Thinking back, I’ve been working for twenty-three years. And at 41 years old I’m very proud of that fact. It’s nice being stable; to have steady income and health insurance and some consumer benefits the company hands out as perks. I work standard corporate hours, daytime, full-time. Yet, with all this (that I’m extremely grateful for) I harbor, with some consternation, a feeling of resentment.
How can I feel resentment and elation about the same issue? Well, I’m a writer and although I’m not published but currently working on two projects, there are days when I come home after a hard days’ work, plop on the sofa and think all I want to do is write full-time. Characters speak to me all day. They pop up in meetings, they tap me on the shoulder when I’m preparing a report and remind me not to forget “that scene” or sometimes, and becoming more frequent I daydream about the story, watch it play out as if a movie reel is running on loops in my mind’s eye. On the other hand, on that same sofa, I go through the mail, open the bills, pay the bills and thank God for that hard days’ work without which none of these invoices get taken care of.
And for all my dreams and aspirations, let’s face it there’s nothing like the peace of mind of knowing where your next paycheck and meal is coming from.
So, with that said and the fact that I’m not quitting my job anytime soon, how do I make this day job thing work? How do I stay true to my creativity, my craft while working 40 hours a week in a demanding position?
There are a few things that I’ve come to know for sure and with a little honesty, perseverance and self-care (and perhaps a glass of wine or two…) I’m proving to myself that one thing doesn’t cancel out the other. You can work a 9 to 5 without sacrificing your creative integrity.
And for that I needed to ask myself and tell myself a few things…
First, be honest. Really, really honest. Is being a (insert creative art here) sincerely what I want to do or is this a fleeting hobby? Of course the answer is yes, right! So, the next question is how much can you devote to the craft? Having a job full-time or part-time job hinders in some capacity your ability to give 100% of your time, this is true. There’s only 24 hours in a day and if half is given to work that pays the bills then any way you cut it, you can’t give all your time to that novel or painting or song writing. And as soon as you realize and accept this most important notion the sooner you can figure out how to best carve out time dedicated to the craft.
Next is perseverance. I asked myself the question. I answered it honestly and set realistic goals that I know I could meet without the disappointment and guilt associated with over-inflated objectives. And now I must implement and practice continuity. There isn’t a scientific method to sit down and do something, you simply have to sit down and do something. In my case, make the conscious effort to sit down and write. Whatever you do, don’t procrastinate.
Procrastination is a seven-headed demon beast that rears its ugly head just because you have a day job and it knows you’re tired, downright bone weary sometimes. He sits in your home office with its feet on your desk and its hands interlocked behind its head daring you to start, daring you to finish, daring you to continue. Which is why I believe with setting a realistic goal, broken down into smaller, achievable increments you learn you are stronger, more capable and less tired than you think or feel.
Especially for folks who travel a lot for their job. Which brings me to another point; just because you travel for work doesn’t mean it’s impossible to write. Writing in your hotel room before the conference starts or before a business meeting can be a sort of quiet comfort. Being away from the normal hustle and bustle of home can be an invaluable distraction to getting creative work done. Treat it like a retreat even if it’s a collection of stolen moments.
I remember owning an ‘all or nothing’ mantra. If I couldn’t do 10,000 words in 3 or 4 hours then what was the point in trying. It was the most backwards, counterintuitive mindset ever. Where did I get that if I didn’t go big in such an unattainable way somehow doing a little meant absolutely nothing? If you’re holding on to this kind of thinking. STOP. This doesn’t work-it never worked for me, and you only end up beating yourself up about not reaching unrealistic expectations. Instead, I made a commitment to devote 90 mins a day -most days- to writing. And that isn’t necessarily all in one sitting. I have the option to break it down into 3-30 min sprints, 2-45 min sessions or one 90 min session. The pressure is off and the results are better than if I forced myself into writing for long blocks of time without much happening. This is what I can do for me during the time that’s allotted for me.
It has nothing to do with producing big numbers and everything to do with consistent routine. Just like I have to get out of bed, brush my teeth, dress and report to work. I have to complete my 90 mins, 4-5 days a week. It’s just perseverance, it’s just effort, and it’s just doing what you said you would do. Be accountable to yourself but remember to be kind to yourself.
Finally, and probably should be labeled first, is Self-Care. For the love of God, take care of yourself; Mind, body and spirit. I admit, I wasn’t doing that for a long time. But that’s all changed. Don’t ignore those signs the body sends up when you’re over-worked, tired or becoming ill. In my case, headaches are the signal warning me to slow down or rest. I don’t suffer from migraines (thank God and I’m so sorry if you’re one of the millions who do get them) but I get a headache and then another in a couple of days later and I know it’s because I’ve put in my 8 hours then came home and tried to put in the same amount of hours, writing, as I did during my day job shift. At that point I know it’s time to stop. Putting down words means nothing if you end up at the doctor’s office. Know your limits. Do not sacrifice health for craft or just to convince yourself you can do it all.
If you need to rest, rest. If you need to take a walk after work then take the walk, clear your head, practice yoga, create a clear mental space for your creative endeavor. Meditate; and you don’t have to sit in an empty room for an hour (or you can if you want and have the time) but you can sit on your bed or on a chair and close your eyes, breath in and out deeply, focus on a memory that brought you joy.
Nothing good can come from a mind, body, and spirit that is not in balance. Nothing.
Working a full-time or part-time job or even going to school doesn’t mean you have to give up on your craft. It doesn’t mean you have to be stressed. There will be hard days, there will be easy days. So, the next time you come home from a long day, take a breath, take a walk, straighten out your workspace, turn your computer on, pick up your brush, grab your instrument or whatever your craft is and put in the work you know you can do.
Be honest, leave the day job at the day job, be accountable, take care of yourself and you will find your own personal balance.