Monday, June 1, 2009

Wanted: A Day Job that Doesn't Suck

day jobs

When we feel we are investing attention in a task against our will, it is as if our psychic energy is being wasted. Instead of helping us reach our own goals, it is called upon to make someone else's come true. Time channeled into such a task is perceived as time subtracted from the total available for our life. Many people consider their jobs as something they have to do, a burden imposed from the outside, an effort that takes life away from the ledger of their existence."
(Hungarian psychology professor, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention," Harper Collins, 1996.)

Working at a day job
Many (if not most) artists need to find day jobs to support their art practice. This goes for both young artists who are just starting out as well as artists who are actively showing their work. Unlike in most professions, artists do not receive a regular salary or wage for their creative labor. An artist’s day job may or may not relate specifically to his or her artistic interests. These jobs may include: working as a studio assistant to a more established artist, museum administrator, teacher/professor/educational staff, gallery receptionist, retail associate, bartender, and freelance gigs (to name a few).
Audrey Chan, Art21 Blog article "On representations of the artist at work (Part 2)")

If you are happier writing than not writing, painting than not painting, singing than not singing, acting than not acting, directing than not directing, for God's sake (and I mean that literally) let yourself do it. To kill your dreams because they are irresponsible is to be irresponsible to yourself.
(Julia Cameron, The Artists Way)

However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
(Apostle Paul, The Bible, 1 Corinthians 7:7)

Tell people you want to be an artist and you are bound to have negativity heaped upon you, thrown from all directions. And sometimes the creative gifts you have come to seem more like curses, once all you hear all the tales of gloom, doom, evictions, poverty, food stamps, and lack of retirement money told by the well-meaning naysayers. Their consensus: get a day job. Easy for them to say. But not easy for artists, who must toil in exile from their passions.

A day job, for me, has often been a job so boring it hurts. Or a retail job like the one I had at Nordstrom, where I mastered the fine art of passive-aggression, skulking away to the stockroom to talk about the customers behind their backs after sucking up to get them to buy things from me. Day jobs have often been inconsequential and meaningless things that take up space on my resume that I would have rather filled with some other activity.

In The Great Debaters, a father tells a son he must do what he has to do so that he can do what he wants to do. This is very familiar advice. But nowadays, it seems counterproductive, with jobs frequently requiring far more from workers than the 40 hours per week that labor unions once advocated for. Why devote such a significant portion of one's life to a source of unmitigated aggravation? What is the reward? And with the economy in such a state of anomie, do the old rules even apply anymore?

These are the questions on my mind as I prepare to graduate into a recession for the second time. The first time around, back in 2001, I hoped against hope. After all, as a high school student, I had been trained in programs I now think of as corporate finishing schools. I learned how to dress, how to speak, how to wear my hair, how to write a resume, and decided the safest path for me would be to channel my creativity into a career in advertising or marketing. But in the weak job market that soon turned to desperation and I found myself willing to take any job that came along. No one was going to pay me to be creative and nobody cared where I went to school. I needed a job, any job, a day job.

And soon I learned that day jobs suck.

I found myself pretending to care about things I did not care about. I found myself pretending to be someone I wasn't, whether on interviews or at work. I had downsized my dreams. I was doing whatever I could to get by. I even tried teaching on my days off and after work. But after a while the novelty wore off and I found myself standing in front of classrooms of students I didn't want to teach. My heart wasn't in it. I knew they deserved better. I decided to quit.

And once I grew weary of retail I decided to go back to school again. Why not use my creative skills to become an interior designer? And then when I graduated, the only places that would hire me were...
retail furniture stores!
Of course! That is exactly why I got a $40,000 education, to sell sofas and carpet.

And those day jobs sucked.

Since my attempt at being "practical" didn't work, I decided I might as well pursue my great unspeakable dream of being an artist. What did I have to lose?

"But artists are broke," people had told me.
So what? I was already broke.

"But it's not impressive," someone had said.
And selling furniture in a department store was?

I had nothing to lose, having lost so much already. At least with art I was able to regain my sanity and some small sense of peace. At least school gave me an excuse to take part-time work with flexible hours that allowed plenty of time for painting and studying.

But now that time is drawing to a close. Once again, I find myself about to face the big, bad world of full-time work. I will have to run the exhausting obstacle course known as the search and interview process, with all its meaningless tests and idiotic interview questions. The parade of negativity has begun again, right on schedule, preceded by the questions of what I will do with my life and unsolicited (and highly irrelevant) career advice.

For once, why can't someone humor me and suggest I become a phlebotomist or an insurance adjuster or a mortician? Because those professions would all be just as wrong for me as the teaching, law, and finance jobs so many people have wanted to steer me towards. No, I do not want to be a lawyer just because I remember some of the Latin I studied in high school. No, I am not interested in finance, except for the status of my own accounts. And no, not wanting to be a teacher does not signal some sort of neurological problem, as someone I love has told me.

