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 roughly 20 hours a week seemed to be my “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:
The Creative Life: Insights for INFP, INTP, ENFP & ENTP Types
Tim Weaver says
You are so right about squandering free time. I was laid off in Jan and have yet to secure f/t employment again. All that time I could have been working out, relearning one of the several languages I’ve wanted to brush up on, and so much more.
Instead, I’ve fretted about not being employed and wasted it doing…I can’t even remember.
On the other hand, I’ve done the ‘take a hobby/passion and make a living at it”, and found that I was miserable. So much of running a business is doing everything BUT the thing you loved about the business to begin with. After 8 years, 5 full-time, I closed up shop (2010) and haven’t had much to do with that hobby since then.
That’s why I keep a ‘day job’…so I can enjoy my creative pursuits w/o having to worry if I’m going to make enough this month, and taking on work in that area that I just don’t like. It’s a balance that works for me.
Now, if I could just stop being the embodiment of Newton’s First Law….
Hi AJ, interesting article. I’m also an INTP creative. I am 45, female, live alone, and have tried all sorts of combinations of work at home / work in the world. I feel like I have landed with the perfect formula for me, which I thought I might share with you.
I do all of my ‘day job’ in 6 days, and then I have 8 days off, every fortnight (I split my job with an INFP creative who loves it for the same reason). During my working week, I never work mornings, which is when I get up at dawn, write, walk, meditate, cook and work in my garden. After what is usually a long and satisfying morning, I work a quick 5 hour afternoon shift at a library.
My 8 days off are completely luxurious and spent almost entirely in my own space – or out bush – with very little contact with anyone except my animals. The money is taken care of, which then doesn’t enter into the creative equation. I find those 8 days are when I tend to drift off into my creative flow, reading, gardening and always juggling a lot of self directed study. By the time I get back to my working week, I’m ready to activate my brain in other ways and sink my teeth into my job of managing a public library.
I work alone and I don’t really answer to anyone, so I am self directed at my day job. This is probably the kind of work I excel at and enjoy the most. I enjoy the mental and administrative challenges of the job; the design, display and marketing work I do there; and importantly it is when I mingle with people in my small community. I enjoy being part of an eclectic community and like to interact.
Having the neutral space of the library allows for quality one-on-one engagement (which is the only kind I truly enjoy) and intellectual exchange. Being very introverted, I find it hard to resist excuses not to actually engage much with people outside of work. I am protective my private home space in which I am immersed in my own interests. I never answer my phone. Never. And it’s probably never a good time to visit me because I’m in the middle of something interesting. So, being paid to be social works for me. I am glad to be pushed out into that human space that the day job provides, as I actually have a lot to offer others and once I cross the threshold of introversion, I deeply enjoy genuinely connecting and being of service in the community.
It’s a lovely day job / creative rhythm. Without my day job I think I am too insular and removed from the world. I also think that without the day job, there is too much added pressure to enjoy the creative freedom, not only financial, but also on identity / self expectations as an ‘artist’. On an archetypal level, it works best to have a stimulating, satisfying day job that stretches me in all sorts of other directions. I believe INTPs blossom as multi-potentialites.
Boyan Ganchev says
Fully agree with your analysis, A.J. I was wondering why having both a day job and a creative hobby somehow works well… Now that makes sense. Thank you
Torben Nielsen says
Totally agree with you. I’ve been working my hobby as a business for some time but was getting frustrated. Now I’m working maybe 30hrs a week and slowly reducing it to 20. The rest of the time I’m now dedicating to the more creative side of my “hobby”. During the working day I’m a real estate photographer. During my non working time I’m more of an artistist photographer and online entrepreneur.
Meredith Linden says
What a great article. Thank you for sharing your personal journey with this facet of our lives. I am still figuring things out regarding this, as I am considering a career change and am unsure if I need to enter that rigorous life path or just turn more to my creative life. I will challenge one thing you asked: 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.?
concerns about profit, markets, etc. are part of our fabric in the western world. I actually spend quite a bit of my spiritual life looking at this aspect of my existence here. Exploring the urgings of one’s deepest self can easily entail looking at our relationship to money, our culture, the trappings of our society and our place on this planet (as humans). So for me, they do go hand in hand quite often, not always, though.
Sue Ann Carlson says
As an INFP, I completely agree with you. A few years ago, I found myself in a very detail-oriented, high stress, deadline-focused job and finally had to quit out of sheer exhaustion, although I did not fully understand the reasons why at the time. I spent two years studying myself/my personality type because I thought there was something “wrong” with me (thank you for this site and how you have helped me understand myself) and exploring my long-neglected creative side. During those two years, I worked only about 20 hours/week at an office job so that I would have “plenty of time” to work on creative projects, but found that when I have too much free time I get very little creative work done. There are always distractions calling my attention away. However, since I have increased my hours back to 40/week at a less stressful job, I utilize my non-work hours much more wisely and accomplish more creatively than when I worked part-time. It seems counter-intuitive, but I do seem to need the constraints you discuss to be productive in my creative life.
Great post and after a number of years have come to similar conclusions, and appreciate the analysis. For me, years ago, the “corporate job” left little time for the passions, so back when the Great Recession hit, it was fine by me – “now’s the time to DO this!” and worked for myself for a number of years. And it worked, kind of, but the passion that got me into it (a woodworking / furniture business) was in the designs and ideas, and while employed some folks, never big enough where I could step back and focus on the “fun” stuff I was good at. And I’m not a craftsman – I get bored after making one or two… So got burned out, and the business had to pay the bills, and it was stressful…
I think there were a number of “Tim-Ferris-Inspired” books and ideas about 10yrs ago that were all about “ditch it all and chase your idea! hobbies will always be hobbies! do it for real! commit!” – and I sort of fell into that, but I didn’t really want to just build and sell some dumb business for $$$, I wanted the business to create things for people that they were going to love. Less about life/work balance, but more that life was work, in the ideal proportions, designed by me. Later, back in the corp world a few years ago, it was a relatively low-stress, well-paying job, but I couldn’t stand it. An NT in a world of SJs… GAH! I had free time in the eves, but still always felt burned out. Other interests/ideas/hobbies sort of stagnated… But I had all this time between meetings to plan things I wanted to make, and next steps and all that as an escape, but just so hard to actually execute, and it was frustrating.
So my take was “w/ a ‘real job’ not going to happen… doing this f/t can’t work either – it’s all a disaster, my careful plan is destined to fail!” Very INTP…
Anyway – this more measured take is what I’m looking for now. Working for myself with a new idea can pay a great hourly rate, but to rely on that 100% is a stressful mess at the moment. A job that can pay 75% of the bills AND give me some structure to zone out/be on autopilot/work with a team is key. I’m not looking for some great title/salary, and with that emails I need to answer at 10pm. No way. That’s too much. My head/heart’s just not in it… I need to put that energy into my own work.
Peter Swanson says
I agree! I test as an INTP and yet have a love for doing theater and comedy. Many of the actors around me have to work so hard to make ends meet and take theater work that is unfulfilling, but having a job doing software has been really great for me to get that diversity I need and also not feel like I’m squeezing my art to make ends meet. Good post!
I am an INTP and inexplicably a middle school teacher as a day job. Without question, a blunder I have endured for 26 years. Summers are spent healing from the nine month soul pillage. A few more years and I will endeavor to run for my life to a model you outlined so nicely in this post, if my soul isn’t a carcass by then. LOL. Thanks A.J. for everything.