In Praise of the Day Job

If art is my therapy, when did the situation become me expecting to get paid for my therapy? I asked myself this question a lot when I transitioned from being a full-time musician and pursued my passion for teaching instead.  

Now, several years into my teaching career, it seems I have a phantom limb if I’m not writing and a phantom limb if I’m not teaching.

Using my "extra" time this summer, I’m out to fix this phantom limb scenario, play the guitar more, and make a sustainable plan for balancing both pursuits.

Establishing jobs and side-hustles that can function as feedback loops - as you become better at one you can become better at the other - has always been a goal.  

In my situation, teaching is a structured craft inadvertently helping me write better songs.  In turn, as I study history for the songs, write about creativity for the blog, and research about finances, I have interesting information to offer and integrate into my classroom.

Taking the Pressure Off

I do not regret taking the pressure off my creativity to pursue a stable career I also enjoy.  Now I can create my music with far less financial worry. The attitude of - like me or don’t, I’ll still be here writing what I enjoy - has been very healthy for me.  

However, the fact I was finally getting to know myself as an artist, I saw what the next level was, I was getting opportunities there, and I decided to quit out of fear? That part of my story disgusts me.

I quit because I couldn’t keep up with my own ideas, I didn’t think I could handle being a musician and a mother, I didn't like promoting myself, and I was afraid of success (and failure).  My faulty reasoning is worth exploring as I embark on yet another vulnerable task (launching Savvy History into the online world).

I created Savvy History because I don’t want to leave this earth disappointed in myself for not self-actualizing as an artist.  I’m on a journey to optimize money skills in order to create more time for songwriting, recording, and finishing my story.  (I also desire to make "less whiny songs" in case I pass away and all my children have to remember me by are recordings of my brain in my early 20s.)

Here’s another whiny song from the past:

The Risk Management Plan

I have enormous belief in my current unrecorded songs because they are tied to large universal ideas.  They are on my mind all the time (but I don’t seem to make time for them)!  When I play my new songs live, I receive far more support and direct response than I ever received from the five albums I sold when I was a full-time musician.  If those albums were good enough for me to make a living with, it's not surprising how I'm left wondering about the potential of these songs.

Unlike James Dyson, I'm beyond the point of doing crazy business maneuvers (like reverse-mortgaging our house due to an overwhelming belief in better vacuums).  However, starting a weekly writing practice has helped me explore why I lost my creative confidence (and how we are all occasionally sucked up into a dirt-bag).

As of now, my thoughts about getting paid for what I enjoy are very complex and there is a lot to unpack.  Like many people, I'd say I have an overall "inner-complex" regarding creativity and money.

Therefore, my “risk management plan” for this recording cycle is a high-quality day job.  Luckily, I put in some upfront work a few years back to have this option. 

I genuinely enjoy teaching. It adds value to my life in countless ways.  I've also received plenty of feedback I'm good at it (meaning - I make a difference in the lives of others).  Becoming good at something is half the battle to finding fulfillment while practicing it.  In addition, I enjoy the schedule, the kids, and my current co-workers.  I suppose part of my thankfulness also comes from the myriad of unfitting day jobs that filled my early 20s.

Finding Time to Launch Savvy History?

I don’t see myself going back to full-time entrepreneurship anytime soon - even if it is an option monetarily and even if it would speed up the album process.  I've also realized I’d like to live through a recession as an adult before making any firm decisions about a sabbatical to help me launch Savvy History.  I will have this option after next year.  I'm not sure what to make of this yet or whether it would be appropriate for me (probably not).

In essence, I believe it is possible to be both a great teacher and a great musician.  Finding time to do both of them at the caliber I would like to is hard though.  Money management skills are helping me figure this out and create options.  (I'll start by batching music projects during the summer and dropping other side hustles - like guitar lessons - to make time for new projects).

In other news, I'm excited to play a show next week.  I'll make sure to take a few pictures and post them on Insta!

Have you ever been an artist with a day job?  Did you enjoy it?  Why or why not?


29 Replies to “In Praise of the Day Job”

  1. You always write such thoughtful stuff. I think my day job gives me the structure I needed to launch the blog, although I do feel the chomping at the bit wanting to devote creative time to the blog, while also knee deep in projects at work.

    1. I can relate! I thrive on structure. I’ve recently realized I want to live 1000 lives and maybe experience 100 jobs (instead of no job at all like all these FI people:) I have diverse interests and not enough time!

      1. YES! I’m interested in so many things. I think part of the reason I’m chasing FI (although, I feel closer to the tortoise than the hair in terms of the word “chase”) is because I want the freedom to explore all those different, interesting things without feeling the need of a paycheck. But still pursuing the desire to work and explore the world.

