I’m in my early 30’s. Having spent my 20’s doing the ‘right’ things (college -> law school -> office job), I have now recognised what was clear all along, namely that this is not for me at all, and that maybe that’s okay. I’ve also realised that maybe it’s okay to not be making the maximum amount I possibly could be, and okay to say ‘no thank you’ to the budding career I have zero interest in in favour of pursuing my passions.
Passions, of course, don’t pay very well, certainly not at first and possibly never. If I quit right now, today, I would be living hand to mouth with virtually no safety net. If I hold on for another 22 months, then I would have a very substantial safety net, enough to cushion me for a decade or more to come (I would still need to work to feed myself, but I would be able to absorb a good number of unexpected financial blows before going into crisis mode), plus put me in a better position in old age. There is no in between here.
Herein lies the quandary: I could die in six months’ time, in which case I would rather quit now and take my chances. On the other hand, if I did quit now and then didn’t die shortly afterwards, 2020!Me’s life is likely to be significantly more precarious and uncomfortable than it would be if Present!Me stays for the 22 months. I should add here that I tend to be a lot more productive in the creative area I want to pursue when I feel immediately secure, so this isn’t even just about my own comfort, but potentially impacts the quality of the work I want to do (and of course the point of this whole exercise is to give myself a better chance of producing quality work).
Knowing myself, I will probably do the 22 months. I don’t hate my job, have no reason to expect my imminent demise beyond the fact that it could happen to anyone, and the job comes with a fixed end date at the end of the period, so I’m less likely to fall into the trap of just putting it off and putting it off until it becomes too late. I’m just having a hard time reconciling myself to the ‘what if’ part right now right now. Help please?
My recommendation is that you work at your lucrative career for 22 more months and create the financial cushion that will give you the maximum amount of choices and freedom to do the thing you want to do. You will be setting yourself up to be maximally creative and happy if you have that cushion. We romanticize artistic struggle, but the plain truth is: POVERTY SUCKS. It is tedious and draining and boring and awful and limiting. It’s not cooler or liberating or inspiring. Don’t choose it if you don’t have to.
Since your email subject line was “I could die tomorrow, or I might not die for 50 years,” that’s not my only recommendation. You are thinking in terms of LIFE and DEATH and PRECIOUS TIME YOU’LL NEVER, EVER GET BACK. You need to get connected to your passions right now, TODAY.
Some ways to do that, listed in no particular order of importance:
- Collect your heroes. Read Steal Like An Artist and choose your hall of virtual mentors. Whose art makes you want to make art? Dig into their work and read, watch, listen intently.
- Create rituals. Look into The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and whether or not the “spiritual” language works for you, think about trying out her daily practices (free-writing three pages every morning) and weekly practices (The Artist’s Date, where you spend 1-2 hours by yourself exploring and giving yourself permission to daydream and absorb and create).
- Get social. What is a professional group, MeetUp group, online community or other social network of people who do what you want to do? Join one of those and practice saying out loud to other people what it is that you want to do. “My name is ______ and I’m an attorney but I also _______ and want to be a ______.“
- Find the local scene. Chances are that where you live someone is doing the thing you want to be doing with your life. Subscribe to the local theater company. Go to the local indie film screening. Get on the list for art openings at galleries, readings, humanities festivals. Sit on boards, volunteer behind the scenes if you can. In a careerist sense this is “building your network.” In a creative sense this is “filling the well.”
- Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Is there an evening or weekend class in what you want to be doing that you could take? Try something out. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to be immediately supporting yourself with this creative pursuit. Experiment and play.
- Use your breaks. Do you get vacation time at this nice law job of yours? Can you plan to take some of it specifically around a film festival or artists’ retreat or concert or play you want to see? Plan out your vacation time over the next 22 months and make sure you’re giving yourself regular intervals to recharge and soak up what you want to do.
- Use your hard-won education and skills in service of your future field. There’s a great organization in Chicago called Lawyers For The Creative Arts. Is there one of those where you live? Creative folks need contracts and all the “boring” paperwork that you’re trying to flee from. This is a way you can make yourself valuable, meet people, and start to transition your life toward where you want it to be.
- Be vigilant about your finances. Maximize retirement contributions and anything your firm matches. Sock away as much money as you can in your FU fund. Shrink your living expenses so that they’ll be manageable during the transition time when you might not be earning quite as much. If you’ve got fancy health insurance, take advantage of it and get every nice thing you might want done now.
If you can start to connect to the work you want to be doing, I predict one of two things will happen:
a) It will make the next 22 months fly by, and you’ll be able to get through the boring days more easily because you know it’s ending soon and because you have good, creative, fun, nourishing stuff to think about.
b) Work will become even more unbearable by comparison and you’ll start hearing klaxons saying “GET THE FUCK OUT RIGHT NOW” so you will in order to save your own life. You always have that option any time, right?
Try one of the above suggestions, or all, or none as it makes sense for your life. Above all: Start the work. If there is a piece of work that is screaming inside you because it wants to be made, then get started, somehow, some way. That feeling you have right now that says “I have wasted so much time doing things I don’t care about already, how can I waste one second more?” is valuable, so use it, and don’t wait for 22 months to pass. But also, don’t eff up your finances and make life artificially harder for yourself because you think that “being a creative person” is some magical black & white special category that you have to burn your life down to enter. You’re already that person if you want to be. It’s not either/or, now/never. Just, start. Start in some small way to do the work you want to do.
140 thoughts on “#913: “You don’t have to quit your day job right this second to follow a creative dream.””
As someone who ran away with the circus at 35… YES. All of this. Finding the balance between following your dream and having the financial security to actually enjoy the dream you’re following is where it’s at for me. Doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone, but it’s what makes me happy.
I occasionally kick myself for waiting as long as I did to do what I wanted to do, then one of my friends contacts me because they’re living in a house so rat-infested that they are forced to eat out at every meal and they need to buy rat-proof bins to store their clothes… or are locked in their room with a drunken and somewhat unhinged roommate outside trying to get in… or are about to be evicted for non-payment of rent and they can’t go living in their car because they’ve not paid a bunch of parking tickets so it’d might get confiscated… and I remember that there was a reason why I waited until I was sure that if it all went to shit I’d still be ok.
Good advice all around! Also, taking plenty of vacation time but using it for staycations where you work on your art will have you doing more art AND saving money by not taking pricey holidays, so win-win!
LW, I struggled with a very similar decision to yours (at a similar age) and finally left the career (which I liked quite a bit) for my passions exactly six months ago.
The Captain mentions “don’t eff up your finances and make life artificially harder for yourself” at the end of her advice, but I’d like to take that a step further. Unless your passion is one that thrives on misery and a shoe-string budget, give yourself the gift of being well-equipped and comfortable so you can put all of your energy into being as inspired and energized as possible. Do you need new equipment? A better bed? A subscription to something that inspires you Repairs to your car or a credit card paid off? Deal with a FINITE amount of those things now while you be carefree and comfortable once you are a full-time passion-doer.
(And, if you are able, budget for every possible emergency… like, EVERY stupid thing that cost you money in the past five years, because you will be spending a lot of time with yourself and that leaves a lot of opportunities for stupidity. For example, I crashed my car into my house. Long story.)
That doesn’t mean you have to serve the ENTIRE potential 22 months in your job. If I had stayed in my career six more months (basically, until today) my financial padding would have been rock solid – indestructible. Yet, I had the “what if I die tomorrow” conversation with myself and decided to step away early while the financial situation was only 80% ideal.
I’m happy that I did, and it worked largely because I planned for everything in that second paragraph, BUT I could have used the rest of the Captain’s advice, too. I can re-affirm Captain says about building a creative runway to match your financial one. It took me about three months to really ramp up to a point of energy and commitment to my passion that makes working for myself valuable. Sadly, that burned three months of financial padding, but it is what it is.
The bottom line is that I’m deliriously happy with my life and with the work of my passion, but I probably could have either started building runway three months earlier or stayed in my career three more months to get my finances in even better shape.
I hope you find the balance that works for you and the happiness you are due.
Whenever I think “I could die tomorrow” I remember my great-grandmother and her winter coats. When she was about 70, she bought a nice coat and said “This will be my last winter coat. I’ll probably be dead before I need another one.” A few years passed, she was still alive, and the coat was looking pretty worn, so she bought another coat, thinking that was going to be her last one. She ended up living to be 93 and went through at least three or four “last coats” before one of them finally outlasted her. I think the lesson there is that assuming you don’t have an actual terminal illness, you may as well plan for the future as if you’re going to be around, because the odds are that you will be, especially if you’re in your 30s.
And that said, only needing to work for another 22 months in order to set yourself up for a decade of financial mostly-freedom sounds like an amazing position to be in. (I say this as I stare down the barrel of another 20+ years of work before I can even think about semi-retirement.) I know how dull and miserable it is to go to a job you hate every day, but there is truly a light at the end of this tunnel for you, LW. Just hold onto that thought and follow the Captain’s suggestions, and the time will pass–maybe slowly, but it will.
When my grandma was 72, she hoped to live long enough to see me enter school. She died nearly 30 years later at age 101.
I practically screamed “STICK IT OUT!!!1!” at the screen. Less than two years at a job that doesn’t suck and you don’t hate, after which you’re pretty much set for life to do whatever makes you happy? People will figuratively, and possibly literally, kill to take that deal.
Similar here. I went freelance full time as a visual artist after graduating with a MA in a different field just because I could – just barely – make that work in the beginning, only to realize 18 months later that constant money worries basically kill your mind/make it that much harder to have a clear thought. Can also significantly weaken your mental health – or at least they did for me, bringing me much closer to depression than I had ever been before, and ramping up my general anxiety levels about _everything_. That is not how I want to spend my time/life, however short it may be. In part because it makes it that much harder to enjoy basically anything. My lesson from that was NOT to give up on my art practice, but yes, get a day job, and, more importantly, decide that I need to have at least one year worth of living expenses in savings before I try going fulltime freelance again. That is the minimum for me to keep my sanity & ability to sleep.
Now, I am not sure I will get there. But it does not even matter that much. There are many ways to keep a practice going, even if it is in small increments – in my case I think I was more prolific working part time at day job than when living off my art. Living off my art was not so much arting full time, but rather part-time arting and part-time promoting, and the stress of promoting and selling did have a negative impact on my art making. Talk about needing to make pretty pictures for an exhibition because I desperately needed to sell something to pay my rent – only to find that the kinds of pretty pictures I had been good at before had suddenly become impossible for me to produce. They just would not come out anymore. Eeeek!
It is hard to imagine how helpless being poor can make you, just how limiting it is, how desperate it feels when you basically just don’t have any of the resources you would need to change your situation in any way. Bootstrapping problems are real, even on the level of “need to buy new clothes but would need money to buy new clothes but am unable to get a job while wearing old clothes” (very simplified example, but not too far from my reality at some point).
“It is hard to imagine how helpless being poor can make you, just how limiting it is, how desperate it feels…” so much of this. As you also said, earlier in your comment, the ANXIETY of being poor and wondering how you’re going to get by… that was hardest for me. Worrying about money is not romantic. It is a grind.
YES. There is a lot written about the cognitive load that poverty puts on you.
It’s not just being poor that drains you, either. Something I never anticipated was how much the lack of daily structure and new stimulus would affect me – when you rarely have a reason to go outside, you often don’t, and that is not good for mental health OR fresh new creative ideas.
I’m someone who works full time to support my art. I think ideally, I’d work part time (and in the dream, I dont NEED to) and have a majority of time to focus on work while still having other aspects of my life full of people and experiences. You can’t make good art about sitting at home all the time, if you ask me.
So, echoing the Caps advice about starting your work now, and suggesting that having a job AND a creative career is not only possible, but really common.
Just chipping in that for some people (me) sitting at home / in the studio alone without talking to anyone for days/weeks on end & only occasionally coming up for air is actually the best set up for making art. My best work to date has literally been about my kitchen table… You can’t generalize these things if you ask me. Everyone is different and it might take some trial & error to find out what works for any particular person.
This. A thousand times. Take it from a musician who is trying to make it on a combination of adjuncting and retail work: the struggle is real and it sucks so hard. It is exhausting and it saps every bit of creativity from you. If you can make it for 22 months in your current job and come out of it with financial security that will last a decade, absolutely do it.
OH MY GODS yes this.
I, too, am working towards a dream future that is not the rat-race I am currently in. My partner and I dream of an ecohome we built ourselves, solar electricity, a tiny smallholding of semi-sufficient living, and spending time on hour home, our land and our creative pursuits.
For me, that means probably at minimum 5 more years of this before WareHouseSpouse and I (formerly HouseSpouse but I am so proud to say he got a permanent job! That is the reason out timeline is now 5+ years rather than *fantasy onedayneverland*) can even think of making the move we want to make.
And I am… tolerant… of my current job.
But it’s still worth it. I pursue as much of the things I want in my future as I can *now*, I make use of the income we have to – in addition to making savings for our future dream life – get us the things we want and need that we won’t be able to afford as easily in the future. And, I make Back Up Plans.
Back Up Plan #1 right now is that I am developing administrative and accounting skills I can use to earn money on a freelance basis online or IRL, and WareHouseSpouse is taking courses in electrician and plumbing skills both for freelance income potential *and* to make it easier for us to do more of our ecohome building ourselves. The hope is that, when we have our ecohome life, we’ll be able to top-up our income with the skills and qualifications we’re currently earning now.
It’s not quite as directly connected to our future dream as, say, taking our holidays WOOFing or renting an allotment, but it’s a concrete step towards what we want.
Under 2 years in a job that you actually like, in order to be able to live an artistic dream without much income for a decade or more? Sweet fucking deal. I’ll take it.
The year before I left the Army, I was deployed. Now, I wasn’t making a whole lot of money, but it didn’t matter; the Army paid for everything except my internet and phone. I socked away every dime I could. The end result is that when I left, I was able to take six months to decompress, got a job doing whatever and go back to school. It took years before that money ran out, which was godsend when I started getting sick.
