When you’re 21 years old, lying in your dorm room with freshly painted toenails and a peppy Pandora station playing from your laptop, it’s easy to picture life after graduation.
You will be comfortable and creatively fulfilled; you will wash your hair every other day like clockwork; your apartment will look like an Antropologie catalog.
You choose not to think about gas prices or DMV lines or grocery bills because, well, those things don’t presently mean anything to you, so how much could they possibly mean to 25-year-old you?
I perceived things through this shallow, childish lens because I had a very cushy college experience wherein my parents paid for rent, food, tuition and a credit card that I used with embarrassing ease.
It was far from the rough waters that I know a lot of people have to navigate when working toward a diploma; I have always been crisply aware of that.
Upon graduating, however, I was not given access to a trust fund. I was not invited to live off of my parents for the foreseeable future. I launched myself into Los Angeles with my dream and my cardigan, but not much else. I had to figure out a way to pay for my own sh*t.
“But, I’m an artist,” I whined internally as my mom suggested I apply to the slew of entry-level job listings she would send me daily. “I’m a creative person. I can’t be confined to cubicles or deadlines or designated vacation days.”
I nannied, worked as a telemarketer and campaigned for Obama. I also worked at a restaurant a couple of times before conceding to the fact that I simply do not excel in the service industry. Eventually, I ditched the idea that a part-time job (or several part-time jobs) could sustain me in LA.
See, I like to eat… a lot. Whether it’s buying groceries or going out or ordering in, I spend a lot of my money on food.
I also enjoy drinking, and I enjoy clothing and books and movies. All of these enjoyments cost money, which I didn’t have in my bank account. I wanted a consistent paycheck on which I could count each month; I wanted a nine-to-five.
So I found one. I was hired as a studio coordinator/office manager/executive assistant at a small, hybrid production company.
It was the coolest, most eclectic office space in which I’d ever been, so I figured there was no way I’d lose myself there — I’d only thrive creatively, write every night and sneak out to auditions during my lunch hour!
I worked at the production company for about a year. The people with whom I worked were generally good people, if a little crazed, and the workload was manageable.
For the first couple of months, I genuinely thought I was striking a life balance, but ultimately, that proved to be a joke. This job took my creative fire, threw a gallon of water on it and then sprayed it again with a nearby hose.
I didn’t write consistently the entire time I worked there. I attended my improv classes, but sleepily, half-invested in that with which I was supposed to be mad with passion.
Basically, my waking thoughts revolved around travel arrangements and expense reports and whether or not the toilet paper was stocked.
It’s easy to lose yourself in your survival job; you’re getting a paycheck, you’re covering rent, you don’t have to say no to brunch. It’s nice until you realize that you’re drowning in a sea of administrative responsibilities that are contributing absolutely nothing to your creative future — then, it sucks.
But it doesn’t have to.
I decided to stop sulking and start making all of my time valuable, even when it seemed useless (one of my countless New Year resolutions).
I left the job at the production company for a much more creatively-infused position and I could not be happier with my work environment. Despite the uplifting people, inspirational office space and proximity to my apartment, though, I believe said contentment stems from a much simpler place: my daily decision to make it worthwhile.
It is, of course, still a huge challenge to nurse both my day job and my daydream, but I actively try and there is a victory in that.
Give 100 percent of your creative intellect, whether you’re sitting in a meeting or sitting on your living room floor trying to start a screenplay, and you'll be shocked by how much more satisfied you’ll feel.
The trick to not growing stagnant at a comfortable (but not dream) job is to continue taking risks. Teach yourself everything about the dream industry of your choice; utilize the Big Bad Internet and stay up-to-date on all things relevant to your ultimate creative goals; keep writing or acting or slaying dragons. Don’t let yourself make excuses; just keep working -- at work and otherwise.
Very few people strike it rich with what they love right off the bat. Most of us will have to play the long game, and there’s no shame in that.
This is not wasted time unless you allow it to be.
Photo Courtesy: Wolf Of Wall St