Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Creating and Being Overwhelmed

Excuse me while I find a towel. Here it is…and now, I’m throwing it in. I wanted to devote this blog to the challenges of creating while maintaining a 9 to 5 job. Now, with all the economic upheaval, I find my original trials of trying to carve out writing time pale in comparison to the survival mode I now find myself in.

In a climate of record unemployment, many of us try to find comfort in the fact that, “We’re lucky to have a job.” There’s a twofold problem with this. Most of us with jobs have seen cutbacks, layoffs and re-distribution of work duties. This equates to the folks that have retained their jobs having a lot more on their plates. The second problem is stress. With Americans watching their 401K’s and home prices plummet, we’re not only working under the fear that our job will be next, but how long will we need to keep working in order to recoup our personal losses.

What this all means on a personal level for me is that my pipe dream is dead. I’ve never been a regimented clock puncher. Like most artists, “the man” watching over me does not bring out my best. Although I’m a hard worker (few sick days, never late), my consummate mantra for putting up with the daily grind is, “Some day, I’ll write myself out of this job.” Understand that this is not a ridiculous fantasy. I’m not an executive; I’m not even a supervisor or manager. I’m what the working world calls a “cog.” I’m necessary to keep the wheels in motion, but I’m not a heavy hitter. I could feasibly have moderate success as a writer (and other writing based endeavors) and basically earn slightly less than what I currently bring home now.
Knowing that soon my children will be grown and gone and that my husband and I have always maintained a fairly simple existence lends credence to fact that one day, if I could make a modest income with my writing, I could walk away from punching the clock. Now, I’m not so sure.

A common thing that holds people back is security and I’ve certainly fallen into the trap of not wanting to take risks in life. The riskiest thing I’ve done in my life is remain in my home state of California. Hey, maybe I’m more risk-orientated then I give myself credit for! Now, I watch my home’s value plummet and see everyone around me losing their jobs and/or, their lives savings, I know I can’t complain about being busier at work. Yet, much like anger and resentment that keeps us from moving forward, how long can we sustain ourselves when we are constantly spread so thin?

It was already difficult for me to find time to write. Now, I come home so drained and stressed out, I not only have less time, but less inspiration. And what has the country morphed into? Should we ever leave a job that supplies a steady paycheck, medical coverage and paid vacation? My dreams of a writer’s life are beginning to change. Maybe I should be looking towards less personal responsibilities and time commitments in the next several years. This may ensure that my day job won’t zap so much from my writing life. What if I could do both? I often feel that the particular job I have poses more of a challenge than other careers that working writers may have. There’s absolutely no flexibility with my job. One of the most crucial aspects of my job is that I be there everyday at the same time.

The good news, if you can say that these days, is that I’m a long ways from ever giving up my day job anyway. The current economic climate did not change that for me. I certainly wasn’t planning on leaving my job tomorrow, or the next day, or even the day after that. What it did do was change my perception of retiring from the grind a decade or so before I turn sixty-five. I’ve been working full-time since I was seventeen years old and the thought of showing up everyday till sixty-five or seventy seems too daunting to even imagine. Maybe the only way to get through it is to put myself on auto-pilot and keep plodding along. Things change. I probably should not look too far ahead, especially in such volatile times. I need to hang onto my original manifesto of “Don’t Quit Your Day Job” and stop worrying about it becoming, “Don’t EVER Quit Your Day Job.”


Marla said...

WOW - thank you for posting this. You are me (to a tee), very hard working, good worker, loyal worker, always on the job, still employed and glad of it....and so darned drained and tired that I can't do much else. I've started wondering if it would be just easier to give up on everything else in life, just going through the motions every day, but suspect that is the exhaustion and depression of being so exhausted talking and is not the answer.

Long ago I went into this work thinking that I'd be moderate and have time to write. In reality, I've worked harder and harder, got more and more responsibility, and am giving 98% of myself to my job. The other 2% sleeps - there is nothing left for myself and my family, but this isn't the time to move.

So, I guess we just keep going and trying. Glad to hear that it is not just me....

Colleen Gonzalez said...

...and glad to hear it's not just me! I envy those that throw caution to the wind and go for it, but it's just not in my makeup. Just knowing others are in the same boat keeps me trudging along and hopefully we can all help each other find balance.