Mindsets for Success
First, unless you have a secondary passion (say, you feel strongly about libraries and would be happy being a librarian), resist the urge to treat your Day Job as a career. Your family and peers may accuse you of lack of ambition if you aren't scrabbling up the corporate ladder, but you only need as much money as keeps you comfortable. There is no dishonor in flipping a burger if you do it well and come home ready to dive into your other projects. Seriously: don't lose sight of this or you may find yourself CFO of some random technology firm working 90 hour weeks, wondering what happened and how you ended up here. Your object is not money for its own sake. Your object is a little financial stability and a reason to get out of the studio.
Second, think of your day job as a choice. Most of us aren't used to this idea; when you're down to your last penny you're not supposed to choose, you're supposed to take what you can get. Allow yourself the radical notion that you should look for the job that's right for you. You might not find it immediately, but don't give up experimenting until you've found the one that works.
Finding the Right Day Job
Everyone's right Day Job is going to be different depending on the art you do and the workstyle that suits you. I can't tell you how to find that Right Job. I can, however, enumerate a couple of common pitfalls:
• The Day Job That's Too Much Like Your Art: You draw. You take a job as a graphic artist. You spend all day at the office drawing what other people tell you to... and come home not wanting to even look at a piece of paper. If this is your problem, find a day job that has nothing to do with your art!
• The Day Job That Leaves You Physically Exhausted: You spend ten hours a day restocking shelves. You come home, faceplant and wake up the next morning to do it again. Art requires some physical energy. If this is your problem and you can't cut back on your hours, it's time to look for a new job.
• The Day Job That Leaves You Mentally Exhausted: You spend all day behind a retail counter dealing with irritating customers. When you come home, all you can do is watch TV and go to bed. Mental exhaustion is just as big a problem as physical. If you can't cut back on your hours, again... it's time to hunt for some new job.
Some styles of Day Job to consider:
• The Day Job That Gives You Time to Think: If you need time to work out things in your head, consider taking a day job that involves physical labor. You can massage your clients while working out your next story, or do landscaping while pondering that song that just won't come together.
• The Day Job That Gives You Access to a Computer: You can do a lot of useful things at a computer on your time off, even if your art form doesn't necessarily need a computer, like writing. If you end up with a day job that puts you in a cubicle, consider using your spare cycles/lunch breaks to catch up on business emails, do social networking or work on marketing or ad materials. (Phones are another good thing to have access to; pick up a pre-paid card so as not to use your company's long distance.)
• The Day Job That Gets You In Front of People: If you're not good with people and want practice dealing with them, the Day Job that makes you interact with them is a great way to learn strategies for customer care. Every interaction is an opportunity! Take notes!
• The Day Job That Gives You Ideas: If you're low on ideas and want to bulk up on them, consider finding a way-out-there job, something you'd never think to do. Work as a medical transcriptionist, a legal aide, a travel agent. If you can't think up a weird job like this, head to the library or local bookstore and consult their career section: there are entire books dedicated to jobs you might not think of, everything from wedding planning to manning tollbooths.
Day Jobs are as varied as the artists who work them. I've known an actress who worked as a nanny, a job that allowed her more freedom to schedule auditions; a musician who did data entry at home so he could sleep in after long practice sessions; an office assistant who wrote short stories during her lunch hours. I've met three visual artists who worked at framing shops so they could borrow the equipment after hours to frame their own work, at least two jewelers who owned or worked at bead shops, a part-time barista who was attending art school on the side and more people than I can count who worked 8-to-5 jobs in cubicles so they could afford to experiment with things that may or may not pan out.
Above all, your #1 strategy: if the job isn't working for you, start looking for a new one. This Day Job is not your career. Your goal is to make enough money to free yourself from some (or all) of your financial anxieties and to get out of the studio... not to chain yourself to a miserable existence. Remember the mindsets: I am not my Day Job, and I am allowed to choose the work I do. Arm yourself with these realizations and keep looking until you find the right fit.
Am I saying that all Day Job problems can be solved by... finding a new one?
Why yes. I am.
But wait! That's crazy! Not everyone can just up and find a new job!
