We had the good fortune of connecting with Cruel Valentine and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cruel, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Balancing my work with the rest of my life was never my strong suit. The circumstances of my upbringing and other aspects of my past conditioned me very early on to focus on output and productivity above all else. As I progressed through my career, I was constantly, chronically wondering, “Am I doing enough?” No matter how much effort I was putting in, what I accomplished, or what ridiculous number of hours I put into my work, it never felt sufficient, and I was perpetually afraid of preventable failures occurring because I didn’t sacrifice appropriately or put in enough effort. My financial circumstances also necessitated lots of hard work and extra hours, especially in my young adulthood, which only reinforced this ongoing doubt that I was really working hard enough or reaching my full potential.
As time went on, I realized that these habits were doing more harm than good in my life. My grit and determination to work endlessly on projects helped me to accomplish many great things but they also led me to a lot of illness, depression, anxiety, and burnout. Developing a better relationship with myself and my own needs was a critical part of me overcoming these bad habits. Before getting therapy, starting to work on my mental health, and healing from past trauma, I only understood the idea of prioritizing oneself in theory, never in practice. Like any skill or strength, learning to really prioritize your own wellbeing after a lifetime of not doing so takes patience, hard work, and yes, even failure to achieve. It’s also an ongoing process that requires maintenance to be sustainable. It’s easy to backslide into old habits, so it’s been very important for me to be vigilant and hold myself accountable, while also forgiving myself along the way.
Nowadays, I’ve been showing myself a lot more patience, grace, and kindness. It’s hard sometimes, and I’m not always perfect at it, but it’s made such a huge difference in how I handle work and school, while still making time for the people I love, including myself. Through this growth, I’ve been able to work far more efficiently and productively overall. I find I have a lot more mental and emotional bandwidth to tackle work issues and challenges than I ever did before. I have far more brainpower and energy to put toward strategy and growth now, instead of just groggily clawing my way from one project to the next. It’s had such a huge impact on my work quality, my revenue, my client acquisition and retention, and my long-term career plans. These changes have also made my personal life all the richer, as I have more space, time, and resources to share with those I love.
Resolving to strive for balance in all things is crucial. It won’t always be perfect, but just trying is a fantastic start.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’ve been a singer, actor, and dancer all my life, pretty much since I could walk and talk, if not earlier. I knew from a very early age that I craved a career in performance, and I knew that I would get there someday, but the path to where I am now has been anything but a straight line.
I moved to Chicago straight out of high school to begin my bachelor’s degree program in musical theatre performance at Columbia College Chicago. When I was most of the way through undergrad, a series of family health issues and deaths, as well as associated financial and mental health struggles, took me out of school and kept me away for about 7 years. During that time I poured my heart and soul into honing my craft and building my business because it was all that I had at that time. I had begun performing burlesque professionally during the summer after my freshman year of college and my career quickly blossomed into a flurry of local and touring shows, a line of merchandise, teaching work, and offering creative business consulting services. This work also led me to many connections in the adult industry, launching my career in sex work. All of this hard work is what really carried me through the challenges I faced during those years.
in 2018 I had gotten to a really good place in my work and my art, and had achieved enough stability to be able to return to school and finish my bachelor’s degree, which in turn allowed me to pursue my current master’s degree program in arts management, and now, I’m also currently in the thick of the law school application process. My goal in law school is to focus on intellectual property, contract, and business law in order to expand my consulting offerings and enable myself to empower other artists, especially those from marginalized communities and identities by providing even stronger and more through business and asset management services. I had very few resources available to me when I was developing my business, so giving back to those in similar or adjacent situations is of monumental importance to me.
It’s been a wild and challenging road, but I’m so grateful for where I’ve ended up and where I’m heading.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When my best friend comes to visit me in Chicago when it’s once again safe to do so, we are going to live it up! Whenever we hang out, we always eat all of the things, so I foresee many cute brunches and decadent dinners at places like Song Do, the Promontory, and Lou Malnati’s, to start. We’ll also spend time up at Hollywood Beach, and evenings will be dedicated to our favorite obnoxious indulgence, karaoke, at places like Mary’s Attic and Sidekick’s. We would spend the time in between exploring Chicago’s wide assortment of museums and other creative institutions. This city has so much to offer, and I can’t wait to get back out into it and to share it with the folks I care about the most.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are a couple of people who deserve special recognition as major contributors to my joy and success. My sister and best friend, Adina, and my wonderful partner, Alex. These two angels have stood by me through the worst and best chapters of my story, never wavering. They are the kindest, smartest, most thoughtful people I know and they have taught me everything I know about love, patience, creativity, and happiness. I’m so grateful for their presence in my life, and I can only hope to live up to the inspiration, motivation, and support that they’ve blessed me with.
Erik Michael Kommer, The Lust Garden, Anthropix, Sheanna Singer, Greg Inda, Simona Signoret.