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Question: How do I balance the demands of my day job with my desire to make things?

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on day jobs.

FROM : Anonymous (via Ask TCI on our homepage)

Q: How do I balance the demands of my day job with my desire to make things?

I had a conversation recently with my boss about the tension between work-mode and hobby-mode. We talked about the ways we could incorporate my passion for cooking into my editorial curation and social media work. That way, I kept up my excitement while applying them in a new way. I know not everyone will have that opportunity or flexibility, but mustering the energy to re-contextualize your day job makes it seem less like a chore.

I needed my job to survive and to afford the supplies for my craft. I got really distracted by the things I wanted to do and make outside of it. I set aside time every day to pursue cooking so I could focus at work. A typical day was cooking a full meal, writing the recipe, shooting photos, then going to the office. I’d spend my evenings planning menus and then shop for groceries on Friday night to cook all weekend. I cut out a lot of entertainment from my life. That meant less television, concerts, and seeing the friends who wanted to lure me to bars. I knew that my loved ones supported my vision, so it has become more meaningful and intentional when we hung out.

I broke down large tasks into smaller, more achievable ones. Then I made daily to-do lists from my always-growing master to-do list. It was so important to zoom out, prioritize and look at my entire schedule, see where I could fit in small errands, hit two birds with one stone, and keep the momentum going on two careers. I always took a look at my schedule before bed so I could pull ingredients from my pantry and start again in the morning, so I’d be mentally ready for the onslaught of activity.

It’s exhausting to build up two careers. You can only spin plates for so long and, most of the time, my body would give out. I would spend whole days in bed, not talking or looking at anything in particular. When I reached my breaking point, I was angry about everything, even food. I didn’t have the energy to cook at home anymore. So, I had another conversation with my boss about what I wanted to do next and we made a plan for my transition out of the company three months later. For that to happen, I had to know what I wanted. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to figure out if they could support my plan. Having that conversation with any workplace is a risk, but I was fully prepared to hustle for a new gig to survive if they let me go that day. Thankfully, they didn’t.

I know that’s crazy sounding. Three months notice versus two weeks? I needed a lot of runway to make a complete career transition. I’m happier for it.

Jenn de la Vega

Brooks-Headley
Chef, Musician
Taja -Cheek
Musician, Curator
Vera-Marmelo
Photographer, Engineer
Tamara-Yajia
Comedy Writer
Max -Posner
Playwright
Nikki-Sixx
Musician, Writer, Photographer
Ryan-Wallace
Visual Artist
Carmen Maria-Machado
Writer
Raj-Halder-(aka-Lushlife)
Musician
Kristen-Radtke
Writer, Illustrator
-LAZY-MOM
Artists

If you’re going to be a doctor or a dentist you have to go to school, but if you’re gonna be a cook you can do it without going to school or getting any formal training. It’s just gonna be harder for you and you have to be way more psychotic and intense about it in terms of how you learn to do these things.

There’s this romantic feeling that being a full-time artist is the goal, but that doesn’t have to be the goal, or shouldn’t be necessarily. There are so many artists that are super successful that also diversify the sorts of projects they work on. It’s not shameful to be a working artist or to have other interests that you’re also pursuing in tandem with making music. It’s easy for people to think that because you’re working a job and you’re also making creative work that you’re somehow not doing it, and that’s just not true.

Having a serious day job is good for saying no. Sorry, I have no time. I can’t do it. But most of the time I say no to something because I just don’t believe in what people are asking me to do.

That’s the thing about being creative: You’re trying to make money off of something so deep. It can be really scary.

I ended up joining their writers group and then they gave me this fellowship not that long after I moved to New York. That really did change my life, because even though I was working a day job and most of my hours were not spent feeling like a playwright, it changed my perception of myself. That is probably when I started writing through the night because that was the only time I had. As with anything, you have to go out and find your people… and you have to go out and find the people who might be out there looking for you.

If it makes you money eventually, that’s a great bonus, but that shouldn’t be the fuel for your creative impulse. Make money from your day job, then be creative because it makes you feel good. I always tell people, don’t worry about everything making money so much. Worry about how it feels.

Having a job is absolutely ok. Having lived off my work for a while, I’m now at a point where I just can’t get a stable job without something really suffering. So for me, the gallery is my day job, but that’s just as hard as making it as an artist

For a lot of creative people there is that guilt that comes with ignoring your creative work because of your day job commitments, or vice versa. At a certain point, maybe you just have to give yourself license to be like, “When the semester is going on, I’m not going to feel bad about not being creative.”

I put out my first record, Cassette City, in 2009, and then while I was working on my second album I got a job as marketing director for a tech startup. I have no background in marketing. I don’t even have a college degree.

It’s tricky. I feel like I’m always negotiating how to do it properly, so that one part doesn’t suffer. It’s certainly easier to push off my own creative projects than it is to push off the day job, especially when my day job is in a creative field. So it’s not like I’m just working a generic office job, I am working with other people’s art all day. So it’s harder to slough off that responsibility.

I’m definitely a big fan of, no matter how busy your job is, take 10 minutes to write your own email that’s going to push your own shit forward. It’s better than looking at a website or something, or checking your email. There are a lot of hours during the day.

About the Author

Jenn de la Vega

Chef, Writer

Jenn de la Vega is editor-at-large of Put A Egg On It and author of Showdown: Comfort Food, Chili & BBQ. She has appeared on Guy Grocery Games and ChefShock with Justin Warner. Jenn is currently creator in residence at TASTE and Kickstarter.

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