Having that money gave me a lot of freedom–to take time off, to sleep, to think about my life, to have a safety net when I started getting sick. I couldn’t have done half of what I did without it.
Another fact: I extended my contract so I could spend the full year in Afghanistan. I did an extra six months in the Army so I could spend another nine months in a warzone. The question of “What if I die tomorrow?” wasn’t a theoretical for me. It could have happened at any moment, with no warning. I extended anyway, because the extension would have made my life better if I lived, and if I died my death would have put my family in a better financial position. (Army life insurance is pretty good.)
I lived. And my willingness to take risks for long-term gain paid off.
Thanks for sharing this, and for your service.
I love the idea of sharing your current work talents that are needed in the creative field and starting to make contacts. They will be incredibly invaluable to you as you launch your new career! Best of luck and lots of hugs to you, LW.
It might also be something that can help supplement income periodically if times get lean.
omg I swear I will be brief this time: yes, possibly! Depending on where the LW lives, it may or may not be practical for them to keep their status as a practising lawyer once they’ve left the field. That involves things like paying for your bar membership and practice insurance, and spending a certain amount of time practising law. However, there are also legal type things the LW may be able to do without being a current member of their local bar – as a general rule, you need to have practice insurance and bar membership to give legal advice. There are lots of other things that a person can apply a legal education to. I mean, I’m not doing any of those things, but they totally exist.
Oh, great points! Artists guilds or unions might have legal aid type things that provide advice, but not of the lawyer requiring kind? It could be something to look into in this 22 months. It might give some insight into what it is like being in the field is really like and things to prepare for. Or even doing pro bono while insurance and bar fees are paid up for a community art space or theater. Could give some great connections
Yes, it’s definitely true that non-profits will sometimes pay their lawyer’s insurance and bar fees! Also, they sometimes have positions that seem to fall into a grey area or special category where they can hire someone who has a legal education but isn’t a practising lawyer. One example I know of is a local organisation that helps people who have a human rights complaint prepare their documents for the tribunal. I think this has to do with the case being heard by a tribunal rather than a court, but I’m not sure. I did not study administrative law.
Anyway, yes, that sort of thing is totally good to consider when looking for non-soul-destroying work that uses marketable skills (and therefore pays better than unskilled labour) but also is maybe not rubbing your face in the fact that you would rather be practising your art.
Yes, and also:
I was relieved to see that the Captain’s advice on this point was, “This is a way you can make yourself valuable, meet people, and start to transition your life toward where you want it to be.” As an escaped lawyer myself, I have had sooooo many people tell me that since I “like music”, I should be a lawyer for musicians! That way I’ll be working in the music industry! Musicians need lawyers who can understand them! Which: NO.
First, no because I am a fucking classical singer and my version of the “music industry” rarely has its own lawyers who ONLY practise law for, e.g, the classical department of a record label. While I totally enjoy other kinds of music, the industry as a whole is not one in which I would be comfortable, let alone happy. Also I would like to stay in my smallish Canadian city, so the job prospects would be pretty thin on the ground. Like … probably our little opera company has a lawyer? But that lawyer almost certainly works in a law firm and has many different clients, not as in-house counsel for the opera. I mean – small city – that lawyer probably also draws up wills or represents people in divorces or something.
Second, no because EVEN if I found a job in my city as in-house counsel for the opera company or the symphony, or … maybe the local conservatory, idk, I would STILL have to actually practise the actual law, which is precisely the thing I finally got away from. Why are you telling me I should go back? I remember seeing a meme that went, “Practising law is easy. It’s like riding a bicycle, except the bicycle is on fire, you are fire, and everything is on fire, because you are in hell.” Well-intentioned givers of unsolicited advice, PLEASE STOP TELLING ME TO SET MYSELF ON FIRE.
(Extra points to those who suggest instead that I should practise pro bono law (Hi Grandma!). Because that is necessary and immeasurably valuable work which is vastly undervalued, such that pro bono lawyers struggle to make ends meet while working themselves into the ground because there aren’t enough of them (because they aren’t paid enough), so their case loads are enormous, and they can’t turn people away because their clients need them so desperately, and the kinds of people who become pro bono lawyers in spite of everything I’ve just described are typically not okay with just hanging people who need them out to dry. It would crush me within a few months. I have endless respect for people who take on this work. Relatedly, many of them only do pro bono work part time and other legal work the rest of the time because otherwise they would not be able to afford to eat. That is not hyperbole.)
Third, no because I don’t just “like music”, I AM A FUCKING MUSICIAN. It is extremely insulting to tell me that I should stick with a desk job instead of pursuing music. So that I can help “musicians”. Thanks so much for letting me know that you don’t think that term includes me.
And finally, yes, musicians probably do need lawyers who can understand their needs and desires. They are, however, probably not best served by lawyers who are bitter about their own failed artistic ambitions. Also, a good lawyer doesn’t usually need to be intimately familiar with a particular field in order to be a successful advocate for clients who work in that field. What they need is to be curious, to have empathy, and to listen to what their clients tell them. Contrary to the popular caricature of lawyers as evil, selfish, and greedy, most of them are really serious about being of service to their clients and faithfully representing their needs and wishes. When I say that I cannot go back to practising law, one of the things I am saying is that I would not be an effective advocate for my clients. My fellow musicians – and everyone else – deserve better than that.
Uh. Yeah. So.
I guess I’ve been needing to rant on that topic for a while now.
To get to my actual, on-topic point, I really appreciated that the Captain’s advice on this point emphasised how, if the LW can find legal work that serves their artistic community, it could help them in their pursuit of their art. No one’s ever said anything like that to me. Thank you for that, Captain.
LW, please don’t feel obliged to do legal work in your artistic field if the prospect makes you anxious or unhappy. If you want to do it, that is excellent and I hope you find awesome things to do, and that they do help you in pursuing your passion. If you don’t want to at all, or are okay with doing some things (e.g. giving advice on contracts) but not other things (e.g. representing your artistic friends and colleagues in court), I hope you will draw your boundaries and keep them firm. You are allowed to say no. You don’t owe legal work to anyone.
tl;dr Please don’t suggest to people who are pursuing an artistic career that it would be better for them to get a desk job in their field. It is hurtful. And if you accidentally say it to someone like me who has heard it too many times, they might bite your head off. I suggest instead that you say something like, “That’s so cool! What exactly would you like to be doing?” or something similar. Then you might find out, for example, that I’m not even trying to be a famous opera singer or anything, I just want to perform locally and to teach singing and music theory.
… I might be bad at tl;dr. Probably I should have stopped after the second sentence. Maybe the first. Anyway, I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk through the issue.
Thank you, Annafel — this is an important point for all artists with a “survival job” (whether it’s an alternative career or a stop-gap job). Sometimes, being in an “arts-adjacent” field — an actor working for a casting director, a musician working in management, a playwright working in a theatrical administrative capacity — can be more soul-crushing than doing something utterly unrelated to one’s passion and training.
Yeah! That’s exactly what I meant, but way more succinct 😀
Yeah… I work in medicine (and love it). I also like illustration and comics (when I had spare time). Do I want to do medical illustration or comics? HECK NO! They are pretty much opposite sides of the brain for me. Illustration and comics are about fantasy and whimsy for me, medicine is about logic and interacting with people.
So medical illustration would be the worst of both worlds; no fantasy and minimal interaction. Plus as much as I find the business aspect interesting, if I did art for money all the time it would probably kill some of the personal drive.
Two great tastes don’t always taste great together, friendship is not a transitive property, and personal interests don’t always fit well as professional interests
YES. Oh gosh, have people suggested you make comics on medical themes? I mean – I guess it’s pretty obviously impractical to suggest that you provide medical care to other illustrators :p But I totally see your point re: no fantasy and minimal interaction. That would be no good at all! It sounds like you’ve found a balance between your passions that works well for you, and that makes me happy 🙂
(Also, “two great tastes don’t always taste great together” reminded me of when a friend of mine put plum jam on what he did not realise was an onion bagel. “It’s like a party in my mouth,” he said, “And nobody knows each other, and it’s awkward.”)
Speaking as a fellow Canadian lawyer with a passion for writing and theatre, thank you for saying all this! Every last word of it.
When I was 16, I told my parents I wanted to join the Renaissance Festival, traveling 9 months out of the year and making jewelry. They “suggested” (guilt tripped) that I go to college, major in medieval history, and maybe someday later get a job designing costumes for the Renaissance Festival. Thanks, that’s exactly NOTHING like my dream.
I’m 31. Several life overhauls later, I finally have a semi-clear path BACK to Renaissance Festivals, if I want it. Sort of waiting to see how the election shakes out, but I can do it.
Anyway, dream-derailing feels. Hugs offered.
Thank you for this!
I am not a lawyer but a paralegal. A paralegal with a serious painting and collage making issue. One that I’m pretty damn good at, and which I burn to spend all my waking hours doing.
But I am also a corporate paralegal. One who has logged so much desk time at this job (think Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours) that I’m pretty decent at it, and ridiculously good at it if I pay half a whits attention.
But I hate it. Venture capital, mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs are someone else’s wet dream, not mine.
I am not so highly paid that I can walk away in 22 months with a plan in place like OP. But I am plotting my escape.
I relate to OP, to the Captain’s advice, and to you. I’m too grow at this point (thankfully) to light my desk on fire one day and walk out without a plan.
But I also no longer have patience for people who tell me to advise artists on contracts, or help artists do bus dev, and help them file their formations and keep minute books for their businesses. I am the artist, not the helpmeet!
I am pretty burned out on being the helpmeet to attorneys, and do not want to sign up to go be the helpmeet to people who can’t afford to hire attorneys. That is not the point at all.
(Not to mention the ethics issues. It’s pretty tricky to make sure you’re not ‘practicing law,’ and nigh impossible to explain to people who are hurting for you to render advice you cannot render. It would actually be an awful idea to put myself in that position.)
Thank you for articulating this dilemma so clearly Annafel. Like many attorneys, you are pretty brilliant and write very clearly. Good on you for joining the ranks of recovering attorneys.
One additional suggestion I’d make is, let your work standards slip a little, if possible. You sound like someone who always strove to be top of their class, and get perfect scores (like me). I realized that I could settle for decent scores in certain areas and get a significant amount of time back. If you’re not sure how to do this, look to your coworkers and see what they do when they have more work than they can deliver on.
Note: If your not kicking butt at your job currently, then don’t take this advice.
Yes, yes. It reminds me a little of the observation that if you live every day as if it was your last, you will rapidly run out of clothes to wear and plates to eat on, because nobody does the laundry or washes the dishes on the last day of their life, right? It can be useful to think “if I were to die soon, would I be happy with my life?” But I think that’s a better question for long-term planning than for ‘right now’ decisions, because regrets can come from either direction: you can regret not doing big soul-enriching things in your life, sure, but you can also regret a life of discomfort and stress due to a lack of material comforts.
Alison at Ask A Manager has addressed this a few times, usually when the old “nobody on their deathbed has ever regretted spending too little time at the office” line comes up. She points out–quite correctly, I think–that people do regret things like not having the money to send their children to college, not having the money to take vacations to places they always wanted to see, hell, not having the money to live in reasonable amounts of comfort–or even not having developed their career in ways they wanted. Yeah, few people literally wish they’d spent more time with their butt in a chair looking at a spreadsheet (or whatever), but people absolutely do regret things that are intimately intertwined with “didn’t spend enough time at work.”
Also, while I do appreciate Julia Cameron greatly and second the Captain’s suggestion of her work (ESPECIALLY for morning pages and artist’s date), every time I read her book I stumble on her line, “Leap, and the net will appear.” (Meaning: dive into your dreams and have faith that it will work out.) Because for some people the net appears, but some people leap and go splat.
Anyway. For all that it’s potentially a little depressing, I’ve actually found this rather freeing. There’s no magic way to escape the potential for regret; if you do die tomorrow, you might very well regret not having pursued your creative goals/dreams–but if you don’t die tomorrow, you might regret setting yourself up for creativity-squashing stress and anxiety. And since there’s no magic answer that will eliminate the potential for regret, you’re free to make a choice based on likelihoods (am I likely to die tomorrow? well, no) and your preferences and goals (it sounds like you’re in a pretty great spot, with a fixed endpoint after which you will have the means to live comfortably while pursuing your passion), without the specter of But If I Die Tomorrow, Regret??? hanging over you.
Yeah. I tend to want to throw things at people who say “live every day like it’s your last.” It’s not the same thing as really think about the life you want to live. It’s just not.
If anyone here’s seen the new show “No Tomorrow,” it features a guy who’s convinced that an asteroid will take out the Earth in 8 months, so in the meantime he’s going to have no job and spend ridiculous amounts of money and do all kinds of shit.
The show indicates that there are…plusses and minusses to having this kind of attitude. Which there really will be if there’s no asteroid in 8 months.
I think I would regret it if I took a leap and ended up homeless and sick and screwing my life over because my life didn’t end tomorrow. To some degree you have to plan as if you’ll be here longer.
Which is to stay: stick out your 22 months.
I think it can also be framed as “which will you regret more” if the very worst really does happen? Instead of looking at the two best-case scenarios, where in one of them you quit your job and become and overnight success story of a person who can fully support their life and their passions, consider the alternatives…
You keep the job, and work toward your passion, and for some unforeseen and unlikely reason, you die before you are able to fully live out your dream at peak success. Yes there will be a some regret that you never got a chance to see it through all the way, and hey, you might wonder if things could have been different if you had jumped earlier, but you will also have the pride of knowing that you were working very hard at putting yourself in a place where you could actually achieve that goal and making substantial progress in that direction. You will die climbing the mountain and that is an accomplishment of its own kind; it is no small feat, even if you don’t reach the peak.