        1. Best wishes in that pursuit. It sounds like a wise way to live and like you are setting yourself up for many options and a life of exploration!

  2. my wife is a painter who always had a day job. thankfully that job for a long time was record label manager so it wasn’t pure cubicle soul wrecking junk work. she always found time and ways to churn out a prolific volume of high quality work. it’s nice she doesn’t have to rely on painting sales to live, although the past couple of years with a part time schedule freed up a lot of time to paint.

    not having to worry about money is very freeing.

  3. She sounds like a wise cool lady. You nailed it – taking the monetary pressure of your creativity is possible without destroying your soul as long as it is the correct day job. It sounds like she found a good fit. I hope she keeps painting away and congrats to her on the part-time schedule!

  4. “I was afraid of success (and failure)”, oh how I can relate to that sentence. Additionally, I don’t want to die with self-actualization but as a teacher.

    You seem to balance being a mother, teacher, and an artist skillfully.

  5. Thank you for the kind comments, Deanna! Some days I wonder how I’m going to balance all of the plans I have (I haven’t even started recording yet or doing a podcast). I’m learning to work with myself more and more though (I suppose I have no choice:)

  6. I like the framing of it as risk management! The coolest part about this, to me, is that you’ve got a day-job that is (seemingly) equally rewarding, though in very different way, AND you’re able to get some symbiotic benefit between the two. That’s an amazing and rare feat.

    I can also see how it lets the art grow more organically given the absence of the make-or-break financial pressures. After school spins up again, hopefully you’re able to work out some systems to help set aside some time; it’d be a bummer to loose some of the summer’s momentum.

    Also, I too enjoyed that How I Built This episode; pretty compelling story.

    Good luck with the show!

    1. How I Built This is amazing! Glad you enjoyed the reference. Thank you for the comment, David. You are right – symbiotic benefits are rare. But I think there are in a lot of careers that assist side-hustles if you look at it closely. For example, I’m sure there are bloggers who gain computer or tech skills from their jobs, people skills, marketing skills, etc. I know IT skills would have been handy for me…ha ha ha.

      I am nervous about when school starts up again (this happens every year), but I’m also looking forward to it. It locks me into a routine and actually makes systems more doable. I’m kind of starting to lose track of what day it is around here….

  7. You do such an amazing job of balancing a teaching career and your artistic pursuits. (As a teacher I learned not to judge others’ parenting, but I assume you’re great at that too!)

    You seem to be finding a way to feel fufilled with both pursuits, and I’m thrilled to watch it happening! I enjoy your writing and weaving of seemingly disconnected ideas – always some of my favorite articles to read and share.

    1. Why hello EducatorFI! Thank you for stopping by the blog as the new and improved version of your brand! I’m so excited for you and what you are doing for educators.

      Thank you as always for the nice comments. I don’t know how balanced I actually am (I think I just sleep a lot less:)

  8. I’m definitely not an artist, though I am a writer I suppose in that I write a blog. But I’d never want my blog to be my full-time job. There are simply too many variables and ups/downs in income (assuming I could get anything approaching steady income) to not frazzle me horribly.

    I like the stability of a paycheck and to just focus on my blog in my spare time.

  9. Sounds like a healthy fit for you Abigail. On days when I am frustrated with the blog, overwhelmed by my lack of technical skills, or dreading some boring work having to do with advertising, I sure am glad I have other places to put my energy into. Otherwise, I would be incredibly frazzled!

  10. I love how you weave your creative life into the rest of your life. To me, it appears your do it seamlessly! But after reading this post, I realize it’s because you’re mindful about your choices and your intentions.

    Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts on your blog. I am inspired from and learn from your words! Even though I can’t comment as often as I’d like, I read and enjoy all of your posts!

    1. Thanks for the comment Chrissy. (I understand btw! I read far more than I comment as well – life is BUSY!)

      Creativity needs to be front and center for me or I get REALLY down. I’ve been trying to be more and more mindful about my choices as I get older. I go to bed somedays and realize I still haven’t made any time for my favorite passion (music writing). I’m trying to find a way to squeeze that one back in on a certain day of the week. We’ll see…

  11. I am currently reading an interesting book called Bull**** Jobs. One point the author makes is that there seems to be an inverse correlation between how fulfilling/useful a job is and how much it pays. For example, teaching provides immense value to the world but pays way less than being a middle manager, where value is questionable and the work is not usually fulfilling.