"So then what do you want to do?" They all ask.
Perhaps they hope I will have a different answer. They ask this as if I have never told them before. They ask this as though they are hoping I will renounce my interest in the arts once and for all.

So, you want to know what
(besides art and design and writing) I would like to do with my life? I will tell you.

I want a day job that doesn't suck.

And when I say I want a day job that doesn't suck, I mean it not just in the vernacular sense, but in a more literal sense as well. It should not suck all the time out of my schedule. Nor should it suck out all my physical and psychic energies.

A day job that doesn't suck:
  • pays me the kind of salary I should have been making ages ago (not $12.50 per hour)
  • does not have so much homework and overtime that I have no time for my artwork
  • does not require me to teach and grade students under the age of 18
  • does not pit me against my coworkers in bloodthirsty competition
  • does not require me to wear expensive business suits all the time
  • is not hazardous to my (mental or physical) health
  • does not require me to work for an abusive boss
  • does not require me to go back to school again
  • does not require me to be someone I am not
  • does not require me to sell things to people
  • does not require me to relocate
  • does not require cold calling
  • has a good benefits package

Bonus points if it also:
  • isn't more than 1 hour from where I live
  • does not require the wearing of uniforms
  • allows me to network with people in my field
  • allows me to use my creative skills or talents
  • will give me a severance package if I get laid off
  • doesn't force me to work on weekends and evenings all the time
And you know what? I don't even care anymore if my day job is boring.

Yes, of course I know we are in a recession. But after the experiences I've had taking whatever came along, I've learned that even in a recession I have to have standards. But I am sure that if they were to read my list of requirements, the self-appointed career advisers in my life might try to chide me for being too picky. Personally I don't think I am asking for too much. In fact, I am probably asking for too little.

I know what I really, really, really want to do. I've always known. That has never been my problem. My problem has always been not getting hired to do it. My problem has always been the constant negativity of people who do not share my vision. My problem has been feeling I had to take day jobs that sucked because I had no other choice. And though I've been accused of being too stubborn, I actually have been quite open to taking work in fields other than the ones that interest me. I have even been open to following the rules and directives of those fields. But you can only live a lie so long before the masquerade is broken.

I have not come to this conclusion arbitrarily. I know what I don't want to do because I've already done it and didn't enjoy the experience. When I say I don't want to work in sales, it's because I've held several sales positions. And when I say I don't want to teach, it's because I did it for five years, even applying to Teach For America at one point. My personal statement was a work of fiction. I only wanted that job for the benefits. And I was relieved when they didn't choose me. Yet there are still those who refuse to believe me when I tell them that teaching is not right for me. Maybe I shouldn't have misled them to believe that my motivation for getting an M.A. was so I could teach art. Though I might be willing to try teaching at the college level. Maybe...

I am hoping that this time will be different, but I know to prepare for the worst. So now I think if I STILL cannot find work for a museum, arts organization, or interior design firm, any of the positions below could suffice:

  • administrative assistant
  • visual merchandiser
  • library associate
  • research assistant

Let it never be said again that I am not open-minded as I seek employment. And excuse me for not going after jobs I am not even remotely qualified for or good at.

So in closing, I see this as a fair enough compromise. I want to work, even if it means it's at a job I do not love, in order to have a home to live in and pay my bills. Even if no one ever hires me to be in a creative field like I want them to. I can take a day job, working somewhere, doing something, but at the end of the day I will go home to be an artist, writer, and designer.
I want to be an artist, designer, and writer because everything else bores me, but I don't mind suffering through 8 hours of boredom every working day if it means I can earn enough to pay my bills, save for the future, and still have money for art supplies and time to do that work that really matters to me once the workday is done.

I don't have to love what I do for a living, but I shouldn't have to hate it, either. I do not mind having to get a day job, as long as it doesn't suck.

Some things I've read as I came to this conclusion:

Do What You Love and Starve? By Marty Nemko
When is a day job a work of art? by Jori Lynn (Durga) Keyser
Living the Dream With a Day Job by Summer Pierre
Some Thoughts on Scalable Careers, Your Job, and “Side Hustles”
by Trent Hamm
The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine


  1. Your writing is fantastic.. I'm adding your blog to my Blog Candy roll under Brooding Beauty.
    Hope that is okay!


  2. Money isn't everything.

    One of my good friends - a struggling writer - works at a gas station during the night. 95% of the time, he just sits there on a stool and reads and jots down his ideas for writing. He couldn't be more fulfilled, I don't think.


Thanks for reading my blog! Comments make me happy. Spam makes me mad.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Share This Post