I need a job that will a) allow me to pursue my interests and b) not make me miserable
June 17, 2012 7:54 PM   Subscribe

Given my present situation, how do I find a day job that allows me to pursue my interests? If you've ever found yourself in a similar situation, how did you change things for the better? Exciting personal details inside!

Some background: I'm in my mid-twenties. I have a solid but not spectacular B.A. in history from a good university where I was an assistant editor for an under-read student literary magazine. The first few years after graduation were rocky ones, as I was completely directionless and gypsied from city to city taking a variety of low-paying, menial clerical/customer-service related office jobs, as well as some other odd jobs. Happily I've never been fired/laid off. However, the fact that I jumped from thing to thing (staying a year at most), as well as the fact that there was one very large several-month-long gap of unemployment, doesn't look great to potential employers. My lack of hard skills hasn't really helped, either.

I don't mind admitting that during this time my mental health was often quite shaky. I was deeply, deeply unhappy with every aspect of my life.

It's clear to me that the root of my problems was my lack of direction.
In one very important sense, all of this changed. I experienced a surge of ambition. I realized that if I had to make a concerted effort to write and illustrate my own work and attempt to make a career of it. I suppose graphic novels are the sort of thing I'm going for. People have been saying this since I was a kid. A few people at work say this based purely on the emails I write! And in the past several months I've made that concerted effort.

Until recently. I haven't written or drawn a damn thing in the past three weeks because my job is sapping my energy and making me miserable. Not the kind of all-encompassing miserable I mentioned above, but the kind of circumstantial "I specifically hate this" kind of miserable that many people have in regards to their job.

I've been there for the past several months. It's yet another dull, menial, pointless, poorly-paid, dead-end clerical/customer-service office job having to do with a business I have no interest in which is at turns mind-numbingly repetitive or ridiculously stressful. I don't hate anyone who works there, and I don't think anyone hates me, but aside from three or four people, I don't have anything in common with my co-workers. I think I have a bit of a reputation as the "weird one" at work. I'm desperately craving some life of the mind. I ain't getting it, and I'm starting to dread going to work.

So the point I'm labouring towards is this: I need to find a job that I either like or at least find tolerable, and it has to be the sort of thing that allows me the spare time to pursue my interests without impinging on them. I actually suck at the sort of job I've had for the past few years, and something in a different vein would be much appreciated. I wish I could be more specific than that, but if I could, I wouldn't have asked this question.

I haven't been taking art/writing seriously for very long, so I don't know if I could get work based only on that...

I live in a major North American urban centre, if that makes any difference.

I've set up this throwaway account if you'd like to contact/ask me something: superfrustratedofficeguy@gmail.com

Can't thank you enough for wading through my question!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Until recently. I haven't written or drawn a damn thing in the past three weeks because my job is sapping my energy and making me miserable.

Probably untrue. If you were motivated enough to write, you'd be writing.

So the point I'm labouring towards is this: I need to find a job that I either like or at least find tolerable, and it has to be the sort of thing that allows me the spare time to pursue my interests without impinging on them.

Well, if your job takes more hours in the day than you're using to do everything beyond keeping your life going (groceries, laundry, sleeping, meals), then probably, you'll need something where you can have a few hours in the day to write.

If your job makes you so miserable that you're too depressed to write, then you need to get a new job.

However, I think you're using your job as an excuse not to write. It's so easy to say that you'll pursue your dreams "when." When the job gets better. When you have completed your home office. When you've bought the perfect pen. When inspiration strikes.

Writing, acting, performing comedy, painting...just about every type of art requires a lot of just plain sitting down and slogging through it. Set aside an amount of time every single day and do your thing. Nothing else has to affect it; your time to write is your time to write.

Until you can do that, the job is irrelevant. You need to commit to the thing you want to do first, do it second, and then work out the things that get in the way once you've established that you can at least do some of the work within the constraints of your life.
posted by xingcat at 8:03 PM on June 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

Your story echoes mine in a few ways...lots of jobs and directionless in my 20s...friends telling me I should do actual writing...a rather meaningless job...not a lot in common with my co-workers (50 Shades of Gray is the current talk of the office, while I tend toward Michael Chabon...ring the bells of elitism now...)...

And I've had the same dilemma with myself over and over...if only X happens, then I'll find the motivation I need to write...if Y happens, then I'll find some time to be creative.

Bad news...X and Y have happened. On many occasions. I was unceremoniously let go from a job that basically gave me a year of freedom. I wrote exactly zero pages of the novels that swim in my head every day.

Don't blame your job for keeping you down...just do what you love. If you need motivation, take a creative writing class at night. Or start a book club with some non-work friends. Call a local gallery about showcasing some of your work.
posted by st starseed at 8:47 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a novelist with a day job that I sometimes like very much but can be menial, repetitive, and poorly paid. I definitely sympathize with the toll that a job like that can take on you; I spend all day dealing with the public and there are days I come home crying from the stress of it.

...And I think it's the best possible day job I could have as a writer because it's 35 hours a week and I'm not expected to invest any time or emotional energy outside of those hours, and while I work hard I'm not expected to meet sales targets or performance goals, and nobody cares if I take advantage of a little down-time to write an email to my editor.

I read this in one of Barbara Sher's books -- when you know your day job is not going to be what you're truly passionate about, you should aim for just a "good enough" job, one that doesn't take so much time and energy from you that you're not able to work on your creative pursuits. One that enables you to pursue what you really want to do. That means sacrifices. It may mean that the job doesn't give you enough intellectual stimulation, or enough variety. (In some ways a job with less intellectual stimulation can actually be better -- a creative job can take so much of your brainpower there's none left over for after-hours creativity.)