You quit your job and 6 months from now, instead of some unforeseeable death, you fall into a somewhat more likely crippling poverty because you just didn’t get to where you wanted to be fast enough, and that prevents any further pursuit. 1) you still won’t achieve your dream 2) you will have life-long and lasting regret 3) you may find yourself even further away from your goal and 4) you could lose many more years in the process, just getting back to the stable position you find yourself in today. You will break your legs in a parachuting accident, and have to live with the knowledge that you might never get near the mountain to climb it at all, remembering that the closest you ever got to it was just one decision and 22 months away.
Agreed: take the 22 months and make sure you have the best gear for the climb, don’t pull the ripcord too early
Exactly. Pursuing your passions takes a set amount of time – practicing to play a piece of music takes X amount of time over Y weeks, getting the first draft of a story out takes Z hours, landscaping a garden takes days… you could be pursuing your passion and die midway through any one of these things.
(If you are entirely a process person, rather than a product person (to use terms I know from knitting – the first enjoys the act of knitting, the second enjoys the result, may fall on the continuum), then maybe dropping dead in the middle of it is okay. But you could drop dead with something unfinished at [i]any[/i] point, really, and it’s okay to take time to sleep, brush your teeth, and do the laundry instead of spending every waking moment on it. Think of this as a 22-month-long toothbrushing that will save you from dentists for AGES.)
Perhaps reframing this decision may be helpful. Instead of thinking of the next 22 months as a waiting period, think of it as preparation. It is the ramp up before you set off.
I think those what if scenarios can give you guidelines into things to include or remove from your life, but shouldn’t be the only basis for major decisions. Anyone of us may be hit by a freak asteroid, but that doesn’t mean we should all spend our lives in underground bunkers. We need to weigh probabilities as well as passions.
Having 22 months to get that financial cushion, practice your art, and plan for your major life change sounds like it would increase your chance of success, both artistically and in the having a safe place to live and food to eat kind of way.
Good luck, LW!
Yep! I see it as making some sacrifices and investing some, not so pleasant effort, but with a big pay off in the end (in LW’s case both figuratively and literally).
My situation is a bit different considering that thought I want to pursue my creative passions, I actually do love the career I’m studying and would like work in it as well. I, thankfully, have the energy to immerse myself in both, but my time management has always been a little off, which led me into some pretty stressful situations. When I finally got on my meds, I found myself sitting and studying more and drawing less. Some would find this turn of events sad, but get this, the career I’m studying actually has a few subjects where I could improve my drawing skills, I just have to pass the subjects I used to get all caught up in thanks to my getting distracted and drawing in class! The meds and studying haven’t zapped away my creativity, I’ve just made the sacrifice and put my focus on getting better grades so I can have both more and better time to work on my projects.
So even when you’re on the path you want to be on, there are still going to be times where you going to set aside more pleasant activities for your sake. You have to take in stride and look at the big picture.
I’m a lawyer who generally likes my job, but also has creative hobbies. I was “forced” to take some time off due to the collapse of the economy a few years back, and the resulting literal collapse of my former place of employment. I spent some serious time figuring out whether I wanted to stick it out in law or go do something else, and I decided to stay in law, so I’m basically the opposite of you. But the time off definitely gave me some perspective about my choices and my overall obsession with work.
I live a (slightly!) more balanced life now, and spend more time (and more time off) enjoying my photography. Additionally, a lot of the “creative” people I know (writers, artists, designers, etc.) have “day jobs” to pay the bills so that they can actually pursue their art. I have one friend who used to work all sorts of odd jobs while she was trying to support herself as a writer. She has an Emmy and has been published in the NY Times.
And who’s to say you can’t do both, depending on what it is? I have one friend from law school who is still a full time lawyer, and he loves theater – so he figured out how to get involved in producing off-broadway shows.
Obviously this all depends on what you actually want to do creatively – it may be something that’s incompatible with a day job, in which case you have to do what’s ultimately right for you, which ultimately sounds like it won’t be law in the long run. but definitely give yourself the financial wherewithal to support yourself in that case.
also, just to add…
you may think you know how much money you will need to be comfortable for the foreseeable future. but…
– does that cover “hidden costs” that are often covered by jobs like health insurance?
– what happens if you get hurt?
– hurt in a way that you can’t pursue your creative endeavor anymore?
– hurt in a way that you couldn’t resume your legal career either?
– what happens if you burn your bridges now at your law career, and then you discover that you hate your creative pursuit even more?
– does your plan/fallback plan involve relying on family/significant others for support?
– do they know this?
– are they actually OK with this?
– have you thought about the financial/emotional/physical impact that would have on them?
I’m not saying you haven’t thought about these or have good answers for them. But you should be sure that you do have good answers for all of them.
I have another question for you: Do you hate law entirely? Or do you hate what you do at the moment?
A lot about growing in your career – in any career – is paying your dues. Are you stuck doing grunt work within law? When you look at the senior staff at your office are their days filled with doing things you would enjoy doing (one you pay your dues and get promoted on)?
I’m not saying give up your passions; I’m saying take a good look at yourself and what you want from life.
I’m in construction (specifically architecture). I hate the grunt work. I didn’t when I was a newbie, but somewhere in, I’d say, my 30’s, I started to hate it. But I stuck with because my goal was project management. And through my 30’s, I was still had to do grunt work while proving my abilities as a project manager. It wasn’t easy or fun, but I’m now where I want to be. I’m 20+ years into my career, am senior management, have junior staff for the grunt work, and I’m thriving.
Again, not saying to give up your passions. Simply saying: Know thyself. And know thyself well. I have at least TWICE in my career taken a VERY HARD, MULTI-MONTH SOUL SEARCHING look at what I want from life, and I have come to realize that the safety of paycheck is a very high priority to me. I do not like having to worry about money. Ever. Yes, I hate the stress of my deadline-driven work. But I like the paycheck. I realized after each soul-searching time, that I am not an entrepreneur. I just don’t have the guts to do it. Do I regret this? No, not at all because I know myself well and I know what makes me tick and I know what makes me happy. (And yes, I have very good hobbies to balance my work.)
So, that is my advice to you. You only have one life. YOU HAVE TO DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. Just make sure you know yourself well enough to know what that is. Take the next few months – or the next 22 months – to think about it!
JulieB, may I ask what your multi-month soul searching process looked like? I ask because I am approaching a point in my life where I need to make some decisions about what I really want, and some of the questions I need to answer sound similar to the ones you have answered. The thing is, I don’t really know how to do the work to figure it out. It sounds like you’ve done this more than once, so I’m wondering if you have a process that works for you?
Not sure if you’re still checking on this (my internet’s been down so I couldn’t comment before now), but I found the book “What Color Is Your Parachute?” to be helpful in this. It has many questions to work through in figuring out what you want to do with yourself, what you want/need out of work, where you live, etc., and you can use the author’s framework to compare different priorities for yourself in other areas as well. (Just make sure you actually answer the questions instead of skipping over them.) For me the important discovery was that I didn’t care about WHAT I did so much as WHERE I did it; this gave me the freedom to look for whatever job I could support myself with, in the city I wanted to live in, rather than applying for my dream job in other locations when I didn’t want to move. As it happened, the “whatever job I could support myself with” turned out to be my dream job in disguise; I’ve been there for almost 8 years now and still love it. But I would never have applied for it if I hadn’t made peace with the idea that my top priority was staying in my home city close to my community rather than looking for something in the career I thought I wanted (and might indeed have enjoyed had I followed it). That may not be what you discover, but going through all of the questions helped me to see what really mattered to me.
“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeoisie, so you can be violent and original in your work.” I learned that Flaubert quote from Freelance Forever, which has a whole lot of really practical ideas about how to conduct the business portion of your artistic job.
I’ve been a freelance writer off and on since 1984, and often fulltime — I have been since 2005, I think it was — and it helped a lot to have the six-month cushion of savings and so on. And as the Captain suggests, you don’t have to go from Working Stiff to Artiste in one go in 22 months; start thinking of yourself as the Artiste now and planning your life that way, while in the meantime socking away the dinero.
I often freelanced while having a full-time job, and it helped a lot in terms of getting me through the paying-your-dues part so that when I started freelancing full-time, I wasn’t thought of as a beginner. Also, when you’re supported in other ways, you can strike out in new areas that might not pay great now but will be helpful down the road.
I’m not sure what country you live in (you spell funny 🙂 ) but look at the tax implications of where you are. Where I live, if I’m a freelancer, I can deduct the expenses of my freelance work even if I’m barely making any money at it — as long as I’m treating it like a business. That allowed me tax deductions against my salary. Also look at whatever other options your country has for your chosen field. Similarly, in my country, I can set up separate retirement accounts based on freelance and salaried income, which is both a tax benefit and helps me down the road. In general, look for every sort of tax advantage you can — do you have medical spending accounts there, for example? If you might go back to college, do you have a Plan 529 there? etc. (IANATP so please consult with a real tax professional before doing anything.)
And start acquiring whatever equipment, training, etc. that you will need for your new career. Maybe you can even find a way to make your current job pay for it, if it is seen as business-related. Acquire it now while you have the money, and it will help you feel more like …whatever it is you’re going to be.
Another possibility: examine your work situation very carefully. It’s not unlikely that you might be able to adjust your profession such that it becomes less sucky (possibly even fun!). List out the things about you specifically hate.Make a parallel list of things you would like. Examine the list to see if there are bits about your work environment/practice you could adjust to make more agreeable to your True Path.
Likewise, list out advantages of your True Path, see if there are ways you can work some of those into your work life.
WRT financial security (which one tends to vastly underestimate when one is actually secure, take it from me), consider the possibility of going beyond your planned 22 months. That deadline gives you a golden opportunity (with a nice lead-time to do some research/job hunting) to shift your day-job to something that is more in line with your ambitions.
I’ve done all variations of the work/art life split, from Quit Working To Be An Artist to Abandon All Thoughts of Art and Nose to the Grindstone. The latter works about as well as you’d expect it to, but I was surprised at how poorly the former worked.
The other argument for keeping a toe in the day-job is that, should you decide you want to put more emphasis on earning power in the future, it’s much easier to increase existing work than it is to go back to working—again, based on personal experience.
A great writer on all of these topics whom I can’t recommend highly enough is Barbara Sher. Start with her book Wishcraft, which is free online.
I’m with the “stick it out” crew – because as the Captain so well puts, poverty is miserable. And in addition to the very real trials of what having less money has – if you’re looking at others in more marginal financial situations who don’t seem so bad – let me mention a few other things:
Asking parents/partners/siblings/friends for economic support is something that some people are happier with than others. It’s an option that some people have and others don’t. Grey and barter economy arrangements work better for some than others. “Living without” isn’t always obvious – not seeing the dentist for years, never going on a vacation, not replacing clothing that is ill-fitting due to weight loss/gain, etc.
I don’t know if any of this is obvious or not – but when you are living a more financially difficult situation and you see your peers go “oh yeah, I got new designer sun glasses because my parents paid for it” or “an attorney is helping me stay in my apartment, because it’s a friend of mine who I’m paying with my art work for a charity auction at my friend’s child’s school” ….that just may be a situation that feels super foreign or entirely impossible. Both cases are examples I’ve seen, and no matter how similar our technical our other circumstances were – neither option was ever possible for me.
So yeah – for the first bit, 22 months I’m sure feels really long – but if you can get it through it, find what you need to do and it can be ok.
I have a job I actually really like that is part of a lucrative career, coworkers I love, and I fantasize about quitting my job every single day. (Mostly in the morning.) I don’t think I’m unique in that. I hear a lot of people who think “i’m just not cut out for this 9-5”:but deep down, i believe that no one, to very few people actually thrive in the kind of professional environments we promote. I don’t think anyone would choose this if given the choice.
The thing I like about work though, is that it ends. Except on the rare occasions that I’m in the middle of a stressful project, I get to go home at the end of the day and leave work here. And then, I get to focus on the things that I want to focus on. (Bellydance, Singing, Writing, and Creating Content) What I’ve come to realize is that, for me, doing the same thing every day sucks, even if it were my passion.
I think the captain pointed at a lot of ways for you to start on your passion. Figuring out what barriers between you and it you can start breaking down NOW instead of in 22 months.
Another question is what does the life of a professional in your passion look like?
And are you sure you can’t build a life where your passions and your work coexist? Even more importantly, is that the norm for someone in that field?
Most of the professional musicians I know have a day job, and many of them have nothing to do with music at all. (Librarian, Charity office event planner, sommelier… uhhh yeah it goes on.) I don’t know any professional artists that just do art either. (Managing an Old Navy, Working in HR.) One of my favorite authors N.K,. Jemisen like JUST quit her day job. And it’s not that these people aren’t good, they are good, they just don’t have that combination of skill, luck and timing that have made them able to chuck everything else and do just this.
What are the things about your current career that keep it from being compatible with your passion? Could you find something part time, or work on short term projects that would allow you to switch back and forth?
I don’t want to discourage you from pursuing your passions, quite the opposite, I just wanted to say that in some cases you can have both.
/\ THIS /\ is such a good point I wish to expand on it a tad, and ask: How much do you know, dear LW, about how your art works for its practioners in the real world?
I follow contemporary poets and know a few and NONE of them make a living from poetry. Maybe they teach or do workshops or other literature or lecture about poetry; but actually living on poetry is a rare rare beast.
I am reminded of two poets of the last century who were a practicing pediatrician and an insurance company executive. Both of them found their day job to be sources of inspiration and also allowed them to enjoy other aspects of life.
I have a friend who’s a prizewinning poet. She also works as a school counselor, because poetry doesn’t even pay peanuts these days.
LW, CA’s advice is spot on. I don’t know what creative area you’re interested in pursuing, but I can speak as a novelist… my day job, while often frustrating, is the ONLY reason I’m able to write books. You mention the emotional safety net, re: feeling secure = creative juices flowing, and that is 100% the case for me. If I didn’t know that my rent, food, utilities, etc. would be paid in full every month, I would not be able to produce any work. So think of staying in your job for 22 months and the cushion you’ll earn as creative currency, figuratively and literally.
