We had the good fortune of connecting with Sorin Gabor and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sorin, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Work life balance seems like an appropriate topic to choose as I’m finishing this nearing 6am and tomorrow (today) is fast approaching whether I am ready for it or not. How many people, creatives, business owners, etc. are all too familiar with this? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Nearing my 40s and working as a tattoo artist, I work with hundreds of different people in all types of careers, from students to first responders, blue collar to white collar, with all kinds of backgrounds. I find everyone’s work life balance has been a struggle.

The older I get and the more I learn, I realize how little I know and how valuable time is. When I was younger, growing up in Romania until the age of 9, there was definitely a culture built on working hard. To succeed meant to work even harder than the day before. As you grow and learn from life experiences, you realize you can only keep up that pace for so long until you need to make some changes. Balancing work and life is a constant struggle for me. To the point that it isn’t always as much a balance, but more a focus of one and then the other.

I was taught you’re supposed to get straight A’s, go to college, be better than everyone, grind away in life, and that success is finalized at its end. One long grueling path and that’s exactly what I strived for. After whole semesters of not sleeping to complete my art projects, I graduated from Kent State University with my BFA and found a “career.” I was working a full-time job that wasn’t going anywhere, for a terrible company. On top of also working a part-time job and attempting to juggle my lifelong passion of music. I began apprenticing as a tattoo artist because I wasn’t getting anywhere after all that work and averaging about 2-4 hours of sleep a night. As you can tell this sounds like a pretty horrible work/life balance. I was nearing the end of that original success path and it seemed like the work hard grind out formula wasn’t going to lead me there.

Life was at a standstill. It’s difficult to keep pushing when there is no end in sight. It was around this time that I really found motivations behind my art and behind my craft. While improving on my tattooing, I would read and listen to interviews with heroes of mine and leaders in different industries. It seemed most of them had to sacrifice a lot of balance in order to push to get to where they are now. Some are still pushing, while others needed to step back and rebalance themselves. The constant struggle of overworking to achieve was affecting every aspect of their lives. I’ve felt this as well, through the loss of connections to friends and family, sleeping at work just to maximize on time, all to meet that end of success. I know now that the constant push needs a reset point after a momentum drive. Time to breathe and catch up on the rest of your life before you can begin again.

The inspiration I drew from other people’s experiences, from seeing how much harder they work in order to overcome personal adversity, helps me push forward. I find my strength in my tattoo clients. Having the opportunity to help someone heal on the inside from an accident or cancer by covering a scar sets me back on my path with renewed vigor. Seeing how grateful someone is, even crying at times, when seeing their finished tattoos. Hearing the immediate positive changes in their day-to-day lives in their own words. The world is full of terrible things, but these truly awe-inspiring moments make it all worth it and gives meaning to the time and effort I put into my art.

The life aspect to this weighted balance also comes in similar waves to work but seem to take on a different form in the process. Through tattooing, I managed to meet my wonder fiancé, Kristina Bennett. She is much better at the life work balance than I am, and helps me daily in both aspects. Together, we decided to move to the other side of the country, and work for ourselves. We co-own Sugar City Tattoo in Crockett, California. When we first moved out here, it was a difficult start and reminded me of those art school days of non-stop work with little sleep. All to just establish yourself as a shop and as artists in a new location, so that you could eventually have some kind of balance. Success in personal life takes on the forms of time and health for me. How do you get that extra time with loved ones and feel physically, mentally, and emotionally fit when you’re struggling to pay the bills? Is the latest trend, technology, or weekend fun worth more than spending what little time you have with them or being healthy?

In an unforeseen circumstance and detriment to life as we all know it, the pandemic and ensuing lockdown forced a change in thought for us. We were forced to stop tattooing all together for 10 straight months. With little money, an inability to escape, and extra time on our hands for once, the balance shifted for us. We still needed to stay afloat financially, but it allowed for more time to be spent on our own personal lives, to what really mattered most. Pushing shifted from striving for career goals to breaking personal boundaries for myself. I’ve always been risk adverse and prone to doing things for others at a sacrifice to my own life. Kristina and my brother, George, were doing the pushing instead. They were pushing me to finally take some time off and finally relax for a bit.

An opportunity presented itself to meet an incredible artist, director, concept artist/creature creator Steve Wang in LA. I took the day off and drove down to LA and back. Being able to ask artists that are of a caliber and success that very few achieve about their lives is awe-inspiring to say the least. Here was an example of someone that worked very hard, putting in long hours honing his craft, working to exhaustion on various projects over differing timelines. That’s partially what makes these types of artists as great as they are. Unending motivation and perseverance. I love supporting amazing local businesses like we appreciate being supported by our clients, and while down there had to stop by Saikai Ramen which graciously resulted in this very interview.

I seem to work best when I’m overworking, but it does come at a cost and it is getting more difficult to do as I get older. I try to expand on my creativity, but in a more efficient way and try to work smarter whenever possible. For me at least, there does seem to be something indescribable about creating to exhaustion from time to time, and now with rest in between, that just works. Some people may not have found that balance, but eventually life will force you to find it because you can only go until you burn yourself out or not do much until you’re forced to do more. As artists we observe the world around us for inspiration and inevitably you see that in most instances. Our world is made up of both calm nature and bustling cities, but those too have a balance amongst themselves to continue life as we know it.

I’ve come to realize that my journey through life can only be navigated with that hard to attain balance. Your life goals are set out in the horizon with the many paths ahead of you to reach them. Constantly having to push through adversity to reach those new heights. The only way you can really get there is by taking small breaks on that journey to refocus on what’s truly important to you and keep pushing. As we grow, we attempt to work a little less, take care of ourselves a little more, and be more efficient with the time we have. Being in a creative field, you have to produce daily. In order to run a good business in today’s world, you have to wear many hats. Advertising on social media, ordering needed supplies, furthering my tattooing abilities, managing the finances, it all takes up time outside of actually tattooing. I’m hoping to eventually be in a position where we can trust some of those roles to other people. I am forever grateful for all of the many people who have helped me. and our business grow along the way and hope we do the same for others as well.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This is very difficult as there are so many… This is a list of tattooers/artists very edited as there are too many to list. Don McDonald, Phil Robertson, Markus Lenhard, Doug Nedzesky, Jason Vogt, Bob Jones, Jeff Croci, and Paco Dietz.

Website: SorinGabor.com SugarCityTattoo.com

Instagram: @SorinGabor

Facebook: facebook.com/soringabor

Yelp: Sugar City Tattoo

Other: @Kristinabenet

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