Day jobs. Can’t live with ’em, literally can’t live without ’em. Most people pursuing a creative career will have to endure various day jobs throughout the course of their journey in order to pay their rent. Now, I’ve heard legends told of people out there who GENUINELY LIKE their day jobs. Well, GOD BLESS THEM, but I am not and have never been one of those people. This blog post is not for those people. This blog post is for the people who get through each shift of their day job by reminding themselves that they could quit at any moment if they wanted to (even if their Verizon bill is telling them otherwise).
Five simple ways to make your day job more bearable:
1. Get some real work done on the clock.
My day jobs have tended towards the service industry. The service industry can be great because it offers flexible hours so that I can schedule my shifts around my real job of being a filmmaker. But the other hidden gem of the service industry is that it is filled with cool, like-minded creative people.
I worked at a cafe for years with a slew of actors, writers and artists. One coworker and I used to brainstorm movie and web series ideas while slapping sandwiches together and serving them to wealthy Tribeca moms. That coworker was Shira Weitz, and one idea that we brainstormed together later became the web series Brunch on Sundays, which she wrote and starred in and I directed. When it came time to bring on a producer, who did we call? Another coworker, Matt Manna, who produced and edited the project. I don’t need to throw in the fact that two more coworkers made cameo appearances in the show to drive home my point, but I will for dramatic effect.
2. Be nice to EVERYBODY – You never know what they can do for you.
I used to work at a cafe that catered to A-List celebrities. I was super eager to help them, deluding myself into thinking that pleasing them somehow put me on the precipice of making it. You know how this story ends: none of them had any interest in chatting with me, and serving Leonardo DiCaprio a tuna salad wrap ultimately did nothing to jump start my career. But here’s the catch: being super nice to everybody else has actually paid off in a number of surprising ways. My customers have turned out to be heads of distribution, literary editors, documentary filmmakers, independent producers – all of whom have helped me out in some way or another after learning that I, their friendly neighborhood barista, is in fact a budding young filmmaker.
Here’s the thing: while serving coffee might be something I do so that they don’t turn the heat off in my apartment, to the person on the other side of the counter, it can feel like a deeply personal transaction. I used to shy away from promoting myself to customers, but when they kept asking about me and what I “really do,” I realized that they are genuinely interested in helping me out, all because I help them out, namely by being nice and making their morning commutes less hellish. It is not inappropriate to try to get something out of these interactions. My boss may beg to differ, but that’s his problem.
3. Use it or lose it.
They say to write what you know. Well, day jobs can provide a hell of a lot of material. From the career-launching Clerks, which was not only based on but shot inside the convenience store where Kevin Smith worked at the time, to The Devil Wears Prada, which was not-so-loosely-based on author Lauren Weisberger’s internship with Anna Wintour, to Magic Mike which was quite-loosely-based on Channing Tatum’s once day job as a stripper, the abundance of day jobs in movies runs the gamut. Whenever I have to do something awful or handle somebody who is being awful at my day job, I always remind myself: this is material. You’re a writer; soak it in!
4. Find creative outlets big and small.
I already mentioned how collaborating with coworkers can help feed your creativity in a big way while on the clock. But sometimes, you have no choice but to focus on the task at hand. And when that is the case, merely grinning and bearing it is simply not an option. At least not for me. Instead, I try to find teeny tiny ways to enjoy what I’m doing. For me, this can be as simple as thinking of creative quips to write on the sandwich board outside the shop or taking the time to pour really pretty latte art. At a former cafe that featured a children’s art studio, I would offer to organize the art supplies and create sample craft projects. Finding those mini creative outlets throughout your day can go a long way when it comes to maintaining your sanity.
5. Know when to quit.
A day job is supposed to be just that: something that doesn’t still cloud your mind long after you’ve clocked out. If you are a person who cares about everything you do (guilty!), separating on-the-clock anxieties from after-hours anxieties can be a real challenge. It’s taken me a few years and a few handfuls of day jobs to realize that when a day job starts to keep me awake at night, it may be time to move on. I have to remind myself that my day job is the thing I do in order to be able to afford to do my real job. Whether the hours are too long or the drama is too much, if it starts to impede my ability to pursue my creative projects, that’s when I call it quits.