Finding the value in being a part-time creative person

November 12 2014 | Guest post by Pemcat
By: Daniela VladimirovaCC BY 2.0

At age sixteen, I had to make a choice about what direction I wanted to take my education. My basic options were between Maths and English, and I chose Maths. It's a decision I do not in any way regret.

Fast forward through university, and a few more years, and largely as a result of that decision I now hold a very normal job. I work in the finance industry in the city, and I love it, but there always has been (and I suspect always will be) part of me that wonders if I should have done something more creative…

For what I do, there's a well-defined end product. We have a structured process that we go through, and I am constantly training people to be able to do my role. I am, ultimately, a cog in the machine. A cog in a machine that does good things, a well-oiled and non-squeaky cog, but definitely replaceable. The product of the business I work for would be the same whether or not I was involved.

The amazing thing about artists of all kinds is that they build things that nobody else could have made. The world is different (if only a little bit) because they brought their unique perspective to the table, and gave us that sculpture, that dress design, that website that encourages people to be themselves. Sure, other people could have done those things, but they would have done them differently and the result would not have been the same.

I've tried various sewing or knitting projects outside of work, but I'm always aware that projects I undertake are mainly for my benefit and, because I tend to follow very strict patterns, I don't really count them as art. My craft drawer is full of half-finished work that got abandoned when I got bored. I still have the vague intention of returning to most of them at some point.

By far and away the most satisfying form of craft I've found has been writing. With writing, no matter how terrible the output, at least it was me. I'm trying to get braver by doing things like submitting the occasional guest post to Offbeat Home — which means that someone other than my husband and my sister might actually read something I've written.

But even this grand act of bravery still feels like a very small thing: perhaps if I had taken a different path at age sixteen then I would be better at this, and with the appropriate training maybe I could have been the kind of person who weaves stories for a living.

Am I wasting potential talent? What if I'm withholding some grand work of literature from the world because I didn't take that route? (Being realistic I'm 99.999% certain I'm not.)

But the other day, I was given a compliment that shifted my perspective on being a part-time creative person.

I'm a sporadic letter writer. I'm not a great day-to-day correspondent, but I find that when individuals I love are going through difficult experiences I'm often drawn to write to them. The comment that changed the way I thought about writing was this: someone told me that I've managed to express something important about the situation they were in that they hadn't been able to elucidate to themselves, and it helped.

And you know what? If all I ever achieve with my love of language is that sometimes I say the right thing at the right time to someone I love who is hurting, and it makes it a little bit easier for them, then that's not a waste of anything. I don't have to be a professional writer for that creativity to count.

What are the ways and outlets through which you express YOUR creative side?

  1. Wow. Your punchline was golden. This piece is hopeful and inspiring – thank you! (Maybe I should be working a little more creativity into my own life…)

  2. You have no idea how much this post resonates with me…

    I'm an engineer, and while I love some aspects of my job, there is nothing more that I would like than to be a craft beer brewer/photographer/writer/painter/do ANY of my hobbies full time. I feel like I spend 9 or more hours a day just waiting for when I can get home and do something creative. Which makes the perfectionist engineer side bummed out that I only have a short time to devote to any of these outlets and can't spend enough time to make them as good as they can be.

    Thank you for giving a new perspective to the creative vs. responsible dilemma.

  3. I completely agree. I am an archivist/librarian by day, but I was previously a graphic designer. I love my job, but I was feeling like I never got any creative time, so I took on a freelance job designing posters for a local theatre company, and I feel great about it! It takes up a lot of what would be "free time," but I feel like it makes me use that free time purposefully, so that instead of sitting on the couch watching TV and "wasting" it, I have to make time to be creative and work on this other job. It's great!

  4. This really resonates with me too… I'm creative by nature and curious about all sorts of things I can explore–from sewing & knitting my own clothes to jewelry making to my first love of drawing/painting. But my job is at a financial institution, and while I do have limited creativity here as a multi-media designer (at least more than, say, an auditor or project manager) I've long since had to come to terms with the fact that this isn't my dream job… and I'm okay with that.

    I'm very good at what I do. But I'm not irreplaceable and the work is not groundbreaking or exciting. I love the flexibility it gives me, and the freedom to leave work at work. When I'm done for the day, I'm done. I don't worry about work when I'm at home with my family, and workplace issues don't keep me up at night. It's reliable, dependable and steady work. I'm happy doing the occasional creative project on my own time, for my own creativity's sake, when I have the chance to do it. Granted it's not as often as I'd like… but I have a feeling if it were my sole source of income & something I had to do every day it would become less fun & more like work.

