Passion versus paying the bills: What to do when you can’t quit your day job

42 - ConverseFirst, I’ll get this out of the way: This is not a post about how to leave a job that you’re not happy in.

I know a lot of people out there are wondering what the secret is to success on their own terms, and whether it can happen fast – as in right now.

But knowing that your art, or your interest in a completely different career path, or your true calling isn’t making you money right now can be tough. Especially when it makes you realize just how much you’re relying on a day job to help you get by.

And often, our day jobs end up supporting our passions. They pay for rehearsals spaces and new gear and gas to get to the venue. They pay for the deposit on a space where you want to organize a launch party. They pay for that eight-week continuing education class or help you sign up for that cool online course.

And you know, sometimes day jobs aren’t bad at all. The good ones can feel like a second home. Colleagues can be friends. The work itself can be interesting and challenging, or nice and easy and just the right pace to keep you happy. And hey, the money doesn’t hurt, either. Nor does the routine. You know when you to be there, and for how long, and you can structure your life around it as you need to.

But then there’s that feeling in the back of your head that reminds you of how much time work takes up. You start to feel like you’re falling behind in your own goals. Maybe you thought you would have written a book by now. Maybe you’ve been procrastinating with a career transition, knowing that if you’re working full-time, it’s going to take twice as long to get to where you want to be.

Maybe you’re wondering if it will be worth it in the end, or if you should even bother at all at this point.

And of course, the answer yes, you should bother.

But how can you make it happen? How can you pull it all off while working full-time?

First, start by making a commitment to yourself. Write it down somewhere you’ll see it every day. When I make promises to myself, I like to put them up beside my mirror or my desk:

“I am going to write a book, a no matter what.”
“I am going back to school. I will find a way to make it happen.”
“I am going to make more time for my art.”

In both my coaching and tarot practice, this is one area where I hear clients struggling the most. They know what they want to do, but they haven’t promised themselves to make it happen. Once they do, things start to become a whole lot clearer, but you have something to aim for. You’ve declared your destination.

Second, take control of your schedule. Do you have a tendency to stay late at work when you don’t have to? Do you have a job where you’re tied to your smartphone in case your boss needs something?

If so, start to figure out a way to get your work schedule back to what you signed up for. This isn’t always easy, especially if expectations are on you to always be available, but if a lot of the work you’re handling outside of hours can be done on the job, then start to pry yourself away from that inbox.

Of course, not everyone is working 9-5. You might work a lot of events, making your schedule unpredictable at times, or making you feel at the mercy of your employer’s calendar.

You might be working nights or shifts, or have a business of your own and are trying to figure out how to get back in touch with your creative side.

Whatever your schedule is, and whatever your job may be, there are things you can control about it and things you can’t. You probably can’t change your start time, but do you really need to stay late again?

Could you get up an hour earlier, or go to bed an hour later, just to work on your own project?

And what else are you doing outside of work? If your calendar is booked up from Sunday to Saturday with dinner plans and movie nights and coffee dates, could you save some time for yourself week after week?

How about staying in every Monday and Tuesday just to work on your own stuff? Could you reserve every Sunday morning just for your writing, or maybe stay in on Friday nights?

Ultimately, it’s got to be a schedule that works for you. You don’t need to clear your entire calendar to make room for what you’re most passionate about, but you do need to commit to it by making time for it, just like anything else.

Remember, though, that nothing is routine without consistency. If you make a plan for yourself, stick to it. The more exceptions you make, the more your new schedule becomes an ideal rather than a reality, so be sure it’s something that you know you can live with for a sustained period of time.

Beware of burnout. While we’re talking about schedules, you might need to set an end date for yourself. Will your schedule go back to normal once your project is complete? Or you do you see yourself always balancing between a day job and your art?

If you are going back to school or doing job shadowing or pursuing another kind of learning, how long will you need to stretch your schedule for? What kind of support might you need during this time?

For me personally, I found that writing two books while working 9-5 was feasible, but when I got around to the third, I started to crumble. I wasn’t looking forward to my weekends anymore because I always felt so panicked about fitting in my writing. I would get home and drag my butt to my desk for another two hours of writing – which is still work – after a long day.

Keeping up that pace for years at a time can be a road that leads to burnout for a lot of people out there. That doesn’t mean it will happen to you, though. And at first, the adrenaline and excitement that can come from making a commitment to your work and seeing it all start to come together and can keep you going for a long time.

For some, creating or learning or pursuing a side business is cathartic. It’s something to look forward to outside of a full-time work schedule. If it makes you feel energized, go for it.

But remember that over time – and I recommend you give it at least a year, if not two – you might start to feel like it’s affecting you emotionally, or that it’s holding you back from other things in your life. That’s when it will be time to look at tweaking your schedule, or taking a break altogether.

Be patient, and know your intentions. An artistic pursuit might not be the means to an end you want it to be. If you are really, really unhappy in your job, you probably already know it’s not right for you. Even though I would love to say that art pays off, it’s definitely not a guarantee and it probably won’t be a golden ticket to justify a resignation letter.

Same with making a career transition, especially if it’s one that requires you go back to school for a significant period of time. You might even have to start from the ground up depending on how much of a departure it is from your current path, so be realistic about how much time is going to need to be invested in making that change: A year? Four years?

Even if there’s still a ways to go before you reach your end goal, that doesn’t mean you have to stick it out in a job you’re really not happy in anyway. Maybe you want to make a second commitment to yourself to have a job by the new year, or to give it six more months.

Or maybe things aren’t so bad and you’re willing to wait it out a while yet and see what the future holds.

Like I said, our creative or future goals aren’t necessarily the golden ticket to getting out of a present situation, and that alone can give you some guidance on what to do now.

Also, when we put that extra pressure on our creative abilities to “save us” from a less than ideal work situation, things can get a little weird. You might not feel as free creatively, or you might feel like you need to rush towards completion so that you can make a sale.

If you can’t imagine yourself waiting four years to get of your current job, then it’s probably time to look for something else, and even to invest some extra energy into a job search now, even if it means spending a little less time on your creative pursuits.

But if leaving is totally out of the question, then start getting clear on what kind of commitment it’s time to make so that you know what you’re aiming for. Once you start figuring out what’s within your power to change, you might realize you’re not as stuck as you think you are.

Until next time,

Liz xo

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