A day job is a job whose primary meaning—or only meaning—is that it allows you to survive while you work on your art and your art career. Some day jobs are satisfying in their own right, some are completely unsatisfying, some are more like second careers with their own perks and success ladder, others are simply dead-end positions that go nowhere and aren’t meant to go anywhere. What they all have in common, to lesser but often to greater degrees, is that they provoke their own special anxieties and require careful handling.
First of all they are jobs, with all pressures that jobs entail. Even if your job means nothing to you, it is still worrisome when you don’t perform it well and you know that you will be criticized and maybe even yelled it. It is anxiety-provoking and crazy-making if your boss is a mini-monster who rules your life for eight hours each day. It is a pressure cooker if you have to meet deadlines, meet quotas, smile at customers who are rebuking you, and so on. Jobs by their nature provoke anxiety, even jobs you don’t care about.
Second, there is the worry that you may have to work day jobs for a much longer time than you ever imagined. You are banking on your creative efforts paying off and to the extent that it looks like you won’t be able to live on those creative efforts, the specter of day jobs remaining a central time-wasting, spirit-killing, mind-numbing part of your life grows. It is one thing to work a day job at twenty-two while you write your first screenplay. It is quite another matter to work a day job at forty-four as you struggle to find the wherewithal to write your tenth screenplay after the first nine haven’t sold. Day job anxiety and creative career anxiety are inextricably connected. Your first day job may feel like a lark. Will your twentieth?
Third, there is the anxiety of time passing and of missed opportunities. How can you compete with other actors if they are auditioning and you are stuck at your day job? How you can get in enough hours of painting to get together enough paintings for a show if most of your week is eaten up by your day job and much of the rest of it is eaten up by you recovering from your day job. How can you properly network if you are trapped at work, how can you put in enough hours to master your medium—such thoughts pester you on the way to work, at work, and when, exhausted, you get home from work.
Given these realities, what can you do? Here are eight tactics:
1. Think about taking family money without guilt. If your family can support you and if you are really working hard at your craft, you might want to embrace that blessing and accept it rather than reject it as “not what an adult does” or “not what an independent person does.”
2. When choosing a mate, think about choosing someone who is happy doing what he or she is doing and who is making money. This is not a cynical approach to life but rather an open-eyed understanding that your life is seriously affected by your choice of mate.
3. If you must earn money, think about the four categories of employment we discussed previously: day jobs outside the industry, day jobs inside the industry, jobs that employ your skills, and second careers. See if one of those four categories feels like a clear winner and, if it does, use that information as you choose your work.
4. Whatever work you choose, try to stay super-organized so that your career efforts find a place on your daily and weekly to-do lists. It is very complicated and taxing working a job and also paying attention to your career. Super-organization is a must.
5. Leave your work when you leave your work. You can still keep thinking about your obnoxious boss or you can get back to making your film. This is a profoundly important place to “get a grip on your mind” so that you are thinking thoughts that serve you the instant you leave work.
6. Do your job but don’t overdo your job. If you start investing your time, energy, and identity at work and strive to become “the best fundraiser” or “the person everyone goes to,” the good feelings you get from that may well get outweighed over time by the way your job becomes your life.
7. If your job is abusive, too taxing, ethically challenged, or in some other important way unpalatable, get out quickly. People often stay at bad work because they pride themselves on sticking things out, because they minimize the difficulties they’re experiencing, etc. Get out of a bad situation expeditiously … understanding, of course, that you will then be unemployed again.
8. Create as powerful, sensible and complete a plan as you can for having your career support you, so that you are always “working your plan” and not just drifting from day to day, working a day job, coming home exhausted, and turning on the television. Know what your plan is and be working it.