Which is the Better Path to Creative Fulfillment?

creative fulfillment

If you do creative work, which is better – working a day job that has nothing whatsoever to do with the creative thing you like to do, or working a day job that features at least some elements of the creative thing you like to do?

You might think, duh, obviously a day job that features elements of the creative thing you like to do is the better choice.

But I often wonder if this is true. Is it really better to be the person who has a creative career – for example, let’s say this person is a writer and works in an advertising/PR agency – so on the plus side they get to write every day – but what they really want to do is write a novel or a screenplay or a book of essays, only they don’t have the energy left over at the end of the work day to make it happen?  

Or, is the optimal choice to be the person whose put-food-on-the-table job has nothing to do with their creative calling, and because of this has the mental clarity and space to do their creative thing on the side exactly as they please, with no compromises, and arrives home at the end of each work day full of energy and inspiration to do their creative work?

Because the advertising/PR agency person, while earning a living writing, would have a demanding job that required a lot of overtime and unfortunate office politics to deal with, which would likely leave them feeling depleted and uninspired at the end of the day, without the wherewithal to write.

(And you know what that means. Another night of indulging in your favorite Bravo-lebrities while downing a few glasses of wine, eating Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge right out of the carton, and mentally planning your exit from said day job while giving your boss what for on your way out the door. And possibly not leaving your house from Friday afternoon until Monday morning many weekends in a row while employed at this advertising/PR agency. Not that I would know. Ahem.)

The point is, this kind of relationship with our career, creative or not, doesn’t leave us much time or mental space to write that novel, screenplay or book of essays, or whatever form our creative output happens to take.

On the other hand, the person with a job not related to their creative calling, one they aren’t overly emotionally invested in because it’s simply what they do to pay the bills, might arrive home eager to get to work on their creative project. They’ve left the job at work, and aren’t assaulted by the kind of needling gremlins that come with a career you’re expected to try to “get ahead” in, so they have a mental clean slate. They have the bandwidth to be fully and totally focused on their creative output.

I’ve been on both sides – I’ve had relatively low-stress jobs not related to writing that were meant simply to pay the bills, and high-stress, time-consuming, career-oriented jobs where there was a significant amount of writing involved, but also office politics and other assorted craziness. (Such as siblings who owned the business screaming at each other in front of my office door, a place of employment my best friend dubbed the “snit factory” for its silly territorial battles and dysfunctional silent rages.)

I generally get into a more fulfilling creative groove when I’m not preoccupied by office politics, heinous deadlines, and the crushing responsibility to pick out an “outfit” 5 days a week. On the other hand, the deadly combination of underearning and lackluster work you can’t work up much passion for ain’t no picnic either.

So obviously I don’t have the answer to the what-kind-of-day-job-is-best-for-doing-your-creative-work question.  But I’m hoping to get the discussion going, so please leave a comment here and let’s debate the perils and pleasures of each approach, shall we? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

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