That said, the more I write books and do other things outside my day job that fulfill me far more, it’s really tempting to burn it all to the ground and walk away. I’m thinking about it haha. But since I’ve been working while I’ve been getting better at the creative stuff (third book is better than first, etc.) + I’ve discovered a freelance job outside day job that is also creative, if I take the leap, I’ll be in a better position than I was, say, two years ago. You won’t regret sticking it out the 22 months, especially if you take CA’s advice to start now. Definitely start now!!! (and if it’s books you’re going for, there’s a vibrant and amazing online community, so you can find your people! Most of us have day jobs haha)
Same. I have a day job that is full time and actually fairly fulfilling – yay! – and am also a novelist. I really enjoy my comfortable lifestyle so there’s no way I’d quit my day job in the near future. But the nice thing about starting out this way is I’m much more realistic about how things work – how long it takes me, personally, to draft and revise (not to mention the time table publishing works on…), how much it pays, etc. If I were to decide to write full time, I’d be making that call from a much more informed, practical position.
There’s also this: having a day job to pay the bills means I’m not *counting* on sales to survive. That gives me a ton of creative freedom. If my next book doesn’t sell… well, I’ll be devastated, but I’ll still have a roof over my head, you know? I won’t be in a position where I need to compromise and write something I don’t love just to worry about sales, or try to shift what I am writing into something more marketable, etc. Having a steady, non-writing income is what makes that possible.
(That said, I don’t think it needs to be an either/or thing – job or creativity, full time employment or zero employment. I have a friend who, when she finished her MFA, decided not to go for the full time, maximum revenue potential gig and instead works part time for the income, and arranges her schedule around still finding giant chunks of time to get writing done.)
Ditto! Have you thought about doing both? American culture really expects everyone to have a singular identifier, most often your job. Notice how “actor/slash/waiter” is so often a punchline? I can understand the desire to align yourself with one brand, but you have the option to be more than one thing. Especially as so many comments here talk about dedicated people really struggling.
All the best with your decision!
I love this comment. It’s so true. People ask me all the time what my next steps are professionally and I’m just like “none!” I’m really happy with my career and my current position. In addition to my work I do martial arts and dance and art and cook. Abandoning the My Job is My Identity and Sole Keeper of My Self Worth message, that I think is really pervasive in the States, played a huge role in my overall happiness. But people often hear that as “I am sad and complacent and apathetic” when really, I am much more driven and happy now than I was when My Career was my lifeblood.
LW: I recommend, as my therapist says, to do things with a curious mind. Over these next two years try the CA’s advice and see what feels good to you. Accept that some ideas you have about What You Want may not actually feel good to you once you try them. Be open to all sorts of paths not just this dichotomy of either you are working stiff or a creative (which is totally a cultural narrative.) Perhaps there’s a balance, perhaps there another path you don’t see right now. And yeah, in the meantime, definitely heed all of the advice about finances – being poor is a nightmare.
LW – you might also seek out communities of people who are, like you, working in well-paying job they hate in order to save up a safety cushion and pursue their true passions (try the blogs listed in the “financial independence” subreddit, for example). It might help you to know you are not at all alone with this dilemma, and you may find some useful advice for accelerating your accumulation time or extending your FU fund for as long as possible.
Another vote for “stick with it for 22 more months.” I’m about to get a bit morbid here, but hear me out….I’m not sure what exactly the thing is that is your passion, but I’m guessing since you are in your early 30s and thinking of devoting the rest of your life to this thing instead of working, it is a pretty big endeavor. So even if you did quit today because you feel like you might be dead before you get to the end of those 22 months….how much will you have really accomplished towards your passion? If you die in 6 months, you won’t be very far along in your project anyway. And the early parts of getting a creative career off the ground aren’t necessarily all fun and unicorns. There’s bound to be a lot of hard work and stress in that too, even if the overall goal of it is something that is meaningful to you. If you are on the edge financially, that stress is going to be magnified. If you did quit now and died in 6 months, would you really feel like “I’m so glad I quit my job so I could struggle to get this thing off the ground in my last days, only to leave it unfinished….”? Probably not. My guess is you’d feel like “Crap, I can’t believe I’m dying in my early 30s. This sucks big time, because there’s so much more I want to do.” I think you’d probably feel that way regardless of what you do over the next 22 months. That’s OK. It’s OK to be a 35 year old who isn’t ready to die and still has a mostly unchecked bucket list. I’d say that’s pretty normal.
Unless, of course, this thing you want to do is something you can complete entirely in 22 months, and then maybe it might be worth thinking about whether instead of quitting your job altogether, you can find a way to take a leave to work on this urgent thing, with a plan to return to work later. But I didn’t get the sense that that was what was going on here.
I think a better question is to ask yourself, how do I shape my life so that it looks the way I want it to look? What long and short term changes do I want to make? How best to reach my goals? Time and effort placed blunt force directly toward your goals is great, but it’s not everything. Don’t undervalue being able to meet your own needs easily–it is essential to the success of whatever other projects you are undertaking. Don’t think of the 22 months as wasting your life–you’re just setting yourself up for a different phase of your grand plan.
For inspiration if/while you continue working, check out Sara Benincasa’s essay “Real Artists Have Day Jobs.” https://medium.com/@SaraJBenincasa/real-artists-have-day-jobs-d99ad0026876#.3bu87vgu8
Excerpt: “The biggest myth we are fed as artists is that we need to sustain ourselves solely on our art. This is ridiculous. Every artist has at some point in time had some other job. Some of them kept these jobs their entire lives… Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering.”
Benincasa has published a book by the same name that includes the essay, and I highly recommend it as well.
Thanks for this, I really needed that today.
Nothing to add – just wanted to cheer for Sara Benincasa who is wonderful!
Yep, another vote for stick it out. I’d add though, that this 22 months is a spectacular gift.
I’m assuming that another 22 months of work are not going to set you up to be financially stable for life. So if your passion will support you eventually as a creative business, or freelancing of some variety, then use this time is to make a solid plan around the logistics of making that happen.
I pursued my creative passion for a while and it was very much still A Business. So use your 22 months to do the “boring” stuff that you won’t want to do once you can create full time. Put your ethos/mission/values into words. Make a business plan and research the structure of that, if it applies to you. Figure out how you’ll need to do your taxes and accounting. Write a bio for yourself. Make a hybrid resume/CV that combines all your lawyering and creative strengths together. Play around with possible cash flow scenarios, especially if there is seasonality or fewer-but-larger windfalls to your artistic pursuit of choice. Buy a domain name and some webhosting and start building your portfolio site or blogging. Learn about ways to promote your work and get new clients/pieces published/art shown. Find suppliers for any stuff you need that are affordable, responsible, or _____.
If I were in your place now, I’d be worried that I’d get cold feet at the end of the 22 months and too complacent in the security of the job. But if you have all this stuff figured out, the leap is way less scary and you’ll be able to get to the good stuff faster after you’ve taken it. And every time you are miserable because you are a working stiff until then, you get to tell yourself that you are actually doing your heart’s work too.
tl;dr: living off of art is essentially running a business and you can work on the business stuff in small chunks of free time.
As someone who quit their day job to pursue a creative business nearly a decade ago, I totally agree. Completely on Team Wait 22 Months here. For my own “leap” I had a hard deadline for my transition period, too. I knew I’d be moving cross-country on X date, and was planning to go freelance/do my art full-time when the move happened. So that gave me about 8 months to line up as many ducks as I could, while I still had the benefits and structure of the day job. I lined up contacts, socked away money, built a website while I still had access to the tech support people at work, bought software and supplies while I still had my employee discount, etc. It really helped. There was never a “now what?” moment, and the “leap” was more of a stride.
The other thing I wanted to add was that even if you make that leap and do your creative passion full-time, those feelings of “this is grunt work” and “I might die tomorrow” never really go away. Now that I’ve been doing passion-as-business for so many years, I tend to think of freelance client work as my “day job” and my self-directed projects as “passion work.” I still have to find a balance between lucrative mortgage-paying commissions (that bore me) and my own artwork (which constantly takes a back seat so that taxes can be paid and the lights kept on). And now that I care deeply about every aspect if my work, I can’t disengage, or leave work at work, without major cognitive dissonance. So it’s a moving target—and I think that’s perfectly normal. As long as you check in with yourself periodically and recognize whatever the next goal is and carve out small, regular chunks of time devoted to making it happen, you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish. There is always more work to be done, always something unfinished. But take a moment every now and again to look back at what you *have* accomplished. What you see might be a pleasant surprise.
You make a good point here. It’s easy for creative things to be a passion when you get to decide what to create/create what speaks to you. If you’re doing it full time, the downside of “taxes paid and lights on” creative work is a real one, and frankly the reason I don’t want my creative outlet to be my financial support. I’m not willing to make the sacrifices I’d have to make to be marketable. Also the whole “everything is work when you have to do it no matter if you want to or not” thing.
I don’t know if it’s quite the same kind of passion, but I quit my office job to go freelance with nowhere near the kind of safety net LW is talking about largely by easing into it. For the better part of a year I had two jobs, the office job and the freelance gig, before I took freelancing fulltime.
I don’t know if LW is talking about a passion that will potentially or eventually lead to money (like getting good enough at art X to take expensive commissions or perform at events) or if it’s more like “spend as many years as possible doing art, then go get a job again when out of money” sort of plan, but there may be a way to split the difference, if it’s the former, so you can have both money and art.
Because money is really really good to have.
It’s not as black and white as it might seem right now, LW!
I feel you. It’s always a struggle to make time for creativity and passion in your day to day. All of the Captain’s suggestions are very good, but they are also hard! It’s hard to come home from a full day of work and make art it’s hard to carve time out of your weekends for concerts or workshops or whatever, it’s hard to fit everything you want in this short life. But as many people above said, it’s even harder to make room for creativity when you’re unemployed and underemployed. I’m definitely on Team Stick With It, and I think the more you practice making time for these activities alongside your day job, the easier it will get.
However, I recognize that sometimes there are limits. I was trying to work full-time while finishing my PhD; for me personally, this was not possible, and I ended up quitting my full-time job to finish the degree. This was difficult and depressing, but ultimately it worked, and now I have both the degree and a new full-time job. Here’s why it worked though: I picked up two part-time jobs, both retail, both in small quiet shops that allowed lots of downtime between customers. I had a regular schedule. I had a regular, if very small, income. I was able to write and think during the day, even while on the job. And on my days off I met up with friends who worked from home, and wrote some more. These regular hours offered a little emotional stability and accountability, and I was much more productive than during any of the various periods of employment I’ve endured.
The downside is that I also have a massive amount of credit card debt to pay off, since my retail income nowhere near met my monthly expenses. I accept that this was the cost of meeting the goals I had at that time.
Just a little anecdata, if it helps!
I am very much with the “stick it out” crew, from the opposite end of your story. I followed my dream through most of college. I don’t know what your dream is, but mine was on stage. I knew in theory all the difficulties facing a performer, the politics, backstabbing, fighting your way through the ranks no matter talent and skill levels, watching other people get parts because of who they knew/their age or experience/who they slept with instead of their talent. Not being cast because you’re two inches taller than any of the male leads who’ve auditioned. Not even being allowed to audition because there are already too many of ‘your part’ applied.
You can know things in your head and not know how deeply they will affect you emotionally. And that is a very important factor to consider when choosing to change your life.
You say in your letter that this job isn’t your passion, but you could keep doing it and be fine. Is this true? Because if it’s at least interesting, not soul-crushing boring, you should stick to it. Things don’t have to be “passions” to be worthwhile. If it is becoming crushing, then you need a back-up plan. But a build-up of the kinds of strife any “artistic struggle” can cause can be quite soul-crushing too, a lot of it because things that are depressing are considered normal and part of the cost (like constant rejection and poverty).
So you have to weigh what you’re going to be able to face emotionally. Because the emotional toll is going to have a real effect on your health. I personally wish I’d known earlier that the stage was not a place I could healthily live in for a career, because I could have spent that time in high school and college working on a paying career that is healthy for me, not working on it in my 30s.
Remember, there’s a lot of artists in all fields who do it as an avocation (like me!). In fact, there’s a LOT more of us (avocationalists) than there are of them (professionals). Look at all the home crafters, fan workers, cosplayers, church choirs. WE are the passion players. You’re not alone.
Need to be more specific: the bad stuff will still hurt, but if it’s your passion as a career, it’s crushing emotionally and financially. If it’s an avocation, you can walk away from some of the situations. For example, an abusive director. As an avocation, I can walk away. From the production, if it’s bad enough situation, and I can decide never to work with that director again. Saves me emotionally. As a career, I can’t afford financially to make that choice. Even stars often can’t make that choice, directors trump performers. Unlike movies, ‘diva’ behavior usually gets performers’ careers ended. The stories I could tell about certain Metropolitain opera singers are night and day, and some are still working in their 70s, others…..are not.
This. So much this!
You say in your letter that this job isn’t your passion, but you could keep doing it and be fine. Is this true? Because if it’s at least interesting, not soul-crushing boring, you should stick to it
I find this to be a very presumptuous comment. I’m in much the same situation as the LW, and no, I really shouldn’t. I don’t hate my job, but the idea of doing it for the rest of my life (or even the next 10 years) sucks all the life out of me and makes me think what’s the point. I don’t know about the LW, but I have been doing what I can to follow my passion alongside my day job for years now, and for me, getting my work rejected (again, and again, and again) is a tiny price to pay for getting to do the work in the first place. Honestly, I barely even notice it anymore, because I know it’s not a reflection of me personally, but of how marketable one person thinks my work is. For me,the thing that kills me, crushes me, etc, is having to spend so little a percentage of my life on what I feel that life is actually for.
I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences and I’m glad you found a solution that works for you, but seriously, please don’t assume that your experience is everybody’s and go around telling people point-blank not to follow their dreams if they happen to have a day job that doesn’t make them immediately suicidal.
It sounds to me like your job is very much in the “crushing” category Caraval mentioned when you feel terrible about the idea of doing it another 10 years.
