Anna on Work/Life/Passion Balance

Photo credit: Julia Robertson

Photo credit: Julia Robertson

 Hi All! Excited to introduce Anna Shneiderman, a non-profit entrepreneur, Executive Director of Ragged Wing Ensemble and The Flight Deck – a shared performance space for theater companies in Oakland, California that was just named a finalist in the Google Impact Challenge. With such an interesting background, I’m excited to share her approach to work/life/passion balance.

How did Ragged Wing Ensemble and The Flight Deck come to life?
I’ve always been an artist – a performer, designer, director and curator, but, I’ve also been a teacher. I got into teaching early in college and became incredibly passionate about teaching theater in schools, while also pursuing a career in the arts. I met Amy Sass, my co-founder, good friend and business partner during a teaching gig and we realized we wanted to make art together. Now, teaching was and is incredibly fulfilling, and I will always be a teacher, but it’s also extremely taxing, and the public school system makes it difficult to teach and do anything else. So, at some point we realized we weren’t getting any younger and if we really wanted to make our company grow we had to pull the trigger and go for it. I slowly pulled back from my teaching job while we grew Ragged Wing Ensemble, and then, I spearheaded the creation of The Flight Deck. The Flight Deck came about because as a small theater company it’s so difficult to find space to rehearse and perform in Oakland and we wanted to create that space.

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On being a non-profit entrepreneur:
I love my job because I created it myself! So, anytime things are difficult or I feel overwhelmed or stressed out, I have to remind myself that I can’t blame anyone else or feel victimized. Instead, I have to focus on what to change. And it may require sacrifice and collaboration, but I truly believe that in our small way, we can create the world as we would have it be. One of our values is “we believe that the practice of true ensemble is a radical act having positive social repercussions outside the rehearsal room.” And that means that by living in this way, and truly believing in this idea, we can affect change and improve the world. We’re always shifting, changing, making mistakes, but people see and understand our values when they work with us, perform with us or attend a performance. I love my job. I’m passionate about what we do, and anytime I lose sight of that, I have to step back, regain perspective and make changes.

What was the turning point to go from full-time teaching gig plus starting the ensemble to full time ensemble work?
In Spring 2010 I had been teaching full-time and running Ragged Wing for 5 years and was heading to the UK to see my sister and meet her new baby. I had been working all day, rehearsing all night and barely had a moment to pack before I sped to the airport. And when I got there I realized that my passport was expired. I had to delay the trip and somehow this became a big moment for me when I realized that I needed to change my life.  I hadn’t even had enough brain space to realize that my passport was expired. There was no way to keep going on at that pace.

On balance:
It’s all about setting boundaries. I have an eleven month old, and he was born right after we launched The Flight Deck. Going on maternity leave was a bumpy ride, but people in the organization stepped into leadership and I was so grateful that they made it possible for me. It’s a constant process figuring out the balance of how much time to spend at work and how much time to spend with my son. At first I was working five days a week, and it was bleeding into six days and I realized that it wasn’t working for me. So, now I work Tuesdays – Saturdays and I don’t work Sundays or Mondays. Sundays are for the whole family to be together, and Mondays I spend with my baby. And when I’m with him, I’m 100% with him. There’s no space for anything else. I’m more productive and efficient now because when I’m working, every moment is precious because MUST leave at 5:30 to relieve our nanny and put him to bed. If I have to, I’ll sometimes get back online and do a little more work after he’s asleep, but I always stop by 10pm since I know I can’t do good work after that time. So, by trial-and-error I’ve created some boundaries around my work time and my personal time that help me be more present in both.

How does the work you do now encourage balance?
We state in our organization that we value our physical, mental and emotional health, and we take care of ourselves and each other. That can be hard when it’s crunch time and folks are crazy working to a deadline, but we’re constantly working to get better at supporting that value.  We are always trying to detect red flags before crises hit so that people are both getting work done and feeling supported.

On time and relationships.
There’s never enough time to do everything perfectly and we have to set boundaries and limits, to take care of ourselves and each other. Our organization grew out of my friendship with my co-founder Amy, and as the company has grown, we have continued to prioritize strong and long-lasting relationships in everything we do. It makes it easier to really work well together when you deeply care about each other. And we truly do.  I feel that my organization is my artwork, and that we have a chance to live out our values in the creation of our organization and the daily execution of our work in the world.

Where can we stay informed on all the cool work you’re doing?
Websites: Ragged Wing, The Flight Deck
We have a show opening October 23rd, Through the Wall

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