Act Smart: What You Can learn From a Day Job

For the past 3+ months, I’ve been enjoying my first time back among the ranks of the fully-employed in 25 years. And I’m not kidding when I say “enjoy”—far from finding the 9-to-5 (or in my case, 8-to-4) burdensome, I’ve found it quite freeing, and in ways I wasn’t really expecting.

Since many, if not most, actors need some kind of day job to survive, I thought it might be worth enumerating what I’m learning from my new gig, how it’s shaping the rest of my life (including my creative outlook—and output!), and other reasons why that thing you may be regarding as a set of shackles could be the very thing that frees you.

1. Steady money is an artistic aphrodisiac.

Sure, I had fun with the feast-or-famine, roller-coaster life—until I didn’t. And the feast part was always easier both to live and create with. Although there was always juuuuust enough, even in the leaner times, the anxiety I’d feel toward the end of some months was not what I’d call conducive to making great art; the muse is not attracted by the scent of panic. So while the myth of the Starving Artist still manages to get airtime, never underestimate the feeling of calm created by regularly scheduled deposits into a bank account. They free up a lot of room for art-makin.’ Proof is in the pudding—I’m having a far better time with my latest art project than I’d had with the last one.

2. Early birds catch worms AND sleep better at night.

Okay, I’ll admit that it’s only been three months, and I’m no cheerful early riser yet. Some days, I forego my rise-and-shine-at-5am spiritual practice in favor of sleep. But I’m awed not only by how much I can get done by starting everything earlier, but how much better I feel doing all of it. Maybe not everyone is designed to rise with the sun, but for me, there’s a kind of rightness with being in step with it. Quite a shock, discovering such a major thing at 55 1/2!

3. Structured time beats free-skate for pretty much everything but vacation.

Of all the things that have shocked me, nothing has stunned me more than the, personally, salubrious effect of a schedule dictated by external forces. Don’t get me wrong, I loved those 25 years of calling my own shots. It was great to stay up late and work when the mood struck, or sleep in when I was just over it.

But if I’m being honest, a large part of why I had to be up late on any given night, polishing a presentation deck or finishing up an (ahem) article, was because I wasn’t being a great steward of my most precious resources: time and energy. I’d get a lot done in a day, but I’d also spend a significant amount of time on “research,” my preferred term for reading things on the internet. I was wildly efficient because I could be—as long as I delivered the sausage by “go” time, no one really cared how it was made. And, more and more, the way it was made was by shortchanging myself on sleep—something that works as long as it works.

If you’re the kind of person who can be accountable to yourself, for yourself, you’re probably already doing it, not reading this. If you’re not? Well, my friend, have I got a job for you . . .

4. It is a clarity-generating MACHINE.

When I started out, I had crazy notions of pulling my eight hours at the office, then continuing my extracurriculars in the off-hours. It took about two days for that fantasy to evaporate. After a full day at the office, I’ve used up all my good juice, and am running on fumes. I’ve offloaded most of the freelance work I was doing, and set much better boundaries on how much (and when, and for how long) I would be available. Can I tell you how easy it’s become to say “no” to things? I’d love to, but I’m sorry—I can’t. I just know you’ll be able to find the exact-right person who can though!

(See what I did there? Practice. Lather/rinse/repeat. Or just get a demanding job, and let it come naturally!)

May your work life and your art life become either one and the same, or perfectly synergistic. Either way, you’ve won the grand prize!


BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: One of my favorite friends-slash-authors is the marvelous Austin Kleon, who is a major proponent of being regular and orderly in your life, that you may be a crazy, brilliant juggernaut in your art. You’ll enjoy and gain from any of his brief, delightful books, and I highly (HIGHLY) recommend his 100%-free-of-charge weekly newsletter, which rounds up 10 things he’s loved that week. Feed your soul, for cheap or for free! 

Colleen Wainwright spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.

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