Embracing your “other” work, even through a triumphant haze

After a great schmooze like the one we had last night, it can be extra tough to roll out of bed the next morning and head to a “day job”. Not because of a hangover or other physical residue (iced tea all night, I swear!), but the glow of camaraderie, progress, inspiration and/or success may create a bubble of focus and forward momentum you don’t want to let go of. This can happen after just about any kind of event or artistic practice: schmooze, performance, meeting, rehearsal, a walk in the park, chance encounter, artist date, or whatever.

This sort of exuberance is, for many, what we live and and work for, and what drives us forward to the next project. It can be scary to step out of “the zone” once you’ve found it. But if life must go on, as it usually must, here are a few things to tuck into your heart that may make the bread-and-butter part of your patchwork life seem more like a valid facet, and less like mere distraction:

1. You’re not alone.

You’ve heard it before. The reality is that most artists make at least part of their living through non-artsy means, and that’s entirely OK. We must all resist the urge, usually conditioned by a long-lost voice in the recesses of our brains, to see anything less than full-time artistic life as, well, lesser. For those who can live their creativity 100% of the time, we’re thrilled. But the vast majority of us don’t get to do that. In truth, most of those who seem to only work their craft also have business dealings and other things that support their core creations, whether it be residuals, consulting, teaching, or other endeavors that are art-related, but not necessarily creative activities. That’s OK, too, and has been the real life of a lot of real creators for centuries. It’s just not the sexy part of the folklore, so what we really need to discard is the myth that that famous conductor waves studies scores and waves his arms all day, or that the composer writes constantly and does nothing else. Even the great ones have had other areas of focus, and sometimes that diversity of function can even be what keeps you sane. Which brings us to…

2. Do “other” work that brings something to your main table.

Time and time again, I have met and read about successful artists who insist that their “day jobs” were the grounding force that allowed them to do their most passionate work. Whether you’re working at Starbucks or driving for Lyft or face painting or prepping tax returns, it’s OK to love the security of more steady income. It’s perfectly fine to love doing other things. It’s certainly acceptable to juggle activities and schedules and whatever it takes, as long as you get to continue making music or art or writing or whatever. All of those examples above are serving as lifelines for various Listers, right now, and plenty of others have had interesting jobs in the past. Me? I temped my way through college and beyond, whether it was transcribing psych intakes for a hospital, doing the same for interviews for a private detective, answering phones for all kinds of offices, processing quarterly payments for the IRS, or even, eventually, working as a benefits administrator for a multi-state restaurant chain. Later, I’ve worked for a variety of nonprofits, was a highly skilled balloon twister for 16 years, spent a year as a quasi-bouncer/door screener for an elegant nightclub (yeah, don’t mess), taught plenty of music classes and voice lessons, served as tech support to a gaggle of realtors (my current PT), and much more. Through it all, and for many years, I somehow thought I was a little weird or unfocused or something, because I loved that my life involved so many different activities. It was a joy and a relief to find out that there are so many other viable and persevering artists, in every genre and every discipline, who have found that a more diverse life feeds them, too.

Why? Because it relieves some of the financial stress that comes with being self-employed, especially if you’re wholly responsible for bringin’ home the bacon. Because getting out of the house once in a while will feed your soul and wrench your most obsessive bits from whatever they’re agonizing over. And because it gives you a little space, outside that seemingly comfy creative bubble, to feel like a real human and interact with others, to remember what you like and don’t like beyond the little world of the score, the rehearsal room, the canvas, the page or whatever. We all need that, in one form or another. (If you think you don’t, seek help.)

3. Save the bubble

“Yeah, sure, Lauri. Is this kinda like freezing a snowball until July?” Actually, there is a bit of a parallel. While there are ways (yes, really) to save some kinds of bubbles and you might only lose a little snow in the spring months, what you can do with great ideas is to save something of that precious moment, so you can return with the inspired spirit that it brought.

Make some notes so you remember what you were inspired about right before you had to get ready for work (or whatever). Write down whatever idea was floating in your head, even if it wasn’t yet fully formed. Doodle. Talk to the voice recorder on your phone. Do whatever you can so you can return to that moment later and pick up, approximately, where you left off. You’ll find that making an effort to table the magic, rather than simply walking away in resigned despair, your subconscious will be mulling it over while you’re in the “other”, and you’ll be MORE ready to pick the idea up again later. The process comes with a magic of its very own.

4. Trust your artistic self

The real mistake is not in accepting a job or a project or even a “honey do” task that doesn’t seem to be part of your creative life. It’s in failing to recognize that an artistic life must, absolutely must, have diversity in many directions. Your truly inspired thoughts will come back to you if you can’t pay attention to them immediately. Washing the dishes doesn’t have to knock all of the stuffing out of your art. Neither does showing up for another job. And the more you practice the habit of coming up with something cool and bringing it up again later, the more you’ll see that you already know how to do this. It’s like remembering that last item at the grocery store. Take a walk down an extra aisle, and it will come back to you. If it doesn’t, it wasn’t that important. Move on to the next gem.

What… that’s it? Nope.


Check the blog on Wednesday morning next week for a step-by-step approach to practicing that very habit: how to have an idea, set it aside, and come back to it when you’re ready. This could be a game-changer. You’ll just have to try it.

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