Having a day job is not avoidable for many artists. Whether it is because you are between contracts or because you are not (yet) making money with your art, or simply because it is your way to not worry about the bills, having a day job is a reality for most of us.
But what happens when the day job becomes source of stress, anxiety, anger or depression? What do you do when you absolutely hate what you do every day, or when you hate your circumstances?
Today, I’m going to talk about my experiences with day jobs that I hated and day jobs that I didn’t hate, and what I did to make the situation better.
Are You Making Enough Efforts?
I don’t mean to antagonise you, but I think this is a fair question to ask. Do you hate the job in principle, because it’s just not your dream, your art, what you love to do?
When I was working a string of short jobs to survive, waiting for better days, I had a bad prejudice against all of these jobs, even before I started them. I had to do them because I needed the money, but I had already decided to hate them before even meeting the people there or knowing what I would do exactly, because they didn’t align with my goals and my dreams.
Did you give a fair chance to this job? Be honest with yourself. Is it just a case of you needing to make some efforts to like it better? If that sounds like you, I advise you to check my article about “How to Survive the Day Job” where I give several tips to enjoy yourself more.
Is the Job Adapted to You?
Speaking as someone who has had many jobs, I can tell you that some of them were absolutely NOT adapted to me, my personality and my art.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of jobs that you can find yourself in: the short-term, often low-skilled job to earn money until art can pay the bills, and the long-term, committed career that you plan on doing for a long time aside from your art. Depending on your goals as an artist, you’ll go for one or the other.
When choosing your job, you should ask yourself some essential questions:
1. Is the Job Working with Your Schedule?
For example, I tend to write first, then go to work. Working in theatre, when most shifts are evening shifts, is the perfect schedule for me. But years ago, I worked in retail where I did mostly mornings, getting up at 5AM. I could never write during the week because I was too tired to do it. That job was not adapted to my schedule.
2. Are Your Skills Adapted?
I’m very good with chatting with people, I have natural skills for customer service, which is why, again, theatre worked well for me. But before that, I did a test shift in a restaurant, which went pretty badly because I’m super clumsy and cannot carry several plates at the same time if my life depended on it!
3. Is the Company Culture Working for You?
Different businesses and different companies have very different cultures. It might not be something you are aware of at first. But if you work in a field long enough, you’ll learn to distinguish between different companies pretty easily. Some businesses will have a pretty awful culture. They’ll be all about putting down employees or squeezing clients out of all their money. You can choose not to work for companies that have a culture or environment that doesn’t align with your values.
If you ask these three simple questions and find yourself saying no to them, it might mean that the job is just not for you, and that’s why you hate it.
Is It the Job or the People?
Last year, I quit a job that I ended up hating, not because of the nature of the job but because of my bosses. I had come to absolute loathe everything that had to do with this job because I suffered bullying.
It’s a cruel reality of work, and I think it’s even more frequent for temporary jobs: you risk encountering toxic people that will make your life hell. In that case, it’s not necessarily that you hate the job, it’s that the people who make it impossible to work there.
Having been through it, I know how difficult and taxing such a situation can be. It rarely resolves itself on its own, and you often have to take action to make it better. Depending on who is the cause of the problem, there are different solutions that you can try. You can speak to the person directly to try to sort it out, you can speak to a superior, you can start an official procedure such as a grievance procedure for example, or you can seek help with colleagues or a union representative.
If the action of one or more people have caused you to hate your job, it’s very important to do something. And believe me, I understand the fear associated with speaking out. In some companies, things like bullying and harassment are rewarded as “good management”, therefore speaking out means giving them a reason to fire you. But think of it this way: how long can you last through this situation, really?
I thought I could last six more months than I did at my previous job. But the situation deteriorated quicker than I expected, and I decided to quit earlier than I wanted. Unfortunately, this is something that can happen.
When It’s Time to Quit
There are some jobs or situations that are not worth sticking around for. If you are bullied, it’s very rare that the situation will change enough for you to enjoy your job again. If you hate what you are doing on a daily basis, it is very rare that you’ll have an epiphany and start loving your daily activities.
On this blog and website, I try to constantly keep a balance between job and art, so when the job becomes so overbearing, so awful, or so stressful that you think about it all the time, the balance needs to be restored. If your job weighs hard on your mental health, if because of it you have no energy to create, you need to quit.
It is even more urgent if you start having destructive thoughts because of it, for example self-harm or suicide. If this is the case, please make sure you speak to someone.
Remember that your job is just that: a job. Not your identity. Not your self-worth. It’s a way of earning money that should not leave you helpless, frightened or angry. You have the right to enjoy your work, or at least feel neutral about it. You don’t need to stay in a job that diminishes who you are!
What If You Can’t Quit?
You might think: yes, that’s all nice and dandy, but I just can’t escape my job! Whether it’s for money reasons, because you can’t find anything else or because you don’t have time to search, you can sometimes feel trapped in your situation. I’ve been there. I stayed in a job much longer than I should have because I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I had a contract, an expensive rent to pay, and nobody to rely on at the time. It was very difficult.
I highly encourage you to explore other possibilities, even if you feel like there isn’t any. You can perhaps rework your CV to send it to other employers (I have a super helpful blog post about it). You can update your LinkedIn profile, or ask people you know if they could point you in the right direction. It costs nothing, and you never know what could come from it.
And then, in the meantime, you need to help yourself so you can cope with this job that you hate. Make sure you separate your work life from the rest of your life. Don’t bring work at home if you can avoid it, and establish a real separation between the two. I used to have a work phone with emails that could reach me at any time of the day or night. I made the habit of leaving it in my work bag, on silent, so I would not think about it. If you are reluctant to do this, I invite you to examine what would happen if you don’t reply to an email at night: chances are, not much would happen.
If you are in an abusive situation at work, make sure you document everything. This has helped me when I had to go through a grievance procedure. Join a union if you can. I know they can be controversial, but in my experience they are super helpful. Try to see if you can make an ally in your team or outside of it.
Preserve your mental health as much as you can, avoid things that will worsen the situation such as not sleeping enough, consuming too much alcohol or not taking days off when you have them. Use sick days when you feel you can’t cope! Discuss it with a doctor if possible.
And, perhaps most important than anything else: build hope. It’s crazy what you can endure when you have hope that things will get better. In 2018, I started building The Part-Time Artist for this exact reason. I couldn’t get out of my own abusive environment, and I needed an escape, something that would give me hope. This is how this business was born, and this is why you are reading this article.
A day job is often something you can’t avoid, but it doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to hate what you are doing. There are many ways to improve your situation, whether it is by searching something else or make the best of a bad workplace.
If you have your own experience with a job you hate, let me know in the comments!
Céline is an author and podcaster passionate about helping fellow artists reach their potential and live a happy, balanced life.