Artists, how do you make peace with your day job?
November 4, 2018 2:38 AM   Subscribe

I have to move from self-employment to a regular day job and I am having trouble dealing with it emotionally.

Like all artists, I wish I can do it full-time but it isn't realistic given that I neither come from money nor have a spouse to support me.

I fell into making handcrafted jewelry not because I loved making jewelry but because people are willing to buy my jewelry whereas it would be much harder to sell my paintings.

Over the years, changes beyond my control such as increasing postal rates have eroded my profits and made things more and more difficult (I foresee another wave of postal rate increases coming) and I am totally burnt out from running a one-woman craft business. It has become obvious that I need to find regular employment.

One of the reasons why I went into self-employment was because I hated being an employee. I am an English grad and am qualified for nothing in particular and have done a variety of day jobs I hated for the money, none of which were even remotely related to my degree.

I do not look forward to going through this cycle again though I would certainly appreciate things that people with regular incomes take for granted such as being able to eat out occasionally, having money to spend on expensive art supplies and traveling. I am full of grief that I cannot seem to make money at something that I do not actively hate. I have no sources of self-esteem left.

I am middle-aged and all that lies before me in the future seems to be old age, decrepitude and artistic obscurity. I feel I am way too old to start over. I am getting so depressed that I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning and that is never a good sign. I have nothing to look forward to in life. Obviously, this is not the perky, go-getter attitude a job seeker should have.

Part of me knows I am being childish, this is reality and I should just suck it up. Find a day job and try to squeeze in my art in the evenings and the weekends like everyone else. I tried to do this with my last day job but it didn't work out because I was expected to work unpaid overtime every week (Iegal in my country) and I would reach home late on weekdays, have to go to bed immediately and spent my weekends mostly recovering from the long hours.

I can't seem to find a job which I do not hate that would pay me enough to cover my living expenses and yet allow me to go home on time.

Advice? What do you tell yourself when you are working on a day job you hate and how do you squeeze your art into your work week?
posted by whitelotus to Work & Money (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Find a day job and try to squeeze in my art in the evenings and the weekends like everyone else.

It sounds like you're talking about full-time 9-5 office jobs here. Would you be happier with a part-time job with different hours, which would allow you to spend more time working on your art and your business?
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:04 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am an English grad and am qualified for nothing in particular

You have experience running a business, and presumably marketing it as well. You have good English and probably computer skills if you're posting here. That qualifies you for many things.

If you're dreading having a regular office job though, and if it would make sense for your budgetary needs, maybe look into possibilities like teaching your craft, or working someplace art-related. Or at least doing work that you feel is helping somebody.
posted by trig at 3:43 AM on November 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

The people you work with make a big difference in your job happiness. I've had "dream jobs" where I and my coworkers were miserable, stressed out and horrible to each other. I've had jobs where the work itself was meh but I felt supported by my boss and my coworkers were pleasant. It can be hard to figure out from interviews, but if you can find a workplace with a healthy culture, that will help.

It might help to think of this in terms of setting up future you, 5 or so years down the road, for a better situation. That might mean looking for jobs where you have to pay dues up front but after you've built some trust you might have opportunities to make more money, work from home, move to a location where real 9-5 office jobs are not so hard to come by and pay better, etc.
posted by bunderful at 5:56 AM on November 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Some of the artists I know do work at places that are friendly to artists and their schedules - music/art retail stores (so art supply stores, record stores, regular retail places that treat their employees well like costco) is one that might suit you, and they live with others because these are the lower paid jobs but they tend to be low stress. A couple have also been able to secure grant funding and get paid to share their work with others that way (training others in the arts, running an art space). Admittedly these are people under 40 but I thought I'd share how people I know do it who are not partnered or in a highly paid role. Note that I'm in Ontario where there are more of these funding opportunities so ymmv.

