Tagged day job

Being Generous at the Job and

Sometimes it’s not easy. I feel tired, cranky, wishing I could get back home to keep working on projects, or more likely, reading a ton of articles and playing Minecraft. But these things are indulgent acts of self-comfort which, while soothing, aren’t very fulfilling.

Does that make sense? Acts that punch my dopamine button are addictive, and the feeling is a habit my monkey mind wants to keep getting. They’re easy, like getting drunk But the stuff that uplifts me more deeply, that gives me an abiding sense of satisfaction and accomplishment are hard. At least, they’re hard to start.

Similarly, withdrawing into my thoughts and flying on the autopilot of well-worn routines at work is easy. Engaging and supporting people around me is hard. But the former just leads to despair and ongoing dislike of my job. The latter can sustain me through a difficult shift and beyond.

It’s just like working on your creative thing: distraction is easy and a quick path to fun, but it doesn’t nourish you. It’s often harder to start working on creative work, but it nourishes you deeply.

A Quick What-If Scenario With Social Obligation

If you’re both shy and often exhausted by your day job, it’s tempting to never go outside (except Tito go back to work) and never have guests.

But sometimes a cow-orker or friend says they’re thinking about stopping by.

Do it. Tell them to come on over. You need the practice, artist person. Keeping up your ability to be engaging even when tired will help future interactions when it’s about you and your work, not just the weather and how annoying everyone is at work.

It Only Takes a Little Energy to Do a Little Bit of Your Thing

When you’re dead beat, there’s zero motivation to work on a project. It happens a lot after the day job for me. There’s not a lot you can do, but even a little effort can get you to the metaphorical—or actual—drawing board.

And that’s what you want. A page a day gets you a novel in a year. A line a day gets you several paintings, or a series, or a lot further along than you would be waiting for fresh energy, a full work day, or the lightning strike of inspiration.

A piece of something every day is you putting up a lightning rod.

There Should Be Less Division Between Artist and Worker

Mierle Laderman Ukeles made the above piece in 1976, but we still haven’t applied the concepts she boldly displayed widely enough, yet.

It’s very easy to get caught up in rock start aesthetic, superstar mythos, where we dream of rich hedonism and a life above the humdrum, creating at will and to great acclaim. This is America.

But that vision isn’t real, and the humdrum is just life in general. It’s where we are most of the time, and it feeds and sustains our practice. Ukeles asked maintenance workers to consider part of their work during the day as art, and complied her worker-artist subjects in a grid of fellow creators, not merely portrait sitters. These are lessons we should pass on and ponder. Everyone can make art, it’s for us all.

Let’s Have Another Quick Look at the Day Job, or, As Most of Us Call It, the Job

Look, after all, maybe your day is at night. I think to qualify, it has to be something you’d rather do less than the other thing you wish could support you. This is why I think a lot of us spend time putting it down, telling other people it’s not what we really do.

But I think this isn’t being kind. This isn’t fair to the job. If you imagine it’s a person with feelings, they’re going to be hurt. On the other hand, if we don’t get something happening with the thing-we’d-rather-be-doing soon, we’re going to be hurt. I’m trying out a different way of thinking about it.

Rather than resent my day job for taking me away from art, I’m trying to think of it as partner to creation. Maybe there’s an element of that in the job, but I’d say usually there isn’t much. But focus on those little aspects—as well as on the things that make it different from art—make it easier to go to work every day. My job isn’t my enemy, it’s my partner-in-crime, secretly enabling me to work on projects that I’m not ready to ask for money for.

If you find yourself hating your job, it could be time to hunt for a better one, but if you’re just wishing you could spend the time working on the creative stuff, maybe this framing can help. I’ll try to remember to post a follow-up in a while.

Take Care, It’s Something Your Work Needs in Large Quantity

The value of working a retail job at some point in your life as an artist is valuable. The insight into commerce, the feeling of working in service to others—even if only as a raw exchange of goods and services for money, and a camaraderie with people in the same position alongside you are all vital to reaching a deeper understanding of humans in contemporary society. If your art isn’t touching other people in some way, if it’s too . . . deep? It won’t have the power to find and keep an audience or fanbase.

I’ve watched dozens of people I knew over the years find some measure of success with their work, and I’ve come to know a smidgen of it myself. What I’ve noticed about my day jobs, in interacting with customers and clients, is that the amount of care I take with all of them—in craft, in concern that the thing they’re buying is what they want, in appreciation of patronage of all kinds—reflects in a lot of ways in my work. 

I’m not sure you can not give a shit at your job and turn contempt around in your art. Probably some geniuses can, but very few of us indeed are those.

Little Unpleasant Tasks Can Contribute to a Bigger Creative Picture If You Own Them

It’s a part of most retail jobs that employees have to do certain chores that may be gross or filthy. Cleaning bathrooms and floors, dealing with trash, wiping down fixtures and windows. These can seem demeaning, and I’ve thought so on more than one occasion.

They aren’t, though.

I was thinking about their place in work of all kinds, and it’s not just that you have to do them, I think they contribute, weirdly, to a bigger picture.

They’re small cogs in a larger machine, just like you, if you’re one of those workers. But you have to do the same kind of maintenance at your own house, and there’s no shortage of cleanup in art, either. These tasks relate.

They also interrelate. An attitude of reverence toward your tools and tasks carries over to the important work, the art itself. Working a job is valuable training in maintaining the harmony of everything unseen in the art you make. It supports and frames it. It makes it possible to forget about everything but the art itself.


Declaring your sovereignty is both a goal and a rite of passage in creative circles. But it’s not necessarily a better way to get your work done and out in the world than working adjunct to a job of any kind.

Institutions and employers offer support you can’t generate on your own. It’s always a good idea to try to discount biases in making any decision to set off on your own. Concepts like “freedom” and “independence” have deep roots in our psyches, especially for Americans. It can block or hinder us to assume being on your own is always better by default.

Assuming such grand and fundamental tropes are not the most important isn’t a bad course of action. We get in our own way far too often to shrug off questioning assumptions.

The spark for these thoughts is this article by Dylan Matt, questioning if the American Revolution was the best path to take, or a mistake that prolonged slavery and genocide.

Punching the Clock

You’re still running out of time, but the culprit isn’t your motivation, it’s your schedule—how can you keep working on your thing if your work hours change every week? It happens to your humble chronicler, and has for years.

You’re going to have to schedule your creative time. Not at regular times, but around your job hours.

It’s best if you can get work in—and when I say “work” in this context it’s about the important stuff: art—before you head off to the job. Ideally the first thing you do when you get up in the morning. After the gym or morning exercise, if you do that, might be best, since I find I’m more lucid and motivated to get stuff happening then, rather than before when I’m still a bit groggy. Conversely, if you’re a poet, it might help the imagery to have the cobwebs of some dreaming hanging about. Try both.

An hour is great, two is better, but even 20 minutes a day is a couple hours a week, and it can pile up just like anything else. Get it on your calendar, shove your tantalizing social media and video services to the side for your work time. Tell yourself it’s just for a little while, you’ll get to it in just a bit.

This isn’t easy, but it can help establish a habit, and you can use the nagging itch to work on stuff to your advantage, because everything else in the world is conspiring—unwittingly—to distract, divert, and transfer your attention to literally everything else that seems easier and more fun. The world offers you endless ice cream. But your soul can’t survive on that, and in the long run, you get a lot more life out of the bread you bake yourself from scratch.