    • I know just what you mean. By day I'm a business systems analyst at an insurance company. I very much appreciate the security, salary, benefits of my job. Plus I do have that analytical side to me.

      But by night I am a reader and writer. I write poetry, in my diary, letters to my penpal and dream of some day writing novels.

  5. Oh man, this hits home pretty hard. I work for a digital publication company, but I was originally a music major (who changed to writing and literature). Although my major ended up being in writing, my job is not exactly creative, nor does it inspire me to work on the many novels I have planned. I wish I had more friends who were interested in writing and music, I would be so much more keen to jump back in. If I didn't have to worry about money, I would write books and play music publically for fun.

    • I feel ya! I suggest joining either Scribophile or nanowrimo.org. Even if you don't do the write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge, the forums, support and community is inspiring! I've found them really helpful for my own ability to write when I get home from work.

  6. I teach students about personalities and values around work (autonomy? creativity? wealth?) and career options. And one of the thing I always stress is: avocation. I use my husband as an example. He works as an accountant, but during the fall he is a high school football official. He fucking LOVES it. It allows him to be a part of the sports culture, for a limited period of time, and doesn't demand the commitment daily like football coaching would. He has created an amazing group of 'good ol' boys' to hang out with on Friday nights post game.

    It would never pay the bills (unless he were to magically make it to the NFL level), but it's a passion that fits this part of his soul that his trusty accounting job doesn't.

  7. It can work the other way around too. I'm a full time artist living the creative dream here and some days I long for a regular job with steady income, and well defined end products. Unless I'm working on paintings for a particular show I often feel at a loss for what to do next. Should I look at galleries? Online stores? Fairs and festivals? Boutiques and coffee shops? Should I offer classes? To who? With my tendency to procrastinate when I feel overwhelmed, and the fact that no one is looking over my shoulder and giving me deadlines (except for some shows), I often feel directionless and lost. Sometimes I dream about having a nice office job with people to talk to and a set number of tasks to accomplish. Where I can leave work at work and it doesn't feel like a personal failure if something doesn't work out right. The creative thing that brings you joy might become a source of stress if it's your sole occupation. Grass is always greener.

    • I think this is really helpful to hear. I have a M-F desk job and I daydream about being a freelance editor/blogger/artist of sorts, but naturally there are trade-offs on both sides.

    • So much this! I'm a musician, and sometimes I get so tired of never getting paid what I'm worth, and of working odd hours, and I get jealous of those who can just "leave work at work". But I've done the day-job thing and it really didn't work for me, and I have a partner with a steady job, so I'm fortunate enough to keep doing my creative things.

  8. Great post. Growing up, so many people told me to "follow your dream" and "live your passion," which I now think is actually pretty bad advice and resulted in me beating myself up a lot more than necessary about my pragmatic life choices (like picking a stable 9-5 job with good benefits over a more risky and creative path). A better slogan would be "Include your passion in your life in some meaningful way," but that's not as catchy, is it?

    • THIS. "Include your passion in your life in some meaningful way." *MUCH* better advice! In my experience, trying to "follow your dream" in your career can lead to circumstances that ultimately make you miserable. And it's amazing how much fulfillment you can find in a job that *isn't* what you thought you'd be passionate about, once upon a time. (There are people who make the "follow your dream" thing work… but my life happiness doesn't lie in being one of them, it turns out…)

    • This 1000x. I heard the 'follow your dreams spiel' throughout my youth and even as a moody teenager I knew that if I followed my dreams (I was an arty kid and probably would have gone to college for creative writing or to be an illustrator) I may not be guaranteed a job doing the thing I had dreamed of and trained to do. I still do creative things and enjoy it but I chose to work in the medical field so I could have more financial stability – and health insurance :/ Most of the people I know who write or paint also have to keep another full time job doing something else to support themselves.

    • A better slogan would be "Include your passion in your life in some meaningful way," but that's not as catchy, is it?

      Yes! Especially when there are plenty of people who stop loving their passion when they try to monetise it (one of the reasons why I'm staying firmly at my day job.