If you could lower your cost of living by living with a roommate could you consider offering copywriting/editing services?
posted by lafemma at 6:04 AM on November 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

My husband works at a job (advertising agency) where nearly everyone has creative aspirations and hustles. Finding out that so many people around you at work are in similar situations can be helpful and reassuring I think. I know a dayjob can be dispiriting in theory but it turns out many if not most artists and artisans have to find a way of making a living that is not the same thing as making their art, it is unexceptional. I know my husband slowly realizing that the people he works with are not stupid lifeless corporate automatons but real people with other aspirations who show up every day for the paycheck that enables them to do what they want elsewhere in their lives has been tremendously validating.
posted by sestaaak at 8:07 AM on November 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

When I was thinking about switching careers, the website 80,000 Hours helped me reframe the decision in terms of how I could make a difference rather than what type of job I would most enjoy. Are there any issues you care about enough that you'd be willing to put up with a certain amount of day-to-day drudgery if you knew your work was having a positive impact on the world?
posted by moleplayingrough at 8:30 AM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I feel you. I currently have a part time job (full time in the summer) where I am a nanny for a school-age boy. I also run a one-woman printmaking business, so I fit in my art-related work in the mornings and evenings. Right now, it’s working well. I’ll echo others above who suggest possibly looking for a part time, more flexible job, if those exist in your area. Also echoing the idea of searching for a job that may be art-related or at least creative.

Best of luck!
posted by sucre at 8:48 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

It helps if your day job is as mentally stimulating as possible. Easier said than done - but I've met some people who think that having an easy, mindless job will be good for their artistic output and then find that the boredom is numbing to their creativity. Where paradoxically doing something that wakes your brain up can make you more creatively productive, even if you have less time overall. Worth considering, although finding an interesting job isn't easy in itself.

I've had both kinds of jobs, either way, I've had the most success with my artistic productivity by making my weaving the first thing I do in the morning, even if its just for 20 minutes a day. I do creative planning and brainstorming in my head during my commute, or at lunch, and take notes for later. Then I usually spend most of Sunday working on it alongside household chores. Having a routine like this also helpful overall for keeping my mood up. Exercise, other self-care is important to counteract the stresses of working - otherwise no matter how much free time you have your brain starts to feel like mush.

I agree with other commenters that surrounding yourself with other creative people, at work or otherwise, is key to keeping your artistic energy up when your day job is not going to help with that. It can also be helpful to see how everyone else is coping with the fact that they will never use their degree as they'd hoped and that probably, their fate is artistic obscurity. I hope that you can find ways to focus on the value of your artistic practice as a thing in itself - a definition of artistic "success" that requires validation or reward from others will probably lead to suffering no matter how much time you have in the day.

I do think you will be able to find work that will allow you to avoid overtime. I'm sorry you're having a tough time right now.
posted by ProtoStar at 9:26 AM on November 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

For me it was all about finding the right environment and management that basically shrugged and went about their own lives rather than making their jobs the focus of their existence. This took a year or so of floundering around and figuring out my needs, and was mostly luck. My manager doesn't care if I doodle while working because I manage my workload and then some. My coworkers also seem to mind their own business for the most part and I'm allowed to listen to music/what have you without interruption. I can go on walks whenever I want. What's more is there aren't any major expectations of me that affect my ability to daydream and conjure up ideas. Soon I'll be able to work remotely which will be AMAZING for my creativity and output. But then again I'm the sort that thrives off of solitude and find most other things distracting and stressful.

I also gave up on the idea of myself as some sort of savvy, big city career person in tech or...a career person at all. I still flex my tech skills in ways that keep me mentally challenged, and I am paid well (more than enough to live comfortably on anyway), but any job where tech was my main focus made me utterly miserable. So was the stress of keeping up with people who live a certain lifestyles or have certain goals due to their tech careers. A job is a thing I do for money and benefits, it isn't my identity, like so many people seem to make it.

I highly recommend remote work if you can manage it. It relieves the stress of a stifling office environment which can suffocate creativity.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

This post might be relevant to your interests. And this book. And here is an example of someone with a day job.

I consider myself too incompetent to start my own business, but the things I've heard from others are along the lines of "well, I don't have to stress myself out making EVERYTHING profitable" and "now I can afford to buy things and have health insurance." I hear it's a relief that every single day isn't a struggle to bring in the money because you have a set paycheck coming in.

I work on projects during lunch (though I don't know if that's something you can do as a painter, my primary medium is portable), so that helps.

