is. Are you afraid of taking the risk that will take you to the people who will develop your career? Have you let them stoke your fears and insecurities? It’s comfortable to be a big fish in a small pond, and easy to regret wasting precious career years like that later. Take the risk and ‘prune’ in terms of projects you take on, and those you allow into your close artist career circle. Just like a well-pruned rosebush, your confidence, creative ideas and creative career will grow much more strongly


Are you struggling to find your way through a maze of people to the ones who can take your career forward? I've helped lots of clients find their boundaries and do just that. Email me at for a free 30 minute consultation.

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