Quit Your Day Job Or Don’t: A Musing

Dear Reader,

To quit or not to quit one’s day job? “Don’t quit your day job,” has become a bit of a throw-away line that we hear when one is being dissuaded from diving headfirst into their creative passion (that frankly, one may not have the requisite talent to pursue full-time). I am not about to quit my day job but being a part-time creative can feel impossible at times.

For some background, I’m a full-time PhD student, which demands time for research, academic writing, and teaching assistant duties. I am a (mostly) happy person with a family, a place to live, a salary and health insurance (but not dental, ugh — more here), I’m living the American dream, right? As far as needs go, I’m almost to the tippy top of Maslow’s pyramid. However, at the top of the hierarchy of needs there is an elusive final stone — self-actualization, or the desire to realize one’s best self.

Self-actualization essentially means achieving your greatest potential and is the culmination of one’s psychological development. We all have different desires, interests, and aptitudes, so self-actualization for a professional athlete will look different than self-actualization for a mathematician.

Personally, I do not think about self-actualization so explicitly. I do not wake up in the morning and ask myself whether today will be the day that I become the best version of myself. Regardless, I am a goal-oriented person with many goals toward which I orient myself (I also enjoy a good tautology 😉 ). In my world, self-actualization will naturally follow on the completion of all my goals (so long as I do not set out to accomplish even more that is).

In college, I low-key set out to become a “renaissance” woman (or a “polymath” for those who enjoy more technical language). I already had a penchant for foreign languages, but I devoted more time (read: course credits) to studying languages, learning about different parts of the world, and traveling abroad. Additionally, I compelled myself to watch those edu-tainment courses like John and Hank Green’s Crash Course series (they’re great — watch them) as well as a series in art history.

Today, I am no longer a wannabe-pretentious, over-eager, pseudo-enlightened, insufferable college kid (thank god). Rather, today, I pursue the creative endeavors that bring me joy and do not feel compelled to learn about civil war battles or neoclassical art for the sake of knowledge acquisition. This change in mindset is liberating, but working and, you know, making a living really gets in the way of my creative pursuits.

As a budding actress (more here), I have run into many an aspiring actor who has recently quit his day job or is debating whether to do just that. I, who lies closer to risk aversion than risk seeking, wants to throw up my hands and scream “don’t do it, it’s a trap!” when I hear of someone willing to risk their financial security to pursue their dream. Regardless, I can totally understand the desire to work hard and focus on one’s craft without needing to worry about clocking in and out every live-long day.

I have a few book projects on the (distant) horizon. In spring 2021, I had an idea for a novel that I was very enthusiastic about. I made a rough outline and typed out nine whole chapters. Then, I gave myself the goal of finishing the first draft over the summer of 2021. I never made it past the nine original chapters. I have revisited these chapters but with all my other work, I cannot bring myself to continue the novel. Similarly, in spring 2022, a colleague and I made the commitment to write a short skills book. I am tasked with writing the first draft (a task which I enthusiastically volunteered to take on), however, other than the first chapter that I wrote in May, I couldn’t bring myself to write even a single line over June, July, August, and hello, how is it already September?

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA

If I stopped writing to you, dear Reader, could I finish these book projects? I don’t think that it is quite that simple. I have accomplished a lot in a day and have accomplished nil in a day. Time is a real constraint, however, for me, and perhaps for others, the reservoir of available creative energy is a bigger one. Quitting your day job means freeing up your day to devote your best hours to projects that fulfill you. It means prioritizing your creativity rather than reverting to it only if time allows.

If we have careers that make our hearts sing, then we are the lucky ones. I do not have this, and I am not sad about it. Regardless, I do not know if I can truly achieve self-actualization if I must devote 30+ hours a week to work that does not contribute to fulfilling my creative potential. Alas, the balancing act ensues.

In the end, I hope that you think very hard about quitting your day job. The grass is not always greener and safety needs (like financial security, shelter, health, nourishment, etc.) (should, maybe, for survival purposes) rank higher than achieving one’s creative potential. But… then again, we do only live once and if we are only going to live once, then, shouldn’t we live to the fullest? Isn’t there an argument to be made that we should indeed “just go for it”? Sure, probably, I guess, idk….

Life is filled with choices; some are monumental, and others are inconsequential. Sometimes we do not know the significance of a decision while we are making it. Sometimes we know that we do not have all the necessary information to make a sound decision, and we accept that. Other times we think we have all the information, but, after the fact, we learn that we only ever had a small part of the picture. Making decisions about one’s future is murky by design. So, what to do? Maybe you should go quit your day job. Or, maybe, you should absolutely keep your day job. Or, maybe, you should consider third options (because things are rarely ever black and white). Whatever you decide, the choice is eternally yours and I hope you’re happy (or you are at least pursuing the path to help you get there).



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