I have no idea on your country, jobs, etc. but some businesses are strictly 8-5 and leave at the end with no overtime, like colleges, especially if you're a peon rather than a manager. Look for a field where things close at a rigid time or there's a union, that might help. I'd say "avoid jobs where you answer the phone and help people" because it's draining as fuck, but you're an English major and so am I so I know that's not an option. Jobs always need people who help and smile and serve and that may be all you can get, realistically speaking. (Where can I be a file clerk? Are they extinct?)

"What do you tell yourself when you are working on a day job you hate and how do you squeeze your art into your work week?"

After work, during lunch, weekends answers the second part. I still get a lot done. As for the first part...I remind myself that if I don't have a day job, that's it for me. No rent = homeless, no health insurance, I have nobody to back me up if something goes wrong, etc. It's that uh....blunt, I guess. A person can and will put up with anything if they have to.

I get that going to a day job for you is putting on shoes that are two sizes too small and way too tight when your feet have been comfortable for years. But it's still better than no shoes and walking through rough terrain at all. That's the sort of thing I tell myself.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:49 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Consider working at a nonprofit where you can feel like you're doing something besides bringing home a paycheck.
posted by salvia at 12:50 PM on November 4, 2018

I don't. I was excited at first to get a job as a graphic artist, before it really hit me how there is basically no art involved in the job, certainly not any art-making. I get paid less than any server job I've ever had, have to work more hours, and I get paid less than a McDonald's employee. If you have any opportunities to do stuff that isn't office work, pursue it. Sitting at a computer all day is life-draining and gives you a great deal of unused psychic energy that might end up being used to contemplate the situation and life and how you spend most of your time grinding away on bullshit you don't care about and ultimately neglecting the art-making you do care about. Moments at home that should be joyful feel sogged down because of looming eternity of droll work.

I think of the times I would cry and go mad feeling like shit working at restaurants as my primary income, nowadays I relish my one day at restaurant on weekend since the work has me on my feet, is only 4-6 hours long typically, get paid well enough, and can still make art or enjoy life on those days. I don't know how you feel about the service industry, but I've come to appreciate the flexible hours and labor of it since switching to a "real job," which I now have come to understand just means "real pointless." Weird feeling when moving food around feels more substantial work than typesetting and graphic designing.

If there are some decent restaurants in your area, 20-30 bucks is pretty good once you parse out your tips and often you work 20-40 hours instead of 40 hours by the same rote schedule. Having 4-5 days a week the same schedule is a fucking nightmare, turns your week into a prison of time for which you have a seemingly lifelong sentence.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:11 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

jenfullmoon: Wow, the woman with a knitting design business? I could have written it except that I am not a knitting designer and I don't have a spouse with a steady income. The stuff about people "liking" your work on social media instead of taking out their wallet? The constant thoughts about how to make money? Yup.

salvia: I did consider non-profits but I have neither a social work degree or experience in the area so I have never scored an interview in the past. Moreover, the field is well-known for its low pay and under-staffing. I personally know several burnt-out social workers who are now working in totally unrelated fields.

Given the thorny nature of this perennial problem, I don't expect any answer to solve my situation magically but I'll keep this open for now in case someone has more insight.
posted by whitelotus at 6:35 PM on November 5, 2018

(Fwiw, while nonprofit work is often not highly paid, it encompasses an enormous set of fields of which social work is only one. And even nonprofits that focus on some very specific area still need people doing secretarial, managerial, accounting, legal, PR, and marketing work, etc. An art-related nonprofit can easily not involve social workers at all.)
posted by trig at 7:01 AM on November 9, 2018

Though social work may be notorious for whatever, I don't think you can paint all nonprofits with that brush. I wasn't suggesting you become a social worker (right, you'd need a special degree), but that you be an admin or other non-degree-needing staff role at a well-funded nonprofit in another area of interest -- the environment, social justice, whatever. Pay might be lower, so that is something to consider. But if you can't stomach a day job at a better-paying company, and if you could stomach one knowing that your work is also helping to save the whales or whatever, then it might be a path toward more financial sustainability than other alternatives that are open to you.
posted by salvia at 6:34 AM on November 13, 2018

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