    • SO MUCH THIS!! I was always told growing up that I could be "anything I wanted to be!" I became very angry and resentful when, in my teens, I realized that's just not true. I mean, yeah, I /could/ be anything I wanted, but how realistic is that, really??How many people really have all the bits and pieces within them to really make their passion a viable life-supporting job?
      No, I will never be a professional dancer because my body was never conditioned to that level of altheticism and I was too old (Misty Copeland is a unicorn among dancers.) No, I will never be a freelance artist because I hate (HATE) marketing myself. No, I will never be a photo assistant for, well, anyone because 90% of getting to that place is networking, and I'm a shit shmoozer.
      It took way too long to see those parts of me, not as faults, but just part of who I am. The fiber of who I am just doesn't include those things, and that's okay. I eventually discovered that work was just something I had to do to live. It had to pay my bills and not suck my soul. If it was mildly creative, that couldn't hurt either ; )

  9. But how do you get to that point of acceptance? I am grateful for my low maintenance 9-5 job, but I always feel like I'm missing out on something creatively. I've taken up hobbies, but I just feel torn between two lives I want to live. I'm probably just over thinking, but how does one reconcile their "boring job" with their creative impulses?

  10. Totally feel this. I work a standard 9-5 corporate job and run a photography business outside of work. What started as something fun I'd do on the side (if I ever got lucky that someone who actually pay me money to take pictures) has grown into a huge business where I'm shooting 25-30 weddings a year. I shoot as much as many full time photographers I know. And I'm not cheap anymore either. Still, it's no match for my stable day job with benefits, and to some degree we've gotten used to a life with the pocket money. Also, it helps to know that I don't have to take every gig that comes my way (I don't), and I can always pear it down if I start hating it. As much as I sometimes wonder if the corporate world is ideal for me, it scares me more to walk away from the stability and enter a world where I'd be in total solitude, working on my own (likely never leaving the house) for much of the day, and my passion would become my job. Still, it would certainly free up a lot of time, because I work about 60-80 (or more) hours a week. Sigh.

  11. I feel this. I work as a psychologist, so my 9-5 job is pretty full on, and I'm exhausted when I get home. But I'm also a writer, musician and my husband and I have started a jewellery business on the side for weekend markets too. Trying to find time for all my passions is so hard, and especially with my writing (which is what I'd do full time if I could), I feel so guilty if I just play video games instead when I feel I 'should' be creating.

    I do love though, that I have these amazing things I do outside of work. When I talk to people that basically go home and watch TV (which don't get me wrong, is a great way to spend an evening sometimes), I feel blessed to have drive to do these things too which fulfil me.

  12. I love your perspective on art – that the end result is different because of what the artist brings to the table, vs. getting the same end result in a situation like your job. You've helped me get a different view on my own creativity. Even if the things I make aren't "museum quality" or going to be published or whatever, they still can be counted as art because they are uniquely my creation. Thank you for that insight!

  13. This is why I love Etsy (or whatever way you choose to sell things online). I can have a full-time grown-up job, but then run an actual creative business in my spare time.

    My mum's generation was stuck with running stalls at sparsely-attended craft fairs in draughty church halls. I can upload my products whenever is convenient and sell things all over the world!

    And I can choose how much time I want to spend on it. I used to sell painted peg people and spend loads of time perfecting my online store / social media presence etc. I was getting a bit burnt out with the number of orders coming in, so I shut up shop and went back to cross stitching for fun. Now, I finish a design, translate my scribbles into a readable pattern and sell the digital file automatically. And any social media is for entertainment!

  14. Speaking as someone who originally went the creative route— I have a BFA— I have to say I'm happier doing my less obviously creative job in marketing after getting a BSBA. Doing creative work as a job is *incredibly* draining for me, while simultaneously leaving my analytical side completely starved. My current job in digital marketing is analytical in nature, certainly, but it also requires a lot of creative problem solving, which is, on the whole, a much more satisfying and less draining activity for me. Now, I write and draw and paint and take photographs when the urge strikes me, with no pressure to perform. It's great. I love it, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    • First bump to a fellow marketer after getting a creative degree! I have a BMus in classical flute, and I find that marketing lets me be somewhat creative without sacrificing my life for my art.

  15. I'm a supply teacher by day, choral singer and collage artist by night. The choral singing is a very public form of art-it allows me to nurture my love of music and community. The collage work is the private stuff-I keep a prayer journal of lyrics and quotes and poetry and images, and find great joy and calm when carefully arranging and layering all the seemingly random scrips and scraps I seem to accumulate. Neither of these things will bring me fame or fortune…but I don't think that's the point.

    There are times when I get that brief feeling my drama degree is somehow wasted, especially when I see other friends and their successes online, BUT: it can be applied to my classroom and to my hobbies and passions. I miss costume design, so I go nuts at Halloween. I miss playwriting, so I try to build it into language arts classes when I can. And I'm young…who is to say that everything isn't leading to something AMAZING when I'm an old lady?

  16. I TRIED being a double art and science major in college, but as much as I loved my art classes, I didn't like having to be creative on demand. I like being creative on my own schedule! So all of my creative endeavors are purely for fun or for gifts.

