Don’t Quit Your Day Job

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.

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16 thoughts on “Don’t Quit Your Day Job

  1. Mark Myers says:

    Good post. I have an exit strategy, but it is totally inappropriate and I may serve time for it. No one will be hurt, but it won’t be pretty. That said, I’ll probably never get to do it. The job will keep sucking my soul dry. But I can dream!

    • AHAHA! While I hope you’re exaggerating about your exit strategy not being very “pretty” I do agree that everyone should have one–fantastical or not–because it can really help to keep you sane. I’ve always been a planner and I definitely have my own escape plan in place and it motivates me every day to make smart financial choices so that one day I can be in a position to do what I really want.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I used to dream of telling my employer adios, but then I lost my job due to corporate closures. I worried how I would pay my mortgage and more importantly I worried about my health insurance, COBRA was so expensive. During that time of stress, I couldn’t write one word. Thankfully, I found a great job, with excellent benefits and most importantly excellent health insurance. I’m thankful every day for my cubicle and peace of mind to now write again. Great post!

    • I absolutely know what you mean. Over the last six months, I’ve felt like every day was a new reality check for me–all a part of growing up, I guess. But I definitely learned to appreciate the stability of a day job, especially when I was struck by the flu for the first time last year. I was out of work for about 7 days but luckily I had vacation time to supplement those lost hours. This past December however, I had a few unexpected doctor’s visits that I couldn’t pay for on my own and it was such a scary feeling. I’m so glad you found a great job though that allows you to take care of both your physical and mental health so you can finally write again. Having that peace of mind is so crucial to the creative process.

  3. hesthermay says:

    *sigh* I guess you’re right.

    Nice post! 😉

    • Haha, I know, I know. It’s a hard pill to swallow but I only speak from experience. Having a day job actually comes with a lot of benefits and hey, if we can start putting a positive spin on something the majority of us tend to loathe, I think we might find that we’re just a little bit happier going into the office every day.

  4. I also think that when you’ve got lots of time in front of you you can put off writing and waste away writing hours. But if you have have a job and other commitments your writing time becomes more precious and you tend to use it more productively.
    Also a job, and the people who come along with it, can provide you with ideas for characters and settings.

    • Yes! That was definitely a huge problem for me. I kept telling myself that I had plenty of time to waste and then suddenly it would be three in the afternoon and I hadn’t written a single thing, which made me feel bad about myself, which made attempting to write even harder, which made me just give up on the whole day. It was a vicious cycle that ruined too many opportunities to actually be productive. I’ve realized that I’m the type of person who needs structure and to stick to a schedule and going back to work has definitely helped me to set more boundaries when it comes to how I spend my time.

  5. Jennifer K says:

    Ugh. I hate that you’re right, but you make excellent points. As much as I would love to quit my day job, I know the reality of writing full time would not be everything I imagine it to be! Your reason one: Peace of Mind was eye opening. Great post!

    • I hate that I’m right too haha. But trust me, I would still be glamorizing writing full time if I hadn’t attempted it for those four months. At times it was a lot of fun and everything I’d hoped it would be but like you pointed out, peace of mind trumps having fun. Peace of mind trumps most things because stress and creativity just do not mix. Now I’m grateful for the experience simply because it made me realize how important my health actually is and how hard it is right now to find work. I got lucky because my old job asked me to come back and work for them from home. But if they hadn’t I might still be looking for work and that’s not something I’m willing to risk again.

  6. Gwen Stephens says:

    There’s something about having to make time for this art that makes us crave it, I think. I get up at 4AM so I can have 3 solid hours before my day needs to start at 7:00. Like you, I don’t make any money at writing, but I couldn’t imagine doing it all day, every day. I think somehow it would take the magic out of it. Great post, Laekan!

    • That is such a good point. There’s something really romantic about stealing away to be with your own imagination and I always feel that pull to write is the strongest when I’m away from it. But, wow, waking up at 4AM is such an amazing commitment! I used to get to work an hour early just to write but I’m not sure I could even function any earlier than that. I’m really in awe! But it’s that kind of dedication that practically guarantees your success. Only someone who truly loves writing and who is so fiercely compelled by it would give up that extra sleep.

  7. A fantastic post Laekan. Having been unemployed for almost half a year, the guilt stops me from writing during the day (normally write from 830pm to midnight, later if on a roll). The dollars are peace of mind, and less stress is always the best policy.

    Keep up the great work =)

  8. akaimiko says:

    It’s tragic but it’s true. Creatives are so sensitive, we must create under perfect (or close enough) conditions, and a day job, although it’s a hateful creature, does spare me from the anxiety of financial crisis. Someday, though…

  9. Reblogged this on laekanzeakemp and commented:

    *To celebrate my two-year blogging anniversary, I’ll be re-blogging some of my favorite posts from 2014 throughout the month of December*

  10. flygirl140 says:

    I am so glad you reblogged this! I was needing to read this today. I love the people I work with and enjoy my job but I constantly dream of when I can make a living writing. But I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my small income keeping me afloat. So thanks for the reminder that my efforts are indeed fruitful!

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