Creative Mondays #036 – A job you hate.
After four years of college I was ready to get out of California State University Long Beach and get out into the world, so much so I didn’t want to go to my college graduation. Now my parents, who had had worked very hard to pay for four years of higher education for their son who was getting a theatre degree in acting and direction, had a very different opinion. They were coming down to Long Beach and they were going to see me walk across the stage, get handed a diploma and shake the Dean’s hand. I was really bummed because I really did not want to go but I did want to make mom and dad happy.
Then, a day or so before graduation, I picked up a copy of the Long Beach Press Telegram and in it was an article on the pending graduations and it listed who the guest speaker was going to be at each departments graduation. There, in black and white, it listed the guest speaker for the College of the Arts as Harry Shearer. If you feel you don’t know Harry Shearer, you do. He is the voice of several characters on The Simpsons, he’s the host of the popular syndicated radio show Le Show, he was on two different seasons of Saturday Night Live and, most importantly to me, he portrays bassist Derek Smalls in the band Spinal Tap. Once I read that, no one was going to stop me from going to that graduation.
I’m so glad I did go because that afternoon Harry gave a commencement speech that has stuck with me all these 18 years later. Especially the loin he made about working in a job you hate. I’m going to paraphrase this next part, but his basic point was:
“A lot of people take a ‘real job’ until their dream job in the Arts comes in, in order to survive. Several years later, they are still at that ‘real job’ and are no closer to working in their dream job in the arts.”
Now, Harry said it a lot more eloquently than I just did but the main point is that many in the creative field work jobs they don’t want to be in just to survive and then, years later, realize they aren’t close at all to the job they got their degree for.
I am certainly guilty of this. For years after college, about ten in fact, I worked as a substitute teacher. It was an okay job, certainly flexible enough and I was making money, but by the end of those ten years I was starting to burn out because it was not the job I wanted to be doing. I was good at it and several times I was told I should get my teaching credential because I was such a good teacher. But deep inside of me I could feel a darkness building up because I was doing a job I absolutely hated.
The moment I made the decision to stop subbing and focus on The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, it felt like a weight was instantly lifted from my chest. I attempted, for the millionth time, to lose weight and it was actually working (lost 80 pounds). I was just a million times happier than I was when I was subbing. And guess what? I became more creative! This was the creative boom era for Dr. Floyd, because I was doing something I love.
Now, Dr. Floyd didn’t become a full time job, far from it. But working on that show lead to another job, producing a podcast for The Jim Henson Company, which did become a full time job. A job I was much happier to be at, and paid much more than, substitute teaching.
From that point on, I’ve had to remind myself of this whenever I get down about money. And even in the creative world I’ve taken jobs just because ‘I needed the money.’ To me, in the long run, it’s just not worth it. I become unhappy, miserable to be around and not really a good worker in those jobs I hate. At the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 I had gotten myself into two jobs ‘because I needed the money.’ Though I was quickly reminded why I should never do this, I finished out those jobs because I had agreed to do them. A good refresher to really think about a job before before agreeing to it. Is this what I really want to be spending my time on? Is this going to make me happy?
Ed robertson of Barenaked Ladies said in an interview once, “You can’t do what you want, doing what you don’t want.” I’m a big believer in this. You need to be happy in what you’re working on. For your health and sanity.
Incidentally a few years ago, I emailed Harry Shearer via his website asking if he had a copy of the speech still that he could send me. He said that due to an encounter his laptop had with a spilled bottle of wine on an airline flight he did not. My Great Aunt videotaped the graduation and got part of his speech on video. I should track that down.
Finally, I wanted to add one other piece to this. A piece I know a lot of people will think when they read this. You need money to survive and sometimes, a lot of times, the creative stuff does not even come close to paying the bills. I get that. So I wanted to add a short story with a piece of advice a friend of mine once gave me.
Tiffany Carboni was a year ahead of me at Burlingame High School. She graduated and was in Los Angeles for a year and when she came back the next summer we were talking about he job working with Michael J. Fox’s production company. I told her about wanting to go to LA and get into the Hollywood biz and she said (paraphrasing here), “Never be afraid to take a job that you will have no problem quitting a few weeks, or months later. Know that you aren’t there permanently. It’s just temporary until the thing you want comes along.”
This is why, for a year after college, I worked in a record store. It was an okay job and I was good at it but I had no qualms about quitting (with a two week notice, of course) when something better came along. In fact, I did quit to work on a play and then a few months after that, I got my old job right back and worked there for a little longer.
Have you (or are you currently) working a job that you hate? Is it keeping you from pursuing your creative dreams? You may not be able to quit tomorrow and become a full time artist, but how can you start the process to start doing what you WANT to be doing?