I know it’s tempting, believe me. The majority of us probably spend the entire work day daydreaming about our grand exit–the dramatic toss of those damned manilla folders, papers scattered all over the floor, pouring our cold coffee all over our keyboard (that we requested be replaced six months ago because four of the letters are constantly sticking), kicking over the water cooler in the break room and sending a biblical style flood into the boss’ corner office. For a lot of us our day job is literally sucking the soul right out of our bodies and every morning when that alarm goes off it gets harder and harder not to just keep lying there. But despite the drudgery and the misery and the complete lack of fulfillment, that day job is necessary.
On Sunday I blogged about my theory that world peace is only achievable when everyone is living out their true purpose, and while I absolutely and wholeheartedly believe that, it doesn’t mean that we can all just quit our jobs and spend our days doing whatever the hell we want. Although that would be ideal, in a time where everyone is struggling financially, it’s just not realistic. So, even though making our dreams our top priority is the first step to making them come true, here’s why we still need that old 9 to 5 to help get us there.
Reason One: The Peace Of Mind
This one is huge. From last July to November I wasn’t working. I’d moved from Florida back to Texas and I decided that rather than start looking for another job right away I’d spend some time focusing on writing. So I did. For four whole months all I did was write, from nine in the morning until six in the evening, sometimes later. And you know what? When it came to my productivity, I was writing about the same amount as I am now while also working a part time job. And I could blame that on the lack of structure or my own lack of self-discipline but one major factor that really kept me from writing as much as I could have was my own anxiety.
I put so much pressure on myself to make the most of every second of that time off and that pressure ended up crippling my creativity. I was constantly worried about when I would run out of money and what exactly I would do when I did and then I berated myself every time I didn’t reach a word count goal or wasted time on the internet. It was awful to wake up every day and already feel like a failure before it had even begun. Not just because I wasn’t writing enough but because I was doing it at the expense of an actual income. But the truth is it was all in my head–the fear and the anxiety and the negative thoughts. I’d created that atmosphere and all of the goals I’d set in order to push myself ended up backfiring on me.
It wasn’t until I went back to work that I finally felt like I could breathe again. I’m not making money doing what I love but I still make time to write and now it’s not at the expense of my mental health. Instead I’m taking my time and not only have I learned to be patient with myself but I’ve also learned to be more forgiving. And because of this new attitude I’ll never again put myself in a position where I’m worried about how I’m going to pay rent just because the real world was too hard and I’d rather be writing. Because here’s the bottom line: Writers have to eat too and there is absolutely nothing glamorous about being a starving artist.
Reason Two: The Freedom
I know this one may sound counterintuitive since the cubicle is basically the desk equivalent of a prison cell, but I promise it’s true. Because when you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay for your next meal or how you’re possibly going to make rent this month, you have the freedom to worry about other things and you have the freedom to do other things that don’t require making a profit. Yes, we would all love to be able to make a comfortable living from doing what we love, but it should be a comfort to know that we’ll have a steady income regardless of how our creative pursuits pan out. That way when we don’t feel like sitting down to write one evening or when we feel like writing something personal and just for us, we have the freedom to do so. We have the freedom to explore and we have the freedom to be obligated to one person and one person only, ourselves.
Reason Three: The Exposure
No, not to some kind of flesh eating bacteria–although I wouldn’t touch the sponge in the break room sink with a ten foot pole–but exposure to that little thing us creative, introverted types tend to avoid as often as possible. Life. I’ve been working from home since November and even though the introvert in me always daydreamed about having that kind of opportunity, it didn’t take long for me to realize that social interaction is not only necessary for my creativity but for my happiness. It’s barely three months in and I’ve already got cabin fever. I swear, when I found an opportunity to work at a library this month, I was so grateful. And while I’m usually not the type to strike up conversations with total strangers, I’m finding myself doing just that, and probably talking their ear off in the process. But not because I’ve spontaneously become some kind of social butterfly. But because I’m human.
Humans need to connect, whether that’s for fifteen minutes in the mornings while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew or in a quarterly meeting or at an office Christmas party. And those interactions might not seem like a lot but even the smallest exchange can have a huge impact. But living in the real world isn’t just about making connections, for artists it’s also about making observations. We can’t expect to be able to write about life unless we’ve lived it. Unless we’ve tasted and felt and touched and kissed and wanted and discovered. We have to live to write and not the other way around. So, like I’ve written about before, the day job is not our enemy, but it’s the means to an end. It’s a vessel, an observatory, and a place where we are growing every day as writers and artists, and most importantly as human beings.