The Case for Day Jobs: Why Every Artist Needs One

Yes, you see that right. I’m saying it.

I think everyone who creates – artists of every style and form, writers, musicians, designers, dancers, all of us – should have another type of job.

No matter how successful: if you’re me, typing words as fast as you can and every once in a while when the moon is full and the river is high submitting a story to a journal and then cowering in the corner, or whether you’re famous for your work and quite wealthy – in which case, why are you here? – you need a day job.

I’ll tell you why, before you can even ask.

Because it connects you to the world around you. Creative expression should never be just about you, in my opinion. Mind, I’m not saying you should bow to popular influences, or crush something inside of you because it might be rejected. Never be less than honest in your work.

But people who can create have gifts the world wants, and the world needs.

Now, there’s a very funny episode on The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon decides he’s going to adopt menial labor to help him battle through solving some massively complicated something or other, and it works. It’s hilarious. But that’s not quite what I have in mind, although if that’s your thing, than go for it.

But any job – scientist, postal worker, teacher, nurse, secretary, social worker, office worker, accountant, label-maker…anything that forces you into the lives of other people and slams you up against the world as it really is.

Sometimes, particularly when the alarm goes off, I like to dream of living The Life, where I sit in lovely sunshine, sipping coffee to birdsong and classical music, my fingers tripping lightly across the keys of my computer. Or even throwing things, wearing scarves in a chilly room, and mumbling to myself in the madness of words not coming together.

But that’s not life. Life is the little old lady who used to tell me the same story every night, about how she met her husband on a blind date, wearing a leopard print jacket, and he said when he first saw her, “That’s the one for me” and handed her his fraternity pin.

Life is the mother grieving over her lost child, and not having a single word that would suffice to ease her pain.

Life is office gossip, mortgages, leaking oil, vacuuming, adding up a checkbook, and any other number of wonderful and random experiences that aren’t found locked away in your computer, dance studio, sketchpad, or instrument.

And unless you get out there and live it, I truly believe your words are nothing more than painted letters on an aging page.


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