    The point is that we’ve accepted a system in which it is expected that you only get paid well if you’re doing something you don’t enjoy. If you enjoy it, that is reward in itself and you shouldn’t get paid well for it.

    Your post reminded me of that, but it sounds like you’ve found a sweet spot where you have a day job you enjoy and that pays the bills so you can pursue your passion projects without the need to make money. So keep up the good work!

    However, it is a shame the creative projects you are really passionate about (and bring value to the world) are difficult to monetize, and we as a society have decided that is acceptable and even good.

    1. Thanks for your input, Andrew. What you are saying is totally legit and true. I enjoy myself most of the time (and it sounds like I pay a price for this – not getting paid my true worth). If teacher salaries could be doubled – imagine the healthy competition, happier students, happier communities, etc.?

      Working with kids is HARD if you are doing it right. I want to make that VERY clear.

      P.S. I’m wondering if you have heard of the Hidden Brain podcast that goes by the same title as the book you are reading? It is an amazing episode about middle management and trying to find meaning in modern work.

      1. I totally agree teaching is hard work (and something I am not particularly good at – I have a lot of respect for good teachers). I have not seen that podcast but will have to check it out!

  12. Omg, this!
    Even though my day job(s) can drive me crazy sometimes, I am so grateful to have not only a regular inflow of cash, but also something that takes me out of the somewhat rarified music sphere I happen to belong to (opera singer here, a type of music that tends to attracts a pretty specific group of people ?)

    1. Thank you for sharing! I had no idea you were an opera singer. I love anytime I can find musicians willing to talk about personal finance. I’ll have to check out your material!

      Like you, I think it’s healthy to be jolted out of my small world sometimes.

  13. Another great article Michelle. Yep, I’ve been an artist with a day job for most of my life as I had both music and career goals. Yep, it can be tough sometimes, but life is worth always putting forth the effort to “be” as many things as you aspire to. Btw, getting the old pink band together for a west coast reunion tour and now that I’m retired, I guess I can finally be a full-time musician!

  14. Thank you Mr. Fate! I imagine you can identify with this article! Congrats on full-time retirement (which actually means being a full-time musician for you). That is so awesome! Congrats and enjoy the west coast.

  15. I finally had time to dig into your post; I’m glad I saved it. I came to teaching as a steady means of supporting myself from an interest of life-balance of my disparate passions (writing, theater, saving-the-world, hardcore nerding, frugality, etc.). It’s a wonderful profession! I’m in a new stage of my professional/family/personal life at present, but I’m happy you are able to enjoy the balance of creativity and teaching. Also, the section about working for money in Your Money or Your Life hit me hard with these questions when I re-read it recently. I think you’d find it meaningful.

    1. I love your disparate passions – they are very similar to mine! I am enjoying the balance (although I’m about to dig into my work email in five minutes after neglecting it for a month and I am kind of nervous about what I’ll find). Best wishes on this new stage of yours. I’ll have to look up that section in Your Money or Your Life again too.

  16. I’m so glad to have stumbled upon your post. This debate is one we’ve had going in my family for practically the past decade.

    My parents are both professional classically trained musicians. However, when my brother and I were young, they both transitioned full time teaching positions to support the family and have a more stable work-life balance.

    While I went into the sciences, my brother became a professional musician as well. Despite having a very unstable income (and utilizing various government resources like food stamps and disability) he claims that becoming a teacher would mean selling his soul. As you may have guessed, this drives my parents nuts.

    It’s a truly personal decision and an overall incredibly tough call. However, I am so encouraged to see you managing to integrate your creative side with a stable teaching position. I sometimes wish my brother could see that the two are not mutually exclusive.

    I, myself, always feel inspired to see people like you who manage to carve out time for creativity in a full work day. While I love the idea of getting off work, coming home, and playing my guitar and writing some tunes, some days I simply don’t feel creative after work. How do you get past that block?

    1. Thank you for contributing your family’s story to the post. I imagine your classically trained parents are very frustrated with your brother’s take on income as a musician. In general, I just advocate for being open-minded and realizing we are not always the best judge about what is going to bring happiness or fulfillment into our lives. (AKA – I never knew I would be this satisfied as a teacher:)

      As for your question, I believe in batching and time-blocking. I don’t expect myself to be creative after work quite honestly. I can handle networking or social media, but not a serious task I have to dive into. I save that for summer (and occasionally the weekends). In other words, I’ve learned to expect less from myself at different seasons of the year. I understand more and more about what tasks to do and when (but I’m still learning and feel perpetually behind). I’d love to hear some of your tunes by the way! I look forward to checking out your blog.

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