You're right. And sometimes we'll have to stick it out in jobs that we dislike because of a monetary situation we can't yet resolve. But our problem is that we become comfortable in that routine. It gets hard to find the energy to look for something new. We get used to the idea of being trapped.
The moment you start thinking that, you close the cage door on yourself.
As artists, our calling is to make art. This is our passion, our purpose. Our Day Jobs are sidelines. We can't afford to be attached to them if they bar us from our purpose, which means we have to be ready to let go of them if they get in the way. If you find yourself mired in a Day Job that keeps you from working, but that you have to keep for practical reasons, you have only two choices: find a new one, or learn to work despite it. Both these choices are hard but you have to make one of them, or you'll renege on that joy that is your birthright. Never let go of the possibility of finding a new Day job. And if you can't...
...then it's time to write your story. The one where the world tried to crush you and you didn't let it. The one where you triumphed against all adversity to eke out one or two pieces of art when you had a spare moment, because to not do so would be giving in. And you don't give in. Ever. Not if it means giving up the art.
If you're trapped and there's no way out, if your quest for a different job isn't bearing fruit, if you have no other choice, the only choice you can make is to be the Artist Who Didn't Let the Bastards Grind Her Down. Turn your anger and resentment into power and use them for fuel. Bring a notebook small enough for a pocket with you and jot down ideas in stolen time. Skip lunch to write. Stay up late after everyone's asleep to get in ten minutes of work before you collapse. Do it again the next day because ten minutes day after day adds up. Tell yourself the story every morning you wake up: "I'm the hero who can't be kept down." Tell it to yourself until you believe it.
(And then, find a new job the moment you can.)
Addendum to the Story
...did you notice that the Story is another mindset? Training yourself to succeed, to think of yourself as someone with choices, to think of your Day Job itself as an asset to your art... all these are the most powerful tools you have in your arsenal as an artist. All the time-management strategies in the world, all the coping tactics, the plans, all of them will come to nothing if you don't have the mindsets firmly in place first. With the right attitude nothing is going to stop you. Without it, you'll only get where you want to go by accident... if you get there at all.
The Personal Micahs
Manning a help desk taught me the importance of self-control (boy howdy, was that a story!) and gave me a chance to develop a customer "face."
Working in web design taught me how to make my first website. And then my next. And my next...
When I went into process analysis and development, I learned how important processes are to efficient workflow, and took that knowledge to my workflow as an artist.
When I did business analysis, I learned things about trending, tracking and statistics that are serving me even now as I do marketing for my art.
Working in Product Marketing taught me about customer care and how to deal with faulty products and botched customer relationships.
Inventory control gave me the opportunity to experiment with project management and the importance of annotating and filing everything.
Becoming an editor at Graduate Studies gave me a chance to practice handling sudden gluts of work, exposed me to the breadth of people's ideas, and allowed me to take classes for free, resulting in a lot of drawings about medical ethics.
My work as a massage therapist gave me endless fodder for blog columns, illustrations and observations about people.
My stint as a technical writer taught me the importance of brevity in communication, which led to my first flash fiction collections.
Giving up all my Day Jobs for parenting has already changed me so much I can't begin to enumerate the things I'm learning, and all of them are affecting my work as an artist.
I have never had a Day Job that didn't teach me something I couldn't turn around and take to my art, even the ones that sent me home physically and mentally exhausted, even the ones that slowed my production down to trickles. I'm hoping that the philosophies and mindsets I've discussed in these past two entries will help you find something of value in your Day Job too... because the truth is that most of us will need a Day Job for part or even most of our lives as artists. But we're not defined by the "hobby" that pays for our real jobs, and if you take away anything from the Three Micahs on the Day Job, that's the message: you will always be an artist, no matter what you do with the rest of your life. Count on it.
That concludes our columns on the Day Job! Next month we're going to take on trending and tracking, so if you have any questions now on the topics of what data you want to keep, how you keep it and how to make sense of it, send those along or leave me a comment! And as always, if you're so inclined:
If you prefer to send physical money, you can email me for my address at haikujaguar at gmail.
Thanks for reading!