It’s really not though. The subject matter is interesting and my colleagues and I have fun. I find the idea of doing *anything* which is not directly in service of being able to dedicate as much of my life as I possibly can to what I want to be doing crushing. I know that I will always need to work to live (nobody is ever likely to pay me enough for my creative endeavours to prevent this), so I am currently seeking the best possible balance between ‘poverty sucks’ and ‘must make art’.
All of which is beside the point, as my objection was to this idea of ‘it’s hard and rejection sucks and I couldn’t take it so you should just not even try’. As I said, if that’s what works for Caraval and they’re happy, that’s great, but for a lot of us, that’s not nearly how the equation balances out, and acting like it is is presumptuous in the extreme, not to mention completely dismissive of the fact that there are significant differences between pursuing something as a hobby and as a profession. Both are great in their own way and 100% valid choices, but they are not the same, and although pursuing something as a professional is undoubtedly harder in many ways, it also has different rewards, and it is for each artist (or whatever) to consider *for themselves* what the right path for them is, not to be told by others who have been through it that well, it sucked for them, so new people should not even bother to try.
As someone who is making a living in a live-your-dream kind of work, if you have the possibility of being financially stable for a decade (A DECADE! We’d all love to get that gig!) by working just 22 more months, definitely definitely do this! It is hard for passions to thrive when you are super worried about rent and stuff. Your passions will have so much more space to unfurl if you can do this for future you. Seriously, future-you will look back and consider this an amazing gift.
Oh, I just re-read your letter adn I see that you even mention this. So, yes.
And then set aside one day a week or one day a month where you fully set aside to work on your passion stuff, now. Do not wait until the 22 months is over. I know you probably feel that you can’t complete a project in such a relatively small amount of time, but, as someone who deals with this all the time, you honestly will be surprised how much you *can* do, just you have to give yourself the space, and then do it.
I’ll add my note to the chorus. And I have frequently seen two types of artists – one who understood the concept of ‘day job’ and who honed their craft and learnt business skills and who did or did not make the leap to full-time artistry (successfully or not) at some point, and one who quit their day jobs and their sordid lives to make art! Sweet art! without a safety net. Sometimes without having practiced their art of choice very much: quitting your job to start writing your first novel is… rarely the road to a stable income.
The first group was much, much happier, and most of them are still doing whatever rocks their worlds, full-time or not, income-making or not. The second group… well, all the ones I’ve met either got day jobs at some point (and frequently crappy ones) or had to ask friends and family for support until they needed to get a day job and a lot of them dropped out of their art altogether because it wasn’t the life (creative or otherwise) they’d envisioned.
A day job can stop you from having the time and energy to make art, but so does poverty.
You *will not* have sixteen hours a day to throw yourself into your passion. You will not even – not over the average – have eight. (How many hours do you work at your day job? And how many hours do you do admin, chat to colleagues, take needed breaks, educate yourself, and waste time wrangling with your computer? Without a manager, secretary or IT department, expect to spend *more* of your time on these things. And some days, you need fallow time to make good art – and during that time, you might as well do something different. I know a lot of writers who write 1K a day (or any other figure) with a day job and 1500 words a day without – they may be much happier, and have more time for other, career-related things, but they don’t suddenly think fast enough to write five times as much (or have the physical ability to draw five times as long or…)
So it is good that you’re thinking this through *before* you leap. Take this time to think about how you want your artistic career to look like, take some courses, dabble in things that interest you, consume art, learn about running your own business, and salt away as much money as you can.
Best of luck!
Lots of people go to school for two years to be able to enter the career they want. Maybe it will help you get through the 22 months of you think of it as your preparation and credentialing time, just as though you were getting a degree.
(And take it from someone whose spouse got really sick: it really, really matters to have money. Sometimes it is not enough, but sometimes it is everything. And no, it shouldn’t be that way.)
Can I second, third, and fourth the advice to volunteer? While I would love to be a creative and artistic person, the reality is that my artistic skills are somewhat limited…but my need to be creative and surrounded by creative people isn’t.
What I am good at, and what I do for a living, is organize events, so I volunteer to help put together events in my local creative communities, and it helps keep me connected to a community that I love, gives me something to do that uses what I’m ACTUALLY good at, and keeps me from feeling like I’m squandering myself at my day job.
I’d love to be an amazing bohemian artist, but I actually thrive on stability and routine and the idea of not knowing where I’m sleeping or if I’ll have food makes me panicky, not exhilarated. Turns out, being a hyper-planning, organized, good with people, logistically talented person with experience working with hotels is invaluable when everyone else in the group is a bohemian artist.
LW, I was once unemployed for almost 3 years. Not voluntarily.
During that time, the potential for all my creative pursuits and passions was limitless, in terms of the time I had. Hell, everything in life I had more time for. I exercised an hour every day. I wrote an hour every day. I filled sketchbooks with drawings. I knit and sewed and embroidered and filled my home with beautiful things I’d made. I learned glassblowing and smithing, two things I’d always wanted to try.
No, wait. Actually, a lot of that isn’t true.
I had more time. A lot more time. But without income, it was a struggle to keep the basics flowing. We frequently had 2-3 days at the end of each month with no electricity in the home. Frequently had a week or two here and there with no phone line or internet access. Frequently had to stretch a cup of flour, half a bag of dried pasta, 2 wilted carrots and half an onion to 3-4 days of meals.
I didn’t have the money for new sketchbooks and pens and pencils. I didn’t have the money for yarns and fibres and fabrics and the equipment I needed to do those things as much as I wanted. I didn’t have electricity every day so I couldn’t always write on my computer. In Winter there was often times where I didn’t have enough light to see to create things past a certain time of day, and where our main focus was just nesting up for warmth in our unheated, electricless home. I definitely didn’t have access to fun courses or the means to travel to them.
I did do *some* creative stuff. Freecycle got me a fair amount of creative supplies, gifts from relatives for birthdays etc got me some more. I recycled a *lot* of old clothes and did a lot of dumpster diving. But my excess of time was always tempered by a severe shortage of resources. And contrary to the popular vision of artists, it’s actually a hell of a lot harder to find creative inspiration when you’re cold and starving and miserable.
Take the 22 months. If that is all the time you need to give yourself a safety buffer so you can survive for a decade? Take it. Take every scrap of it. Milk those 22 months dry for everything you can. Clothes and shoes that will last you years and won’t need replacing too soon. A new mattress. A new car, if you need/use one. Courses and resources and stockpiles of information and materials. Use it.
You’ll be so glad that you did. Even 6 months into your adventure.
I read your second paragraph, and my eyes bugged out of my head.
I’ve been unemployed a couple months a year most years until this one. (I literally had to move cities and ended up moving states as well to find someplace a little less tourist-dependant.)
Every time I’m unemployed, I know it’s for 2-3 months max. I have plenty of stash yarns and fabrics.
And yet every time, I’ve just been curled up into a little black ball of sadness and no creativity.
Ha! It was… what I’d like to be able to say happened.
Actually, there was a brief period of a few months when that was going on. WareHouseSpouse had a rolling temp job, and while we were still poor we were a lot better off than when we were on benefits, and so used to living on nothing that we managed to find a modest budget for creative supplies in there.
In that time I *did* do a lot more creative stuff. Because his getting work, our improved situation, and me starting to get more offers for jobs unsurprisingly boosted my mood and my creative spirit!
Another anecdote, that perhaps matches your letter a bit more closely.
Since before she had me, my mum’s dream was to move to Spain. In spite of that, she never really made solid plans about *how* she would live in Spain. So when the opportunity arose – her employer made her redundant, then took her back on as a freelancer earning twice her old wages, I had a full-time job and had moved in with the WareHouseSpouse, most of the family were in good health and okay financial situations – she snapped it up. My parents were out there within a few months of having the chance to.
They didn’t really speak any Spanish yet. They rented a cheap property planning to stay there until they found the place they wanted to buy. They had plans to use whatever land they ended up owning to run a business – a BnB with an observatory, to attract stargazers and ramblers and meteor watchers was one of several possible plans. They had the financial buffer of the sale of their home, and property is sufficiently cheap in Spain that they could’ve lived off of that for 5 years and still had enough money to buy a decent-sized plot of land.
They moved into a house in a tiny village within 3 months.
Unsurprisingly, things didn’t turn out quite like they planned. Not speaking the language before leaving left them dependent on local English speakers to help them navigate property-buying. They thought they were purchasing an orchard that would get them an income of EUR15,000 per year. They were buying an orchard that produced 15,000kg of produce per year, and that earned as little, some years, as EUR1,000. Because they’d bought the land expecting to live off the income from the produce, they bought space in an isolated area that wouldn’t attract tourists, on which they couldn’t easily build anything like a BnB, and which was in an impoverished area with high unemployment.
It’s surprising how fast even a large sum of money can run out, when you’re expecting to be able to turn your situation into a profitable one and don’t have other sources of income.
They’re now mostly fluent in Spanish, are friends with most of the locals, and have been working hard out there to make a living. But my stepdad spends his time working in gruelling construction, getting paid ad-hoc for specific work. My mum’s done so many different things. She ran a cafe, working 18 hours a day 6 days a week until the landlord of the property forced her out to give it to his mother. She sold baked goods at a weekly market, and ran a catering service. She currently works 2 shifts per day in a local bar, one shift in the unair-conditioned kitchen in the boiling heat of the day, then 4 hours of hanging around, then the evening shift of drinkers.
It’s exhausting. She only makes EUR5 per hour. And the work isn’t every day, and disappears seasonally. Sometimes, they’ve had no electricity at their home for weeks at a time. They can’t afford a phone line or internet – they’re reliant on me to call their mobiles once a week, their main source of contact with the family.
Things didn’t have to be that way. They had time. They could have spent a couple of years travelling Spain in caravan, learning the language, meeting more people, making connections and finding the perfect location for their plans. They could have spent even just another year working in the UK to earn more money for their buffer.
Don’t rush, LW.
Dear LW: Why yes, you could die six months from now (and I’m intrigued you mention this; are there underlying medical reasons why?), but on the other hand, you could live to see out the full threescore years and ten (plus change). What’s the option if you live?
Let me strongly second the Captain: poverty is not a pleasant place to be. It is mentally exhausting to have to constantly keep track of every cent, and to budget frugally, and to be constantly worrying about what you’d do in case the car or a large appliance breaks down. It is physically exhausting to survive on a greatly reduced diet (I’m constantly flitting in and out of anaemia), and to cope with minimal heating and cooling. It is not fun (even in a country with a certain degree of socialised health care) to be sick on a low income, because there are certain areas of health care which are quite literally unavailable unless you’re able to pay for them. Poverty reduces your options when it comes to places to stay, things to do, and ways to move out of this situation.
(I know all this because I’ve been existing on the dole in Australia for the majority of the last five years).
Let’s put it this way: given my ‘druthers, I would not be residing in a property which is in dire need not so much of maintenance as demolition. Unfortunately, even in a rental market downturn here in my city, that’s all my partner and I can afford (about the only positives about this place are its location, and the size of the block – lots of garden space, so I’m putting in a big vege patch in order to see whether it’s possible to get a bit more bang for my food budget buck by growing most of our own vegetables, and maybe some fruit as well). Given my ‘druthers, I would not be buying clothes extremely infrequently, and from the cheapest possible suppliers – and I also wouldn’t be “recycling” my old t-shirts and leggings as sleepwear until they were so decrepit they had to be thrown out. Given my ‘druthers, I wouldn’t be buying cheap shoes from the lowest price provider (and winding up with shoes designed on a last for slender Asian feet which therefore don’t really fit my chunky western ones). Given my ‘druthers, I’d be getting dental treatment, and seeing a therapist on the regular and so on. Unfortunately, on my current income, I can’t afford a good rental house to stay in, or a good wardrobe, or good shoes, or to pay a dentist to get my teeth fixed. The money all goes on things like food, bills, and rent – and anything left over, I’m trying to scrape together to the point where I can afford to replace the fridge or the washing machine (or better yet, both) without having to go into debt to do so.
PS: My rate of writing (and reading, and doing anything else enjoyable) slowed right down when I first wound up out of work. It’s only just starting to pick back up again. Read again: existing on a low income is physically and mentally exhausting, and it’s taken me about five years (plus therapy) to get to the point where I’m ready to start living again.
Agreed w the Captain in that POVERTY SUCKS and that staying in your current cushy career & pursuing your passions* doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.
*OP didn’t really specify art or a creative field for that matter, so creative aspect of CA’s advice may not apply depending on what your dream pursuit is.
If you stick it out + work on your passion, you’ll develop skills for working with limited time and energy, which is pretty important for meeting deadlines. You’ll learn what you can make when you really don’t want to do anything but sleep, which will be valuable because in your second life as an Artiste you can still get sick and overworked. Depending what creative stuff you do, you might be able to give yourself deadlines in the next 22 months (like, build a website, make content for the website, schedule projects, start those projects, take skill developing workshops, enter competitions, apply to showcase your stuff somehow).
Like, at the moment my creative thing is sewing. I like making clothes. And, weirdly, I like working under a tight deadline. I made a whole cosplay in three days, and I loved every moment of scheduling and problem solving. And for me that’s a good thing, because I can say “Look, I made this in three days when I was working full time AND writing a thesis. This other project that I have more room to do? Not so intimidating”. So I’ve taken a step up from it just being a hobby, and I’m giving myself deadlines and specific goals and I find that it’s helping me to develop and it’s making the day job stuff easier because the day job is no longer dominating my life.
A thousand times, this. I think there’s this myth that artists just feel the creative juices flowing whenever and wherever, and that energizes them to Make All the Things, and they’re just ecstactic and high on creativity. The reality is almost never this way. Many times I find myself churning out new work (even work I am or was excited about) when I feel like crap, or I’m exhausted beyond the breaking point, or when there’s not enough time to fully flesh out an idea, but the exhibit opens Tuesday and you have to have SOMEthing to show. Still, I’m a big believer in “done is better than perfect,” and learning to work amid distractions and other commitments is a great way to build discipline, rather than falling into the abyss of perfectionism.
