ode to the day job

I strolled into my neighborhood Starbucks recently to get my regular iced chai and the guy taking my order was uber-friendly. He was open and relaxed and completely present. He was laughing and making jokes and when he asked me, “Got any big plans today?” I knew that he was really interested in what I, a complete stranger, had to say. And, since there was no one else in line, I decided to ask him the same thing.

Turns out he was an artist and that working at Starbucks was his day job. But to him, it was more than that. “I love working here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful neighborhood and I get to network with the customers, and sometimes even sell my stuff.” Just standing there talking to him, I could tell how genuine he was.  

In Walking in this World, Julia Cameron says that day jobs can actually be very positive things for artists. So many artists have to have some other kind of job to pay the bills…and, most likely, so many artists dread these “have to” jobs because it takes them away from what they really want to be doing.

What gives us the idea that people with ‘day jobs’ can’t be real artists? Very often our day jobs feed our consciousness. They bring us people and ideas, stories and subjects, opportunities as much as obstacles….We talk about self-expression, but we must develop a self to express. A self is developed not only alone, but in community….Day jobs help not only to pay the rent but also to build stamina and structure….Our life is supposed to be our life and our art is supposed to be something we do in it and with it. Our life must be larger than our art. It must be the container that holds it….That day job may not be a millstone after all. It might be a life-support system.

The key to a successful day job is having the ability to carve out time and energy in your life for your art. If your day job zaps your energy, then it’s not doing it’s job as a “life-support system.” It must be able to feed you more than it drains you. A job is more than just the thing you do. It’s the location and environment, the people you work with, and the ability to experience a sense of flow. So whether it’s making coffee or making copies, the whole of it must work for you.

And just knowing that a day job is a sum of its parts, makes me think that the perfect career is that as well. You may be doing exactly what feeds your soul, but if the environment you work in or the people you work with leave much to be desired, then that will ultimately affect your happiness.

In taking a step back and trying to look at my career questions objectively, I see that I not only want to find a career to feed my soul, but one that also supports my life in all its many parts…friends, family, health, playtime, and personal and spiritual growth.

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