  17. I work almost full-time in an OK-but-not-earth-shatteringly-exciting job, and so I started running a photography business on the side last year, as I love photography and often take on portrait work for friends and family. I find it exhausting, though, to try to do both my regular job and my business (as well as having a toddler to look after) but the photography isn't remotely at a point where I could make a living from it. Sometimes I find I hate picking up my camera as my once-favourite hobby has become a bit of a source of stress; do I keep on going, hoping that it might pick up steam or at least enjoying the fact that I can share my passion with others, or do I give up the business side of things to make my hobby more enjoyable again, and resign myself to life with a crappy, boring job? Gah, life as an adult is hard!

  18. This resonates with me a lot, I am a creative person (artist, actor, musician, designer, writer) who works as a math teacher. I love my job, and I make a difference, but it's not the same as being creative in an artistic way. I wonder if I made the wrong choice too, and struggle to make time to be sure to still cultivate those creative outlets.

  19. Judging from this article, it sounds like you are a great writer! I am actually in a creative profession (graphic design) and I still have the same problems. I try to paint and craft on the side because it's the one thing I can do without anyone trying to change it. It is fully my own, no client input, and yet I too have piles of unfinished crafts and materials that I bought because I had a great idea for something that I never executed. Hang in there though, keep writing as long as that's what you enjoy. I think most great writers are never formally trained, who knows, you could be the next J.K. Rowling.

    • Thanks, don't forget that the hardworking Offbeat Editors have edited the article!
      I have been enjoying the writing. Earlier this year I started trying to write a book (it's on my bucket list). I got about 80,000 words down and the story gets from A to B, but I've been terrified to go back and start the editing process. However much I enjoyed writing it I'm sure it's rubbish: meandering, lacking in punch, dropped threads all over the place and certainly riddled with grammatical errors. As long as I don't look at it, I can dream it's perfect.
      Writing blog posts was a great way of procrastinating on that (and on giving myself a little bit of space between writing and editing). It might be time to screw up my courage and face it.

  20. I followed my passion in college, and majored in creative writing. After undergrad I couldn't find a job, so I went to grad school and earned my MFA in poetry. Then I got a pretty standard 9-to-5 job, completely unrelated to writing, literature, or teaching.
    It's pretty boring work, and for several months I kept freaking out that I'd ruined my life. Not writing every-day-all-day made me feel like I'd lost a limb. But then I calmed down, started reading more, starting writing a bit more often, and realized that while my circumstances have changed, my creativity is not gone. I'm still a poet. I just have to give myself the time to be creative, and understand that every project will take a little longer than I planned — and that's ok.

  21. I'm just finishing up my PhD in English, after deciding not to go the sciences route. I had a couple of solid stable 9-5 jobs between college and grad school, and they made me horribly depressed – I was crying all the time and couldn't do anything creative because I spent all my time outside of work either trying to de-stress or obsessing about how much I hated work.

    I loved writing poems and little stories, but I wasn't sure how I was going to make a living just writing, so I decided to do grad school. Being a professor is pretty stable and pays well, right?

    Well, right now, I'm adjunct teaching, which is for me better than the 9-5, but it's also exhausting, absurdly time-consuming, really low-paying, and completely unstable. It's pretty rare for me to have the time and mental energy to do any creative work. I'd like to quit and try to do some of the kinds of writing that make me happy, but I don't have any savings to live on while I try to figure out how to make money at it. I feel very, very stuck and frustrated almost all the time.

    If you can find a 9-5 that doesn't make your whole life miserable and pays you enough to live relatively comfortably, I say GO FOR IT. As someone who is not on that path right now, I find myself not only not doing much creative work, but also constantly stressed about money and how the lack of it is shaping my life. I think a lot of people who try to choose a relatively "pure" creative life (writing/painting/making whatever they want without thinking about whether or not it will sell, aka "follow your heart/dream") end up in a similar place – because of economic constraints they're not doing the creative work they wanted to, and they are ALSO not reaping the benefits of a stable job.

  22. I chose the go for the stable job (medicine) ahead of my writing. I think there's no right answer. It's a real life Choose Your Own Adventure. I like saving people's lives. I like knowing that I can support my family without my husband's engineering income. I write consistently in my spare time, including hitting NaNoWriMo this year.

    OTOH, I pay close attention to people who've managed to quit their day jobs, like Joe at http://retireby40.org, the Etsy blog fellow writers, etc. Once I hit a magic number in savings, I deserve to give my writing a fighting chance.

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