Seconding, thirding and fourthing start the work now, and for a different reason:
If you’ve been working in a traditional structure of school and jobs, then you are accustomed to dealing with specific, tangible milestones, deadlines and rewards. You spend the majority of your work time responding to external requirements with fairly clear expectations. And if you’re going to earn 10 years’ cushion in less than 2 years, you’re darn good at it.
Working as a creative is as opposite of that as it is possible to be. There is no structure or goal but what you invent and follow through with. The rewards are distant, abstract, and oblique. It’s often easier to be creatively productive when you are forced to work around your day job, than in the first months or year of going out on your own. Managing yourself and honoring your work is a completely different proposition when there’s all the time in the world and nobody but you cares.
Leaving the traditional workforce for creative work is in many ways similar to becoming a stay at home parent – it’s a rough transition, and easy to lose yourself or even become depressed.
Starting as much of your new work now as possible will allow you to develop a skill set of self management to ease the transition.
Best of luck to you!
I’m a bit like you LW; I have a job I enjoy, but it’s not my passion. My passion would be to start my own business but instead of quiting my job and focusing on that, I work on it at nights and on the weekends. That way I have a reliable income, and can be free to work on my business during my spare time without stressing about money and bills. Eventuality my business will be in a place where I can quit my job and be my only source of income (hopefully). In the meantime there’s nothing wrong with planning die the future. Stick with the day job (as long as it doesn’t make you miserable) and spend your spare time building up and working on your passion.
I love this place so much. As a current comp sci major struggling with the fact that I’m pretty sure I was born to write but I also don’t want to be poor, this — and the accompanying commentary in the comments — is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, Captain and Army — you guys are great 🙂
Interestingly, I’m in the opposite boat that you’re in. I majored in art history in college, got a job as a graphic designer, and am now struggling to make rent, student loan payments, and feed myself. I loved art and writing and being creative when I started my job two years ago, but by the time I get home I am so drained and tired I’m just angry at my job for not being enough, and these feelings make it really hard to muster up any desire to work on my own personal projects at home. I was angry at myself and angry at my own poverty for robbing me of my love. Eventually, I got so fed up with being poor and depressed and hungry that I decided to make a change–and I’m going back to school to study computer science and become a programmer. Funnily enough, I imagine that once I have a stable income, I’ll want to make things again (albeit, as a “hobby”), but making that hard choice gave me the hope to go on. I’m so glad that you’re doing this for yourself–future you will thank you greatly. As the LW seems to realize, sometimes we have to make sacrifices in our work lives so that we can pursue our real passions while we’re not at work. I had to learn that the hard way. You–and the LW–are making a difficult but ultimately very good choice. Don’t forget lose sight of that.
Have the comments here ever been in such unanimous agreement? It’s really striking. Not a contrarian among us!
Sign me up to Team Stick It Out. That’s an amazing position to be in, and being able to build up that safety net for yourself in so short a space of time is a massive gift to your future. And it’s not like you have to be entirely non-creative in the meantime; there are lots of incremental things you can be doing to build that life.
One practical step I’d suggest taking is starting to live within the budget you expect to have once you make the change. It helps you to save money, but that’s just a side effect – mainly it helps you to see you can. I’ve spent the last little while challenging myself to live on a food budget of £10 per week, because one possible version of my future involves a massive income drop in order to enable something to happen that I’d like to happen. It was quite intimidating before I started, but once I got underway I found it manageable and actually quite a motivator for me.
(It occurs to me that those living on such limited incomes already may well find this a frustrating and patronising idea – I’d like to just clarify that I absolutely don’t mean it in that way. I’m trying to come to terms with a complicated set of future variables and this is helping me to do it, but I’m very aware I’m lucky that it’s currently a choice for me to do this, and not just my reality.)
Would everyone’s opinion change if the LW felt like she didn’t like her job? I feel like I have a dilemma much like this one: I am an expat teacher while being an introvert – I teach abroad because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to live above poverty level, but at the same time I am exhausted each and every day, I feel trapped, I feel like I want to escape, I have no energy to socialize as a result and so am quite isolated, my health has deteriorated because coffee coffee coffee and junk food to power myself through and too exhausted to cook for self, plus junk food and coffee are currently the only joys in my life, and yeah.
I did quit. My employer is making a final overture to reconsider.
Am I deluding myself? Should I have instead focused on how to make it work?
It was so difficult and frightening to quit, and I have no idea what I’d do if I don’t so this. Plus, Brexit happened in the mean time and everyone’s waiting for the UK economy to implode.
I know the rational solution is to stay and weather the storm, but at the time I quit, it felt really unbearable to continue teaching. Now teaching feels more bearable, but this is mainly because I can tell myself I don’t have to deal with this next year. Help?
Nobody would advise someone to work when their mental or physical health is being severely damaged, assuming they have the means to survive. It’s not clear from what you say here whether you have that last part of the equation. FWIW the UK economy isn’t going to implode until next year at the earliest, so now might be a better time to relocate than later.
(I’m a careers adviser. But this isn’t official careers advice because it if was I’d just be asking you questions!)
What I see in your question is something I see a lot in clients: you are approaching the task as if there is a “right” decision out there, and your job is to discern what it is. Thus, you might be “deluding” yourself, there is a “rational solution” (that you’re supposed to take), “stay and go are both the wrong choice”.
This isn’t how career decisions work. There isn’t a right and a wrong option: there are two options, and your job is to make a choice that you can live with. That means that even if you get it “wrong” – that at some point in the future you regret the choice you made – you have spent enough time thinking about the decision and you were sufficiently conscious of it, that you can go, “OK, I guess I got that wrong. But that’s based on [information I have now] [that I didn’t have when I made the decision]. Given the information I had at the time, I made the best decision I could.”
Here are some exercises for you to try:
1) Option Quit. What happens next? Where do you go? How long can you safely allow yourself rest and recover before you need to start looking for alternative ways to support yourself? Is there anything you can do now about finding alternative ways to support yourself? When you do start thinking about another job, do you want something that gives you satisfaction and a sense of purpose, or something that just pays the rent and buys food and doesn’t make you ill and gives you stress-free time? (Even if you you ultimately want something meaningful and satisfying, you can start off with the latter, and buy yourself time to think about the former, of course.) What are your options for returning to teaching in a few months or years if you regret quitting? What can go wrong? Are you resilient enough to cope with it going wrong?
Who can support you (emotionally and practically, if not financially)? Are they in a position to support you and happy to do so? IS anyone else dependent on you, and what do they think?
2. Option Stay. What happens next? What are the really big awful thing that make you miserable? Can you change anything about them? Would more money, more free time, more support or different students make a difference? Is there anything you could do in your non-work time that you’d look forward to? Can you take a sabbatical to think about it and still have a job to come back to?
What do you value? What’s important to you in life? What kind of stuff makes you proud, and makes you feel like you? What’s the minimum amount you need to live on? What do you need to feel safe? What do you need to thrive? Can you find a role for those things under Option Stay? Is there more opportunity to meet those needs under Option Quit?
Is there anyone else who would be affected by this decision? Is there anyone else who would let you know that they approved or disapproved of your decision? How much weight do you want to give their opinion? (It’s OK if “my parents/husband/kids want me to X” is a factor in your decision-making. That’s allowed! You just have to be aware of it, so that you’re balancing their needs and desires against your needs and desires, and feel like you’re in control of the decision to do something that would please them, rather than having no option BUT to please them, which is miserable.)
Try and be honest with yourself, and that means try and be kind to yourself. If you find it really hard to be kind to yourself, write the answers in two columns: “what I should answer” and “what I want to answer”. What you are trying to do is get in touch with the “what I want” voice in your head, which at the moment sounds like it’s being shouted down by the “no, you’re supposed to answer THIS” voice. Splitting the two into different columns means you can hear both of them separately and judge how much weight to give them.
You *might* make the wrong decision. It happens – people do that! People also survive it. If you feel confident that you’ve explored the options and got as much information as you can, it tends to be easier to recover.
Don’t underestimate the danger of “this job is making me ill”, though. That is a real, non-imagined thing, and your relief at having quit is telling you that something big needs to change. If something can change within the job, that’s great, but if that’s not within your control, then quitting can absolutely be a good, sensible, rational decision.
Also, if you can, talk to a careers adviser or coach!
Thank you. You nailed it, and this was extremely, extremely helpful. It actually makes me feel better that I am not so much of a weirdo and this right choice/wrong choice thinking is a trap people fall into. I will give it one last try. Meeting boss on Monday to discuss going part-time next year. One hopes this would be less crazy-making and would give me the opportunity to get a long-distance PGCE certificate during part-time year so I can quit with the knowledge that I can always come back to this gig if nothing works. Also, online classes, because now the big issue with quitting is that I only have general office-type skills to fall back on. Off to sort out the more navel-gazey self-exploratory part of this question.
You could look at other teaching/training type roles – if you know how to plan a lesson, communicate information and assess how well your learners are meeting your objectives, that’s a basic skill which is useful in a hundred different settings. Going part-time at the current job and exploring other settings where you could use your teaching skills is a possibility.
Seconded. Having teaching skills, there is a wide variety of jobs where you’re a “trainer” who is teaching adults things. But you don’t have to do that either if it doesn’t sound like something that would make you happy. You are allowed to think about all the options you have, including “giving teaching up entirely” if that’s what you need for your health.7
In the meantime, going part-time sounds great. Even if the job itself won’t make you happier this time around, part-time will help you to get some much-needed time off.
One thing that might be helpful is looking at all of your skills and not just the ones you consider “work” skills. If you’ve volunteered, had hobbies, etc., you may well have gained other skills that you haven’t thought about and that can look awesome on a resume/CV. (Also, I would like to say that I really hear you. One of the biggest challenges in my working life came when I went from a job I thought I’d be at forever [I only thought this BEFORE I started it] teaching, mostly teaching kids, and then I realized that I could NOT work with kids for the rest of my life. I love kids, kids are great, and teaching them can’t be my full-time job. So I came back from an overseas teaching position and almost all of my work experience involved a field I was 100% certain I didn’t want to work in anymore. I figured it out, and now have an unrelated job that I love, but it was tricky there for awhile.)
This is extremely late, but don’t discount those general office skills. I work in a non-profit in a specific area (alcohol and other drugs) and as is often the case with places like this, most staff are skilled in the specific area but are extremely unskilled in supporting areas. Those general office skills kick-started my career in the field, and makes such a big difference to the quality of work the non-profit can provide. Even if that’s not where you want to go as a career, no matter the area, non-profits often have need for admin-like staff that can support you until you find something more suited to you.
Good luck with that self exploration stuff – I’m waddling through my own, too. *imaginary solidarity fistbump*
Oh Gargleblaster, my heart hurts for you. I’m so sorry you’ve been having such an awful time of it.
I think that your situation is totally different to the LWs and so it’s probably not helpful for you to be comparing the two, and particularly not helpful to be hearing all the ‘stick it out’ advice.
The LW is working out whether to stick with something that they don’t hate, with a view to achieving a specific goal – the financial security that will buy them a good long stretch of time to pursue their passion. Is there any specific goal or enjoyment for you in pursuing your teaching work, or are you literally just doing it for survival now? If not, then it sounds like you were right (and brave) to quit.
And definitely if the job is shredding you this much, then staying isn’t necessarily the rational solution. If you have a plan for how to survive having quit (even it that’s applying for benefits, or moving back in with your folks until you find a new job), then you will be ok. If there isn’t any safety net (e.g. if you’re not eligible for any benefits) then maybe you could take the job back, but give it a fixed time limit in your head and use that time to get an alternative in place so you can jump ship safely.
I still can’t make my fcuking mind– I decide it makes good financial sense to stay at the end of the weekend, then on Wed I go “halp, someone get me out of here”….
I think that’s worth paying attention to those feelings and seeing if there’s a pattern. If you can only stand to think of staying in your job after having a weekend away from it, that’s a strong signal that it’s not a good place for you.
Maybe I should say that I have 10 yrs until I can safely quit financially. But then, will my life not be practically over by the time this is done? Stay and go are both the wrong choice. How do I decide?
I’m about to turn 57, and I don’t feel like my life is “practically over,” not by a long shot. My daughter graduates from high school in a year and a half, and my partner and I are figuring out where we want to go, because we could literally move anywhere in the world that has Internet because we both work from home. And I’m thinking a lot about what I will want to do with my life, because I have it pretty sweet right now as a freelance writer.
I do feel for my parents. They worked and saved for their whole lives, waiting for my dad to retire, and they had all these plans. Then when he was 64 my mom got bladder cancer and he took care of her for two years before she died, So I do understand the carpe diem mentality. But I also see what poverty has done to my former husband — he was poor before I met him, he got a bunch of money in the divorce, and now it’s all gone and he’s poor again — and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Referencing LW’s concept of “what if I die soon and never get to live my passion” — I quit a good paying job because every day I did wish that I’d die soon. Only time I have ever quit without having another job lined up. I felt better immediately after handing in my resignation, but unemployment lasted much longer than I expected, and if it had gone on much longer… well, I probably wouldn’t be here to write this now. I don’t regret quitting that job, though. So my guideline for “do I stay or do I leave this job” – if I’m fantasizing every day about dying or killing myself (or my coworkers), then I definitely need to leave. If this is where you are, I highly recommend leaving.
But that is what works for me. There is no shame (well, there shouldn’t be) in needing to leave a job, with no backup in place, for less extreme reasons. Good luck – I wishing you the best.
I also quit a job, at my spouse’s urging, because I was so stressed out I was self-injuring and screaming at work, plus having daily panic attacks. Luckily, my spouse is very generous and willing to support me. I am now much happier helping her with errands, etc.
If you feel that the toll your current job is taking is hurting you too much to continue, then maybe leaving now is the right decision for you, regardless of the risks. It certainly sounds like right now the risks of staying in your job are pretty high!
