Written by Onicia Muller
Miserable at work? Dreaming of Hollywood? Want to escape to a Caribbean island and become a professional street artist? Listen, your current job is NOT holding you back from a creative career. Your nightmarish, soul-crushing desk job could actually be preparing you for the artist’s life. Here are 7 ways to be creative while working a full-time job.
1. GET AND KEEP THE JOB
My career track: editorial / journalism internship, freelance contributor, and finally staff reporter. I was living the dream as a paid writer. I even had health benefits! Problem was, I had severe performance anxiety and experienced several panic attacks. I stuck it out and showed up to work until it was time to start grad school. Working 6 days a week as a crime reporter gave me confidence that I could start and finish my creative projects. I can never again claim to have artists' block. Surviving the fast-paced newsroom life means despite lacking sleep, I can write quality content quickly.
2. BOUNCE BACK FROM FEAR AND FAILURE
Chicago-based improv and sketch comedy artist Laura Bowers says mastering “bounce back” is key to recovering from the rough times. "If you have a bad set you can’t just complain about that set for a month... you just have to get up and pitch another one. I'm working with clients all day long. People are reacting to you differently with every single call. Some people love you. Some people are frustrated. You learn to not take everything personally. Do your task, and move on.”
The nature of habits is that they are formed through repetition. You have to keep taking risks to become comfortable with fear. “I’m very introverted, and I don’t like small talk. This job has trained me [network] and now I do it without thinking,” Laura says. “I dive in, do the small talk, and connect with people. A career in comedy - and a creative career in general - you are advocating for yourself all the time. You have to be good at networking and connecting with other people. [My job] taught me to get over my anxieties.”
Criminals don't confirm their crime schedules, so I often – with no advance warning - abandoned my desk mid-task. I now live the “set it and forget it” life. In the news room, I learned to always take notes, regularly back up files, and keep an updated to-do list. I recommend learning Google Calendar and similar productivity tools.
5. BE EMPATHIC AND CONNECT WITH PEOPLE
Laura also worked as a teacher and youth program developer. She says she believes in the power of empathy. "When you are teaching, you are delivering content, but you’re also tuned in to empathy; it's your biggest tool,” Laura says.
In the workplace - especially service jobs - you interact with an array of personalities. “Specifically with improv, empathy is the medium in which you create. I love goofy, silly, ridiculous [jokes] just as much as the ones that make you think. In improvising, if you are just going for the punch line, your scene is going to die right after. You actually have to connect with that other person; that’s where the real comedy comes from. The fact that it’s based on a relationship or based in some form of truth."
You can be a better stand-up comedian by doing good crowd work. Practice de-escalating tensions, sensing emotions, and adapting to personalities.
6. LEARN TO SAY “NO”
Some bosses will bury you with mounds of busy work if you let them. Saying “no” to a superior can induce anxiety, but you must if you want to complete your creative projects. Define your creative goals, and practice saying “no” to distracting people and activities.
I wanted to transition into creative writing, so I said “no” to that fancy reporter job. I want to master short-format stories. I have to say “no” to watching feature films. Instead, I say “yes” to web series and short plays.
7. LEARN A TRADE OR TRANSFERABLE SKILL
Corporate work places can have strong dog-eat-dog cultures. Stay employed. Make yourself indispensable with transferable skills. As an independent artist or freelancer, you will wear many hats. You must be artist, accountant, manager, marketing department and more. Save on business startup expenses. Learn Microsoft Office, basic web design, and video and image editing. Inquire with Human Resources about training opportunities. You'll earn points for appearing interested. Want to write for the screen or stage? Learn a trade. If you fail at this art thing, all that training will make you a star candidate for temp agencies.
So, unsure if you should quit your job for art school or creative freelancing? You can by dropping the not-so-creative excuses. Get good at your bad job, and complete your project on the side. Seriously, if aren't disciplined to complete a project in a year while working a “real job", then it doesn't matter if you go to fancy art school. Or win the lotto. Or land an amazing contract. Or find an eccentric rich person to rain sweet, sweet cash on you. Because you won’t have the discipline to do the work and overcome creative doubts.
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A creative with type-a tendencies. I come from a family of artists and entrepreneurs. While I wait for my big screenwriting break, I share my BA in Communication and work experiences to help fellow artists get organized and put more art into the world.
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I say funny AND serious things. I like internet strangers.