I'm not saying to stick with this particular job if it's making you miserable. But you may be able to find something you can make work if you think of it in terms of doing something you're not crazy about in order to fund what you are crazy about.
posted by Jeanne at 8:53 PM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

I know a lot of would-be writers and artists just waiting for the ideal moment to do their writing and artisting. Or mood, oh lord, the moods. Or they're tired. Or there's a really good show they're watching. Or they're so pissed about work. Or they need inspiration. Or...or...or...

The difference between them and the working writers/artists I know is the working writers/artists sit down and write/art no matter the thousand little monsters tormenting them. If this job is literally clogging your day to the point that you physically HAVE no time, then yes, perhaps you need a new one, but I suspect what you really need to do is sit down for an hour a day, every day, and write or draw or whatever you do. Even if it's crap. You'll get better over time, I promise.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:59 PM on June 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

A lot of advice from peer perspective, so now listen to an old man: the odds that you will make your living writing graphic novels are very, very slim. Thirty years at a day job you hate and that doesn't use your mind creatively will not seem worth it in your 50s unless you have succeeded in being one of a tiny number of fiction writers who write fiction for a living. Be honest about your motivation, your talent, and the originality of your artistic vision, and even of you think you're the shit, have a plan B to do a job you care about.
posted by spitbull at 9:13 PM on June 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

What would you think about taking classes in a trade (like carpentry, masonry, etc.), and taking a more physical job as a tradesperson?

Or even if you took a job involving unskilled physical labor rather than practicing a trade per se, it might be less mentally sapping. I had a lot of menial jobs in my teens and early 20's. The absolute worst for me were the menial desk jobs that involved a lot of data entry. That kind of work completely drains me mentally, including any creativity that I have. By contrast, at another point I had a job delivering packages. (To businesses, so they were huge heavy packages). The first two weeks, I hurt so badly over my whole body that I could barely move. But then I got a lot stronger; I actually got in fantastic shape. I felt great overall. The money I was making wasn't bad either; it was around $15/hr and this was over 5 years ago. So, I would recommend maybe trying something like that.
posted by cairdeas at 9:18 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you need to strike a balance between something that will help you earn a living financially, but also something that you can see yourself being passionate about.

Don't jump the gun by dropping everything in hopes that writing or illustrative work will result in a great job and good pay. It won't, at least not right now. You need to create a brand for yourself before you can make it somewhere in the creative field.

But, why not consider pursuing creative advertising? It will allow you to do something that is more exciting, rewarding, and allows you to showcase and develop your artistic skills.
posted by livinglearning at 9:31 PM on June 17, 2012

I very much disagree with xingcat and Ghostride the Whip. When one works too many hours, or at too stressful of a job, it DOES affect one's ability to produce creative work. My experience working a full-time+ stressful, intellectually-demanding job (web development) with looong commute was that I just didn't have any emotional or mental energy left over for much meaningful creative work. It had all already been spent--and then some--on my day job. It is NOT just about applying ass to chair and writing. One has to have something to say other than "jesus christ am I beat".

So, change your job, yes.

There are lots of jobs you can do part-time and still make enough money to live (simply). I now do one of them: massage therapist (along with a small amount of freelance web dev work).

Find something that pays the bills on a p/t basis, and that does not require you to take your work home, but that you can do passably well with a short amount of school. Cairdeas' idea of learning a skilled trade is a good one. Many healthcare technician roles also require a relatively short period of schooling yet pay a living wage and allow flexible hours.
posted by parrot_person at 1:53 AM on June 18, 2012

I'm a big proponent of mind over matter as the next guy, but we all have finite mental resources.

It's more like...if you want to write, adjust your work situation so that devoting an acceptable chunk of energy is physically possible. THEN - get your ass in that chair.
posted by victory_laser at 4:30 AM on June 18, 2012

But don't forget that you likely won't become a professional novelist and if you are lucky you might have 40 or 50 more years to do things like have a family and enjoy your day job. Seriously, unless you've already established that you can get paid for your art by your late 20s, start thinking about a plan B.

I don't know about a day job where you develop your skills at art. I did that -- worked as a general business musician while trying to make it as a songwriter, but it got old. Luckily, I did it while getting a graduate degree at the same time, so when I hit 30 and saw that my odds of having a good life as a songwriter were vanishingly small and might require playing top 40 for drunken wedding guests for the rest of my days just to make a middle class living, I changed gears (to academia, where I get to write for a living about music and cultures I love, and which has been very satisfying and challenging, but where hard work has mostly led to predictable career growth).

Prior to that, I held every shit job you can imagine, from cooking to construction. In your 20s, it's fun and acceptable. Right around 30 you should reassess. Life is much shorter than it seems to a 25 year old. And fulfillment is so much more elusive than you think when you are driven by a dream shared by millions of living from your art.
posted by spitbull at 6:28 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't been taking art/writing seriously for very long, so I don't know if I could get work based only on that...

Right, you can't. It sounds like you've been doing comics for less than six months. It's a safe bet that your work is not yet up to professional standards.

You don't really say what else you're good at in this post so it's difficult to advise you about what day job might be appropriate, but here's a list of day jobs held by comics professionals (people with published books who make some income from their comics) I'm friends with: barista, elementary school teacher, comics shop retail worker, medical supply delivery, letterpress printer, nanny, copy editor, after school art teacher, bartender, story board artist, print production, thrift store retail, paper store retail, sex worker, small press editor.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:12 AM on June 18, 2012

« Older Abandon ship?   |   How fast can i get between domestic arrivals and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.