Reconciling with “the Day Job”

Many of us artistic types envision working all day at what we enjoy. Our fantasies consist of becoming the next famous writer or musician or painter.

We toy with the idea of traveling the world dispensing our wisdom and talents to those who listen with the fascination of children gazing in toy shop windows.

Then we crash into reality when we encounter… the day job.

I assume, by the complaints I overhear and read online, that most creative souls find little satisfaction in working within rigid systems. Someone at the “top of the food chain,” as my husband dubs leadership hierarchies, has an idea.

His or her idea rolls downhill forming procedures needed to implement the vision with expediency and accuracy.

“The only creativity allowed,” My husband goes on to explain, “is finding ways to shave off the minutes in order to make the process more efficient.”

We innovators by nature know this does not produce life in our souls. We like to be the ones contributing to the conversation at the inception of the idea. But unless you’ve found a way to climb to the top of “the food chain,” work often requires making sure the vision runs smoothly. Conformity is the name of the game.

So in spite of our freedom fantasies, we must face the fact that our lot in life requires working a day job and that day job is not always going to ring our bells.

The longer I work for a living, the more convinced I am that a major component of worker dissatisfaction comes from trying to fight with this fact. We wrestle for creative expression like a co-dependent wife trying to control an addictive spouse. To no avail, we wrangle for meaning, a chance to make something that has our fingerprints all over it, and when this does not occur, we become bitter and unhappy.

Unmet expectations, whether in love or in work, build a barrier in our hearts as we continue to stack brick after brick of dissatisfaction until we can no longer see over the wall.

So what is the answer for us frustrated creative types working the day job?

I propose acceptance for what it is, “a day job.” Be thankful we have a way to make a living and decide to pursue our longing for unique outside of our careers. Let me explain how this works in my own life…

Sometimes I come home giddy from a special encounter with a student. When the “ah ha” serendipitous moment of insight forms an aura around a middle school student’s head, I glow, all warm and fuzzy inside.

But most days, I drag my computer bag to my car with the energy of a newly harvested blood donor. As frustrating as this is at times, I’ve come to the realization that I should not expect my students to provide my creativity hit for the day. In fact, neither should my school for that matter.

Five years ago, I came to a career crossroads and decided to take the “road less traveled,” as Robert Frost so aptly writes in his poem “The Road not Taken.”  I divorced my surrogate husband, the school I worked for, and decided to become “just friends.” No longer did I pour all of my creative energy into what once was an unhealthy relationship with an institution. I tried to find meaning and purpose outside of the day job instead of bleeding out all my creativity in attempts to find the identity I desired.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still work hard at my job; in fact, I have more energy at work because the emotional struggle no longer exists. The major difference is that I cultivate my creativity outside of those school walls. As a result, I have an abundance of inspiration to share with my students and this creates more of those “ah ha” moments. My hope is to transfer these insights to them. Who knows, perhaps because I work the day job, they can climb on top of their walls and discover the world.

My daughter, Elya, on the Great Wall of China

No one can take away your creativity nor control your mind unless you give them the power to do so. So create, innovate, explore, and endeavor to bring your gifts into the world, while working the day job.

20 Replies to “Reconciling with “the Day Job””

  1. I think you are setting a great example for your students. When you show them there is more to life than work, they will see there is more to life than school. Who they are at school doesn’t have to define them for life. So important because when you are at school, especially those who do not excell, if feels like school is life. But school is only one part (an incredibly small one the older you get) of life and there are so many places to excell and to express yourself. And you’re right, if you don’t nurture those creative outlets, other apects of your life suffer. Great post!


    1. Janet, you expressed my sentiments so well. Yes, for those students who struggle academically and/or socially, middle school can seem like a forever nightmare. The scars resulting from these difficult years can haunt throughout a lifetime. I so enjoy seeing them flourish with hopes and dreams that can exist outside of school. Thank you for sharing such meaningful thoughts.


  2. Your students are blessed to have you there JoDee.

    As you say, I think creativity and the necessary working world are compatible–if we strive to (for lack of a better word) create a mesh.


    1. I think you’re right, Slamdunk. I often hear in writers’ posts the desire to become “full-time.” I think my years in the classroom have provided much needed perspective. Thanks for adding your insights!


  3. While it’s probably true that the vast majority of jobs out there are not creative, there are jobs where you can be creative. Computer science, for example, requires quite a bit of creative problem solving. Technical writing allows for a large amount of creative license. Marketing, being social as it is, requires a lot of creative ideas. It’s the grunge labor that’s not creative. Pushing paper, driving vehicles, flipping burgers, running a check stand – pretty much everything you might do without a college degree involves vast amounts of boring with very little creative outlet. It’s just one more reason (or the primary one) to encourage kids to go to college.


    1. Writerdood, I couldn’t agree with you more so why would the state want to take the creativity out of education? How ironic this is when those various careers you listed involve creativity. My concern as an educator is preparing our youth for the work force that requires innovation. What really annoys me is that students who have family support will still learn to be creative in spite of the trends in public education whereas children without home support suffer. I propose that education should never separate academic excellence from creativity.


  4. Bill Gates has said that one of the things that they never expected to happen when they created Microsoft was it would cause so many children to stop using their imagination.


    1. Duke1959, that is a very interesting quote by Bill Gates. My challenge as an educator is to meld the two, technology and creativity. I find students come alive when the discovery of voice is involved. When youth find ways to express themselves using words and technology, their imaginations thrive.


  5. Great post! I love the fact that you found a place to use your creativity to your benefit and your students. I moved from my teaching position 3 years ago to working at our family business. I miss the students but I have found so many more ways to let my creative juices flow since then. Perhaps if I had done things differently like you while teaching I would still be there. I was just sucked dry at the end of the day with nothing left for me or my family.


    1. flyinggma, WOW, you just described the plight of public educators to a “T,”I was just sucked dry at the end of the day with nothing left for me or my family. “This is how so many of us feel. The challenge for me is to preserve some creative energy for myself while giving my best to students. On an up day, I’m convinced I can do both; however, today I felt like a wrung out limp dishrag. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


  6. That’s so true – it’s important to have other interests, not have your job as a main focus. By all means, a job should be somewhat enjoyable, but the great thing about passions is that you don’t HAVE to be there. You just want to be.


    1. perfectperfectionist, and therein lies all the difference, “…the great thing about passions is that you don’t HAVE to be there.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Today was a very rough teaching day. I had to have a student removed for defiance, disrespect, and disruption. The rest of my classes filled with pre-Halloween candy sugar high students with springs on their feet like tigger in Winnie the Pooh. Today, being a fulltime writer looked tempting and I needed to reread my post 🙂


      1. Perfectperfectionist, you are so right. The quiet students compose the majority and I need to remind myself to give them the attention they deserve. They do not clamor for attention and are often overlooked. What grade level(s) does your mother teach?


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