LW’s situation is different. They are moving from position A, that they enjoy but don’t love, to position B, that is their passion, and are looking at either an immediate change, or a relatively short extension of under 2 years, during which they could still quit early any time they wanted. You’re moving from position A, that is making you sick and hurting you, to position B, which is *being free of position A*. And if you chose to stay longer, the extension period you would need for security would be much, much longer-term than what LW is suggesting.
That said, I really want to address your comment here.
How old will you be in 10 years time? 80? 90? Do most people in your family average a lifespan of 75 years and you’re 60 now? Unless the answer to those questions is yes, your life will absolutely *not* be “practically over”.
I say this from someone who sometimes feels the same way. I have wanted the smallholding with the goats and the bees and the creative pursuits since I was in my mid-twenties. I’m 32 now, and we’re only now for the first time in a place – financially, stability-wise, mental-health-wise – where we can start planning. We’re looking at a time frame of *minimum* 5 years, more likely closer to 10, before we will be on our land and building our home. And it’s painful and scary and so hard, when I want it so badly and have already been waiting for so long, to think about how much longer I might have to keep working in jobs I don’t enjoy.
It’s hard when it feels like your life is slipping away from you and you must grab it now before it’s too late. But that’s not a useful or healthy way to look at the life ahead of you.
Yes yes yes to everything that’s been said already!
I have quite a few very talented friends in my creative field, and some are in it full time, but there are plenty of others with just as much talent who deliberately have hung onto their day jobs in order to pay the bills, and some who have even gone back to having a day job after having quit. While having a day job might mean you have less time to create, it also means you have the option of being able to create something wonderful and brave and bizarre without all as many worries about whether it will sell and how much it will sell for. Which can be a very valuable, liberating thing in itself 🙂
Speaking as a novelist who also freelances, I’d like to add something.
That voice in your head saying, ‘But you could die any day, don’t waste a precious second!’? Nix it.
That is the voice of the scarcity mindset, and it’s pretty deathly as far as making art goes. It has a nasty habit of bleeding into other habits of thought:
I could die any time, so I’d better get started on an artistic project immediately (although the only idea I have right now isn’t fully-developed and won’t go well unless I either spend more time cooking it or discard it for a better one).
I could die any time, so I can’t afford to walk away from work I’ve already invested time in (although the project I’ve invested time has turned out to be something I don’t like and it’s making me unhappy).
I could die any time, so I want to use my talents to the full (so I’m going to start several projects that show different sides of my skill, and never be able to concentrate on any of them properly).
I could die any time, so I ought to do something that expresses me fully (and how can any single work of art possibly do that?)
It’s helpful to use what time you have to the full, but that works best when it’s about the end of the day, not the end of your life. I get very productive when I think, ‘Come sundown, I want to be able to look back and think I’ve made good use of my time.’ If I think about my life as a whole, though, it’s paralyzing, because who can concentrate on their art with mortality staring them in the face? You’re telling your brain it’s in danger, and when we are in danger, we are not designed to take risks. We’re designed to do whatever we know will be safest, which means doing something we’ve done before, because if we’ve done it before, we know it won’t kill us.
And art is about coming up with something new. We don’t do that when we’re afraid of dying. We’re most able to take risks when we feel most safe. Financial safety will help that, and so will an abundance mentality when it comes to time.
Art needs to be a space where you forget about everything else and just make the art the way it wants to be made, and for that, you need to be able to tell yourself it’ll take as long as it takes. And yes, that’s harder when you’re working full-time, but if you let the memento mori voice rent a room in your head, its neighbour let’s-make-art will hear its voice through the partition wall.
Time to serve that voice its eviction papers. Getting rid of it isn’t neglecting your calling, it’s an investment in your future productivity. An artistic life means an art fighting down the fear demons, so use your 22 months to get some practice doing that.
This. I deal with that voice, or rather it’s close cousin “it’s only a matter of time until you blow your own head off, why prepare for the long term?”, and it’s profoundly unhelpful at the best of times – ignoring it to the best of my ability was a good decision, and that’s despite having good reasons to expect that I will die sooner than would otherwise be expected. Without even having a specific reason to think that it’s setting up the space where you can easily make a bunch of bad decisions.
Definitely also read the “in defense of Benny” essays on the Internet.
LW, I related so hard to your letter. I also spent most of my twenties following the “right” (read: expected) career trajectory. Like you, I’ve always had a creative passion but (possibly also like you?) my parents encouraged me to treat it as a hobby while I pursued a “real” career. Once I left my very practical and industry-focused Masters programme, I launched myself into the hamster wheel of unpaid internships and networking events until I eventually landed a very cushy job at a very prestigious institution with excellent salary and benefits. By the standards of my family and many of my friends, I’d “made it”, but inside I was silently screaming WTF AM I DOING HERE 😀 😀 😀
At twenty-eight, I realised that I’m never going to be happy working an office job and that I’d always regret it if I didn’t at least attempt to make my Creative Thing a top priority in my life. So I quit my job, moved back to my home country and started to focus on Creative Thing full-time. BUT, crucially, I have enough savings from Cushy Lucrative Office Job and enough money coming in from side gigs that I can live a frugal but comfortable life. I’m exactly where you want to be right now, and I wanted to say the Captain’s advice is perfect, but also wanted to give you some insight from 22 months into your future.
When you’re caught up in the emotionally and physically world of High Power Careers, surrounded people who all assume your entire life is focused on that next promotion, same as them, it’s difficult to take time for the Creative Thing. Of course it is. Especially if, like me (and possibly also you?), you put yourself under immense pressure to excel at everything, whether it be cleaning a toilet or presenting to the board. BUT, the career can also be an excuse. I know this, because now that I’ve set up my life in such a way that I basically have unlimited bandwidth for my Creative Thing, I STILL find excuses not to do it. I still spend hours arsing around and beat myself up because I’m wasting time that I should be using to make My Masterpiece. Job vs. Creative Thing is a false dichotomy. Your career may be one obstacle blocking you from your creative goals, and perhaps a big one, but it is only one obstacle.
If you’re anything like me, the single biggest thing that’s blocking you is The Fear.
The Fear is that voice that says, “Hey, what if you give this thing you love absolutely everything you’ve got and it still fails. What if your pour your heart and your life and all your days into this, and the best you can do is a mediocre thing that no one ever sees or acknowledges?” The Career becomes a tremendously useful barrier against The Fear. “Right now, Career takes up all my time, but when I quit, that’s when I’ll really come into my own and discover my full potential.”
You’re also plagued by the common artistic concern of Running Out Of Time, which is kind of the inverse of the Fear. (The Fear is Unlimited Time but Limited Potential, whereas Running Out Of Time is Unlimited Potential but Limited Time.) I constantly look at people my own age who’ve been doing my Creative Thing full-time for years, I see them churning out work and garnering accolades, and I feel like my life is slipping through my fingers. The sense that I’ll never catch up and I’m already too late is absolutely paralyzing. I’ve been working hard to rid myself of this notion, but the idea that you are FAILING if you are not DOING WHAT YOU LOVE ALL DAY EVERY DAY 100% OF THE TIME is very pervasive in our society.
In any case, these anxieties are two sides of the same coin. I can guarantee you that a) they will not go away when you quit your job and b) they are unbelievably detrimental to the creative process. The only way to really commit fully to Creative Thing is to push through these anxieties and make work. You don’t need to be rid of your job to start doing that. I would definitely take on several of the Captain’s tips for fostering and nurturing your creativity, right now. Otherwise, plunging yourself into Full-Time Creative Mode is going to be a real shock to the system, because it’s just going to be you, totally alone, staring down The Fear and wondering what on earth you’ve gotten yourself into.
It’s terrifying. I’m doing it and it’s hard and frustrating a lot of the time, but overall I’ve never been happier with where I am in my life. I wish you all the luck in the world, LW!
I’m 42, and I remember the urgency of now now now do or die in my 20’s. If you’re in the western world, and you’ve made it to your 20’s, you’re likely to continue on with things. You’ll have time. You will, if you start now. Start now. Don’t wait the 22 months. Or the 22 days. Start now. Keep the job, and start your real life now.
Also, maybe look at parlaying that law degree into a part time gig after the 22 months to keep that income stream going. If being poor were cool, everyone would want to do it. They don’t. There’s a reason.
LW, your story sounds amusingly like the parallel-universe version of mine!
[TW: Academia, financial distress]
I also spent my late teens and first half of my 20s following the prescribed All The Right Things good grades –> university –> law school trajectory. Then I went off to follow my passion at age 24, when I was offered a full scholarship to graduate school at dream!university in $countrythatI’dalwayswantedtolivein.
I moved there, finished my PhD, and then worked for five years in poorly-paid and insecure university teaching positions in which I loved my job, loved the research that I regularly published, loved my students… and worked 60-hour-weeks for financial compensation that regularly left me unable to eat properly, live without stressful room-mates, or keep the heat on, while getting shortlisted and rejected for permanent post after permanent post because I never had enough time to put into the interview preparation and didn’t attend enough conferences/professional events to build networks.
By the end of the five years I was so exhausted and stressed that I could hardly stand to look at the study material that I’d once loved or even anything related to it (like, my field of study wasn’t Norse history, but imagine a Norse history academic being so strung out that they start shaking and crying if the movie Thor comes on the television), and after a year out of full-time academia, I’m only now coming around to being able to think about it for more than a few minutes at a time. A dear friend very accurately compared my situation to being like someone who loved chocolate, but understandably became ill when put into a job as a chocolate taster that required them to eat it in quantities far beyond that which would be enjoyable or healthy.
Your experience pursuing your passionately-loved work of the mind might be very different to mine, and it’s possible that your field of artistic endeavour is less monumentally messed-up than the world of low-paid entry-level academic jobs at the moment. But I think it’s worth being aware that this is a horrible time to be a creative or academic person trying to make a decent living from their passions, and that the process of trying to convert that passion into a career might well have an impact on your ability to derive joy from it.
At the very least, going into it with the best financial cushion you can make for yourself is a highly sensible move, as the Captain suggests. This is not just because you might need all the money you can get, but because it might prevent you from having to take the most stressful, poorly-paid gigs at the outset of your creative career — if I had worked as a lawyer for ten years before going into grad school, I might have been able to choose not to take the low-paid insecure teaching jobs, and instead focus my energy on writing a book while waiting it out for a better-paid permanent position to be advertised, for which I’d then have been in a better place to craft an application and interview successfully.
One book that I have found incredibly useful when thinking through all this is Miya Tokumisu’s Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success and Happiness (http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Do-What-You-Love/Miya-Tokumitsu/9781941393475). There is an interview with Tokumitsu at the Atlantic here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/08/do-what-you-love-work-myth-culture/399599/ where she talks about some of her ideas.
(Coda: I am fine now, and have moved sideways from academia into a job that involves working with children and young people, which is amazingly rewarding and comes with much healthier work-life balance).
I’m the child of three working artists and a hobbyist* and all of them made career compromises and art sacrifices to put food on the table. There are lots of different ways this can play out, depending on what your exact career is, but working a job doesn’t have to mean not Arting. One of my parents worked a corporate job for a couple of decades and still produced and showed their work. The the last few years they’ve retired at a youngish age, totally changed mediums, but still producing a ton. Another parent incorporate one medium into a successful freelance business, and then a second successful freelance business, and still practices the other medium on their off hours. This is absolutely doable, OP, and probably a lot more common than living in a garret and subsisting on stale bread crusts or whatever.
*Despite all that art I am a super uncreative person and sometimes actually quite impatient with art. (Sorry art people. It’s not personal.) I’m sure they were all surprised/horrified.
Money = options & opportunity.
Including opportunities to make more money.
The work you do to pay the bills =/= who you are.
Maybe it’s part of who you are, but it doesn’t completely define you as a person, despite the dominant social them of Job Title = You. You are more than that. We are all more than that.
Excellent advice here to start planning for living your passion while you still have the safety net of regular job/paycheck. I’ll add this: what is you social life like and are you ready for it to change? Social activities don’t need to cost much money, but some people are very accustomed to spending money on eating out, special events and travel with friends. I’m not saying this is you, LW, but I want to point out that you may have friends like this. When you suddenly go from having money to having less money or no money, the unfortunate reality is that your social life usually goes with it. Change in economic status = change in social circle 99% of the time. (That’s a totally made-up number, but you get the idea.)
Like others have said, try making some of these changes now, including changing how you spend money on EVERYTHING: housing, food, clothing, household items, transportation, insurance, recreation, social activities, etc. Pets, if you have them – pet expenses are often forgotten about, and it really, really sucks to give up a pet because you can no longer afford to keep it. Don’t underestimate the potential costs of medical and health expenses for yourself – it isn’t just accidents and such, but as you get older, the odds of developing a chronic health condition (one that costs money to manage) increase.
It’s a lot to consider and plan for, but the great thing is that you have this time to do it. Good luck!
LW, I’d just like to mention that I follow several authors on social media who, having all been publishing for several years, only very recently quit their day jobs.
This is an excellent response. I just want to put it out there that I’m a published novelist (my creative dream job) and I wrote and sold the first four novels of my career while working a full-time job. It can be done. I think it might be easier in some ways with writing than other creative arts, because stealing five minutes to jot down an outline or taking my lunch hour to write is easier than, say, setting up a sketch board in the break room, you know? Milage may vary, but I’m rooting for LW. I hope they can find a way to have their creative cake and eat, too.
I was/am also a formerly practicing corporate lawyer. it blew. but as I was risk averse, I started slowly, at the kiddie pool, one toe at a time. I wanted to do philosophy. so I started by getting a night-school masters. Took me 2.5 years to complete a 1 year program. and then I decided to take the “summer off” to do a program in Paris. They let me go – it was slow. and then I applied to PhDs.
I’m now a full-time 5th year PhD Candidate. IT’S AMAZING. I am SO HAPPY.
Go as fast or as slow as you need to. JUST GO.
What you’re saying is actually an argument for staying until sufficient prep, though? You are happy as a PhD student, but that is because you spent 3 drudgery years working while doing your MA to get to the place where you could be a worthy PhD candidate? My 2 cents.
