By A.J. Drenth
For much of my adult life, I resented having to work a “day job.” Indeed, the prospect of freeing myself from this ostensible burden motivated me to keep pushing myself as a writer and creator. My ultimate goal, so I believed, was to become a full-time creator. Not only would this substantiate my identity as an INTP writer and entrepreneur, but it would free my mind from the myriad worries, concerns and frustrations associated with working for someone else. If you’re an aspiring artist or creative type, you can probably relate to this dream.
My views began to shift, however, once my creative work began yielding more financial rewards. It suddenly struck me that, for the first time in my adult life, working a day job was optional. My sense of surprise was attended by feelings of excitement and satisfaction—all my hard work was finally paying off!
I then found myself faced with the choice of what to do with the day job I had long been railing against. Should I quit cold turkey and invest all my time in Personality Junkie? This was, after all, what I’d been striving for over a decade. My other option was to start incrementally scaling back my day job and observing how I felt at each stage along the way. While part of me saw this as playing it too safe, another part of me sensed that, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, my day job might actually be helping rather than hindering my creative productivity.
Since I wasn’t in a rush, I decided to try the second option and gradually scaled back my hours until concluding that 25-30 hours a week seemed to be the “sweet spot.” Currently, I’m essentially splitting my time between my day job and the creative enterprise that is this website. While not ruling out the possibility of changing this arrangement in the future, I honestly believe I’m happier with my day job than I would be without it. I’ll now offer some reasons for why this is the case, trusting that other artists and creators might benefit from hearing my experiences and insights.
The Value of Variety (& Day Jobs)
Creative types crave variety. This partly stems from the fact that the psyche is not content with a single mode of operation, but demands that some measure of both introversion (I) and extraversion (E), sensing (S) and intuition (N), thinking (T) and feeling (F), etc. be incorporated into our daily lives.
Creative careers and jobs typically entail a hefty amount of introversion and intuition. Many require significant mental labor and time spent “in one’s own head.” Thus, if creative work isn’t balanced with other types of activities, even introverts will start feeling restless or lonely. Shifting gears typically involves spending time with people (F) or engaging in physical activity / labor (S). Not only does this add variety to the day, but it provides intuition with the downtime it needs to chew on things subconsciously, cultivating the soils of creativity. The varied experiences of a day job can also serve as raw material for fueling creative intuition.
Many creative types prefer day jobs featuring time with people and/or engaging in physical activity. Some enjoy working as baristas, for example, which affords them opportunities to mingle with other creatives while simultaneously performing hands-on work.
Too many consecutive days without working a day job can also foster a looming sense that “every day feels the same.” By contrast, having a few days on, followed by a day or two off, makes time off feel more special, like something we want to cherish and savor. The enthusiasm and novelty derived from this sort of varied work structure generates positive energy that can propel creative work.
Less Time, Greater Focus?
Imagine having a completely wide-open month: no obligations, nothing on your calendar whatsoever. All that is required of you is to complete a creative project that requires say, 40 hours of total work. Now imagine having to complete the same project, but also working a day job for 30-40 hours a week. Under which of these two circumstances do you think you’d be more motivated and effective?
Human beings, even those who are fairly motivated, are notoriously good at squandering our free time. Consequently, most of us need some sort of external constraint, some sort of limit on our time, to help focus our attention and spur us to action. While the observation that “life is short” may be sufficient to motivate some people, this seems a bit too abstract to compel the majority of us. We need something more concrete and immediate to kindle a sense of urgency. And herein lies another perk of having a day job.
Granted, it is also possible to go too far in the direction of adding more to our proverbial plates. Indeed, many people struggle with too much rather than too little stress or time pressure in their daily lives. For those in this boat, the primary problem is not one of motivation, but of carving out enough time to pursue their creative interests.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve been fairly consistent in writing for about 3 hours in the morning before heading out to my day job. On may days off, however, I am often less productive, or at least less efficient. The lack of time constraint makes it harder for me to buckle down and write rather than procrastinating or getting distracted.
Protecting the Sanctity of Your Creative Work
Most artists don’t think of their work as a job, but as something they are passionate about. Many love their work more than anything else. It’s what drives and inspires them, what rouses them from bed in the morning.
Unfortunately, relying exclusively on our passion to make a living may cause us to lose sight of its sacredness. Instead of relishing our craft for its own sake, our focus shifts toward logistics and practical outcomes (e.g., profit, customer satisfaction, marketing, etc.). We then find ourselves feeling less fulfilled by creative our work, perhaps without fully understanding why.
In many cases, the problem is best described as a spiritual one, in that our work is no longer being guided by our soul, but instead by practical necessity. Thus, what may have been a well-intentioned desire to fully invest in our passion ends up being tarnished by concerns about money, logistics, etc. In many respects, this leaves us worse off than we are with a day job. At least with a day job, we can turn to our creative work for spiritual renewal with no strings attached.
While I do believe it’s possible for creatives to make a living and achieve spiritual fulfillment without a day job, I sometimes wonder if this is the exception rather than the rule, especially for those who aren’t traditionally religious. If the spiritual (and creative?) life entails exploring the urgings of one’s deepest self, how can this unfold alongside concerns about profit, markets, etc.?
Here again, a day job may prove useful. In this case, it can help us preserve the sanctity of our craft, allowing our creations to spring from the soul rather than from practical necessity.
If you’re a creative type looking to clarify your identity, life purpose, career path and more, be sure to check out our online course, Finding Your Path as an INFP, INTP, ENFP or ENTP: