chicken at multiple computers

Why a Day Job (or Two) is Good for Your Career

Earlier this year, The Daily Mail published an article revealing that Geoffrey Owens, an actor best known for his role on the hit series “The Cosby Show,” was working a menial supermarket job. The intent of this article was, no doubt, to stir up a minor scandal around the once-famous actor’s current state: “how awful must his life be now that he’s working that job?” it seems to suggest.

And yet, the response to this story was what made real news. The mighty Internet rushed to defend Owens, pointing out that artists’ lives are always in flux, that fame is a fickle condition and not under the control of those it affects. In a flood of support from artists, business owners, and middle-class workers from every walk of life, we were reminded that any work is honorable work and that we can’t always run in a straight line toward our dreams.

If you’re an individual business owner or solo entrepreneur in pursuit of launching your big dream or idea, Owens’ plight (or your own fear of the same thing happening to you) may strike a familiar chord.

In this article, we’ll look at why there’s no shame in doing whatever it takes to keep your dream alive.

Silence the Inner Critic

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. Even with an abundance of opportunities and resources around us, our “inner critic” can freeze us with guilt and regret. It tells us we should be farther along than we are or that we should have made a different choice here or there. It even might tell us that our dream is worthless, already-tried, or too difficult and that we should just give up.

The first step in shedding the shame around our side-job game is to silence this inner critic—at least for a while.

photo of person in chicken suit

Here are some things to consider that may help put that inner critic of yours in a time-out.

  • Albert Einstein worked for years as a patent clerk before declaring E=MC2.
  •  Writer Charles Bukowski spent nearly two decades working in the US Postal Service before publishing his first novel. “I have one of two choices,” he wrote of the decision to follow his calling. ”Stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” (Note: Bukowski’s signature cynical wit is on display here. We do not recommend intentionally starving yourself, even for your life’s ambition.)
  • For actors, unemployment is simply the price of doing business in that industry, with actor unemployment consistently hovering at about 90%. Yet many professional actors have learned how to build their lives around a collection of day jobs in order to keep doing what they’re doing. And generally, they make it work—even when they’re not “working.” Chances are your actor and artists friends can be valuable resources in how to navigate the world of the side hustle.
  • Brad Pitt dressed up as a chicken to make ends meet. Things definitely turned out better for him.

Worried about the earning potential and stability of being a part of the “gig” economy? Don’t be. In a recent Forbes report,

“the financial outlook for Millenial gig workers was more positive, as the report suggests they’re more likely to live in households with multiple sources of income. They were also more likely to do a range of gig works from a wider range of platforms.”

So while the days of working one stable job over a whole career are on the decline, you’ll be in good company while you follow your passion.  

Set Up for Success, Even Against the Odds

By taking a job that doesn’t obviously align with our main trajectory—say, working as a grocery clerk when professional acting is the goal—we may feel as though we’re stalling our own progress or diverting our energy away from our “real work.” We think that our environment or situation doesn’t support our big plans and that a side job (or jobs) will simply trap us where we are.

In this case, we need to look at the ways we can avoid or escape those traps. Even little changes in our attitude and routine make a difference, as this article beautifully explains. We must remember that we can always be working toward our dreams, even when we’re not working in our dream job.

employee at home repair store

For example, If you’re an actor or writer working a “survival” job in a restaurant, think about the character types you encounter every day. Study relationships and dialogue between your customers and with co-workers. After all, human interaction is literally what the performing arts are all about!

Or say you’ve got your heart set on launching a small business but need to pay the bills in the meantime by working at a department store. Use that time to your advantage. What products do customers spend the most time looking at? What’s some regular feedback about the products or services you provide? How do employees perform better or worse in different situations? What lessons can you learn from how this business is run?

With “insider” knowledge, perhaps you can make your business even better. With the proactive attitude of “always be working,” you’ll find that a side job (indeed, nearly any side job) can be an opportunity rather than a waste of time.

Improve and Increase Your Skills

Having another, more marketable skill can also be a way to make supplemental income while still allowing you to be your own boss. Accounting, carpentry, graphic design, teaching, or even a good personality and a valid passport are all areas that can lead to viable alternatives to working a day job in the service industry (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The best part is you can draw upon skills you already have!

woman at laptop with notebook

Consider the fiction writer who works as a freelance copywriter to make ends meet. While she’s doing both things now (copywriting during the day for money, while working on her novel in the off time), the ratio of time and money favors her day job. But, by keeping to her own strict goals and discipline, she aims to eventually “flip” that ratio to make money from her fiction writing, while picking up some copywriting gigs in the off time for extra income.

Reimagining, reframing, and refining your long-term outlook can cast your goals in a better light to help you better position yourself for the success that’s coming your way.

Goals vs. Purpose

We often think of our “goal” as the culmination of all our efforts—the pinnacle of our success and the end of a long and hard process. But what happens when you reach the goals you set for yourself? It sounds funny—of course, we celebrate, sit back, and wait for the money to roll in, right? But as any mountain climber knows, sometimes you reach a peak only to find a higher one on the horizon.

Instead, let’s think about our purpose. Yes, my goal as a writer may be to complete my manuscript before the end of the year or get published in a trade magazine by the time I’m 25. But what is my purpose as a writer? To change the way humanity views literature? To add beauty to the world? To tell stories that only I can tell?

While your goals can often be quantified and even scheduled, your purpose is more aspirational and long-term. It is the thread that runs through each and every one of your goals. If your goals don’t serve the overarching purpose of your ambition, you need to adjust your goals.

So in this way, your day job—be it digging ditches, serving coffee, or data entry—can be viewed as a goal you are reaching for in the service of achieving your ultimate purpose. Our jobs do not have to define who we are, but we can endow them with the goals and ethics that support our purpose.

Even in the wake of this latest “scandal”, Geoffrey Owens still considers himself a working actor. His goals may have changed over the years (he has bills to pay like anyone else), but with patience, grace, and a sense of humor, he’s stayed true to his purpose. If he can make it work, so can you!

Leave a Reply