That’s what I read Kate saying – she stayed for sufficient prep (in that case, doing the MA part time while still working full time). Which isn’t that far off from what the Captain advises – stick with what you have, but make room in your life Right Now for the things that make you happy.
Speaking as someone who had cancer and then lost a parent to a different cancer within 18 months, my perspective on life shifted. Not so much “I will quit my job to Live Like I was Dying” – I actually like my full time job and the degree I’m getting part time, but more “I’m giving myself permission to not excel at everything every day in my job/degree so that I can also take time to hang out with friends, sit quietly with my pets, enjoy the sunshine, and do the other things that make me happy.”
Because the cancer might come back, or another one might come along, and I want to be able to say “It’s been fun, y’all.”
Also, I’m about to turn 37. By far, I’m not the oldest person in my program. It’s never too late.
And also, every time you imagine your lawyer colleagues rolling their eyes at you for making hair-brained decisions, or presuming that you’re not sticking around because you can’t “cut it,” or other such sundry bullshittery, telll yourself that they are just jealous because you just extended your lifespan by 2 decades. And that you are braver than they, because you can life without designer handbags and an eat-in manhattan kitchen.
Eh, YMMV but I find “telling self nasty things about others” to be really toxic and poisonous rather than helpful.
There is no need to pretend your former colleagues somehow can’t live without what you consider frivolous, or that they’re just jealous, or anything like this.
You are making a different decision. Some people might judge you for it, but that doesn’t mean you need to sink to their level in return.
This! It would also be a very negative vibe for the LW and possibly make them miss out on the positives of their current role, both for the rest of the 22 months, and in the future when reflecting on their past.
LW, as someone who is not doing what they wanted to be doing with their twenties, let me tell you: I get the heavy feeling of wasting your twenties.
The “wasting your twenties because I was in denial” narrative is definitely a legitimate narrative, and maybe its the right narrative for you. I see another narrative hidden in your letter, though. What if all the work you did in your twenties was setting you up for your thirties? What if it was giving you time to experience the working world while getting skills, experience, and financial resources? What if you needed time to make your decision? What if giving yourself that time made your dedication to your work stronger?
I know many people find the maxim about living like you will die tomorrow inspiring, but its not for every person in every situation.
Final thought. You might want to look up writing that’s critical of the idea of doing what you love as work to make yourself happy, which I see as connected to your question. I liked the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, and there are some essays floating around the web more focused on income disparity.
Stay at your job for the 22 months.
I currently work full time as a novelist. I spent most of my post college career working just enough to leave a lot of time to write, so I understand not wanting a day job in your way. But the thing is, following your passion becomes a job when you make it your primary income. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not it’s still ruled by financial concerns. Writing for a living is not the same as writing for fun/artistic fulfillment. (This goes for any creative pursuit). You can no longer follow your muse. Instead, you need to follow client or market demands. I can’t write whatever floats into my head. I have to write commercial projects then (because I am an indie author) I have to do all the work of publishing and marketing. It’s an amazing job but it’s demanding, stressful, and far from consistent.
Piping in in support of sticking with it. I’d also like to add – even when you pursue your passion, work is work. There are the hard parts, the boring parts, things you have to do now/a certain way/when you don’t want to.
I work at my “dream job”. This is my passion, what I’ve always wanted to do, what fulfills me. And still, some days I feel like leaving it for somethings less… all consuming. A lot of my friends chose financial security over a passion, and complain about how jealous they are. But I’ve noticed that most of them fall into 2 traps: 1. what they “hate” about their jobs is paperwork, or politics, or getting up in the morning. 2. They think I’m on vacation because I do what I love. For them, passions are restricted to off time, so in their heads, my all life is one big evening-free-time fun. And that’s wrong. First, because all those things they hate about a boring 9-5? A lot of the time (obvs. not extreme situations), that’s just life. I have “paper-work”, politics, annoying client-bosses. Second, like a lot of people pointed out, a 9-5 brings with it a lot of hidden benefits, which for me are a big deal (OMG what do I do about a pension!). Third, anything, even your love-it-down-to-my-soul passion, gets a little boring when you do for 10 (or, lets be real, freelancing, it can get to 14 or 16) hours a day, or under the pressure of deadlines, or as a commission.
All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t follow your dreams, just get in with your eyes open. What parts of your ART can be a chore? How will you handle them? Do you plan on taking commission etc? How will deal with your ART in the service of other people? Or are you planning on selling what you create on a as-you-create-it basis? And then, how will you manage networking/promoting/times when inspiration is just… gone…? The Captain’s advice about easing into it while still lawyering can help with getting a clearer idea of that.
Absolutely follow your heart if you can. Absolutely think about the hard parts of that with open eyes. Absolutely wait the 22 months.
Here’s the truth: every job has it’s donkey work, it’s days when it seems tedious and unfulfilling. Yes, even the “dream” jobs.
“Every job has its donkey work”–I love that phrase. May I use it? I’m a career counselor at a university and I work with first- and second-year students. This phrase would make them giggle and get the point across at the same time.
My advice is don’t get yourself killed trying to balance the work you do to pay the bills and the real work.
After high school I took the only job I could get in my area which was in a warehouse. School was terrible and I was burnt out and all I wanted to do at that point was make money to give to my parents to pay them back for having to put up with me. After awhile though I began to recover and that was when I started trying to take up writing again (something I’d done for fun since I was small child). The trouble is I’m incredibly slow writer (it takes me an average of about 6 hours to get 3 pages) and I don’t have a talent for short stories, at all (I don’t even totally like short stories honestly, I feel like a good short story is one that leaves you thinking “Wow, I wish this was a whole book”). I let a lot of good ideas whither and die because I didn’t have the time to truly work on them while working 45 hours a week. I tried and tried and just couldn’t manage to do both, it was physically painful to have good ideas that I couldn’t do anything about no matter how many 20 minute lunch breaks I spent frantically scribbling in my notebook rather than eating. I gave up.
Then seven years in I got an idea I couldn’t pass up; it was the first idea I’d had in a long while and also it was a project I could work on with a friend. Full of determination, I threw myself into it, working on the book every day, refusing to deprive it of the time it required in order to live. That meant my schedule looked like this: wake up at 4:45 to get ready for work (make lunch, do hygiene, feed dog, wait for shower because I still live with my entire family), leave at about 6:15 to make it into work just barely on time at 7, work manual labor from 7 until 12, spend half hour lunch scribbling in notebook, work until quitting time at 3:30, make it home somewhere between 4:30 and 5 depending on how many errands I had to run in town (I share a car with my mother so I had to do all of the shopping and banking and etc if I wanted transportation), walk dog, make dinner, do laundry and whatever household chores absolutely have to be done until about 8pm, take a nap until 10, wake up and work on the manuscript until 4:45am, repeat 6 days a week. Do you see a problem? I managed to do this for a year before getting into a car accident. Protip: Don’t get behind the wheel of a vehicle if you are so sleep deprived you’re actively hallucinating!
That was when I realized I had to make a choice. You could say it wasn’t the same choice as LW: I really hated that job and I was never going to make enough money there to move out of my parents house let alone live comfortably or save for retirement, however my family is not well off and my paycheck was the one that paid for the groceries for the three people I love most in the whole world. I finally talked to my mom and dad and it means a lot to me that they both unequivocally told me to quit that job. My dream of being a writer meant more to them than financial stability. My younger brother actually stepped up to cover some of my share of the bills. Now it’s three years later and my health insurance policy costs more than I make in a month so I’m looking at another choice, which is probably quitting writing altogether to find another terrible day job once I can bring myself to stop dragging my feet. However, that novel I almost died for did get written. It is very bad, but it definitely exists and that is something.
My mom spent decades doing little activities from that Artist’s Way books and some of it’s spin-offs, but you might not be the sort of person for whom those work. I never was. You are one person and sometimes you do have to make a choice and not try to do ALL OF THE THINGS.
Well done for writing your novel! That’s a huge achievement. ❤
If I could do it all again, I would do what you did — earn some money, do a bit of time, then either scale back or get out to be an artist and have that financial cushion. I studied to become a musician from the start and am fairly successful, but even “successful” for what I do means months of anxiety when I hope a gig comes through or I have enough to pay rent or I need to go to the dentist or I want to take a vacation (because even artists need a vacation from their art once in a while, after all it’s a job too)…the Cap is right. Stick it out, make art as much as you can in the meantime, start networking and making contacts NOW so you’re already known in the field when you cut yourself loose, and when you’re ready, you’ll be in a place that I would venture to say is a lot better than most people. Good luck, it’ll be awesome!
As everyone has already said: stay the 22 months!
What everyone has not said: do not worry about getting things moving on this alternative path during this time. LW, if you can – if it is something that gives you energy, that you have time for, that helps you think about the future or deal with the present – then, sure, do those things to get the ball moving forward. However, as someone who also exited a legal career, I think a lot of commenters are giving advice that is not practical for the vast majority of working attorneys.
LW – do not feel like you have to be practicing law AND building your exit career during these next 2 years. It is hard work to do either of these things alone, let alone both. For someone who does the right thing and wants to be achieving, this is just an avenue to even more unbearable pressure and stress. It also could jeopardize your plan to stick out the 22 month if your work and energy are going to suffer or nosedive (burn out for lawyers is all too real).
Longtime lurker, delurking to say…it is very easy to get emotional around your creative pursuit. To feel you are being unfaithful to your muse or your true self if you are working on in your day job. In my experience you cannot logic yourself out of those emotions. And they affect your creativity. So you feel even more lousy. I don’t really know how to stop that but just focus on self care.
Wow, what a timely question. First time poster. My background is art, but it’s not what I’m doing for a living now. I’ve been making major positive changes in my life (getting treatment for depression, exercising and so on) and I’m doing much better. So much better that I’ve been working on a costume since the beginning of October every single day in order to get back to my creativity. I’m proud of myself-I set a goal, I’ve worked on it diligently (no procrastination! Woo! That’s a biggie for me!) and I’m nearly finished ON SCHEDULE (wowzers). I am giving myself a huge pat on the back because I’m taking the needed steps to leave my crap job and do what I love–making art with my hands. Long ways to go, but I have a plan (bonus: it’ll keep me busy and it’s a distraction from work). When I’m finished with my costume, it’s onto the next project. And then the next. And the next. The key is to stay busy–I’m going to art my little heart out. It’s the only way to get past the artist block. Eventually I’ll build up a body of work and THEN promote and sell. It will take a long time, but I’m all in. All I have to remember is how horrible my current job makes me feel and I know that I cannot do that for the rest of my life. I can follow my dream. You can, too, LW.
yup, create the nest egg. That is, unless you are not disclosing a personal or family health history that makes you dying in 6 months pretty unlikely. Poverty by 2020 is much more likely than dying in 6 months.
or rather, “health history that makes you dying in 6 months more than pretty unlikely.”
Long time lurker here just wanting to say thank you for the Cap for publishing this particular letter this week! I was seriously considering rage quitting my job today because I was so frustrated, as well as itching to get out there and finally write The-All-Time-Great novel TM (that will only ever exist in my head). This advice was a well needed dose of reality and the comments have been helpful too – I’m bookmarking this page to look at the next time the dramatic little voice in my head says ‘it’s now or neverrrr’.
LW, I wish you the best of luck, I hope those 22 months fly by! I also second the advice to get cracking straight away, even if it’s just on weekends or the odd evening when you’re not too tired. I know I’m going to write the first few words of my Not-All-Time-Great-but-Hopefully-Passable-and-Creatively-Satisfying novel tonight.
I have a BFA but later went to law school and became an attorney because, yes, poverty sucks. I suggest that in that 22 months, you look at perhaps other types of law and see if you might be happier if you could practice those areas. I did a lot of appeals which was pretty fulfilling because appellate practice means that you look at things a bit differently than a trial lawyer. You sometimes need to get a bit creative with the arguments and finding support for those arguments in existing law. I had a job I hated my first 2 years, mostly, because the people I worked with were jocks and not interested in anything I was interested in. Once I changed environments to work in a different firm and doing appellate work, I was far happier. If you are convinced that there is no field of law where you can make a living and be happy, then cut loose, but keep in mind that law is one field where you can practice part time and for yourself as long as you have good insurance and enough knowledge of litigation.
Honestly, LW, I haven’t ever tried to make a living off my creative endeavors, but here’s my relatively limited advice:
What kills creativity more than anything else isn’t having a day job, it’s poverty. There are a a LOT more artists who simply never were able to do what they loved because they were poor and it crushed their creativity, time, inspiration, means, and soul than those who were not able to do their creative work because they had a day job. (Usually having a day job is the *opposite* of crushing your creativity.)
I vote for staying the 22 months.
I’m not sure what field you’re going into, but here’s something to look into. Fantasy author Jim Hines has been doing a yearly breakdown of how much he’s earned from his work. He’s been publishing since 2000 and quit his full-time job in August 2015.
As a newly published author, I made the decision to stay in full-time, salaried, guaranteed work and reduce the amount of time i could use on my fiction writing as a compromise to ensure I get the bills paid.
Instead, I have begun enquiries to move from my non-creative role, to a writing based creative role within the same company. I get to write, which i love, without giving up the regular monthly paycheck. Win/Win!
My own venture was nine years old last month; combining my love of writing with my love of cats.
It would have been easy to convince myself that I should quit my day job and work on it full time and it would start paying off faster. However, this would have been a mistake. To get big fast you have to pay for it; I had to grow my audience with word-of-mouth. A couple of years in we got hit with the Great Recession, which drastically reduced one of the side businesses as people cut back spending. After that it was a mysterious health issue which finally got diagnosed this summer, and it was great to have health insurance for that. The health issue held up completion of my second book, the one which would begin a new series.
It would have been a terrible mistake to just “hope for the best” and plunge in. Because being an artist also means running a small business, when you come right down to it. Make good business decisions, and we have the freedom to make good artistic ones.
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