I was completely scandalized by the title of Penelope Trunk’s recent post at the Brazen Careerist blog: Bad career advice: Do what you love. But after reading it, I have to admit she has some points about work that apply to artists and creative people, particularly those of us with day jobs.
Trunk’s point is that too many people stress themselves out, starting in their mid-20s and continuing throughout adulthood, because they either haven’t “found the work they love” or they aren’t doing it for money. She argues that trying to find a job that you would do even if you weren’t getting paid subverts the entire point of working:
The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money …. Relationships make your life great, not jobs. (A) job can ruin your life – make you feel out of control in terms of your time or your ability to accomplish goals – but no job will make your life complete. It’s a myth mostly propagated by people who tell you to do what you love. Doing what you love will make you feel fulfilled. But you don’t need to get paid for it.
To Trunk, the way out of this dilemma is to stop trying to find jobs that involve things that you love and look for ones that cater to your strengths. She’s a big fan of Myers-Briggs personality type indicator to discover those strengths–which I think is fine (I’m an INFJ, if anyone’s curious), although there are many other such tools available that slice and dice work-related strengths in other ways.
Many creative people feel lost in the divide between the passion they feel for their art and the, um, (at best) lack of engagement they feel at their day job. I felt trapped at the bottom of that divide for years, although at the time, I’m not sure if I could have given you a clear description of what “living the creative dream” would have meant for me.
I interpret Trunk’s post to mean that relying on your job–or perhaps even your creative passion–to provide all the meaning in your life is an inherently flawed proposition. Relationships, to friends, loved ones, children, community members and others, are too often demoted to obligations or impediments, instead of providing the comfort and meaning that they’re capable of delivering.
For those unable to work full-time as an artist right out of college, Trunk’s point of view on how to set priorities has real value. Letting go of guilt over how we fund our creative life, as long as it’s grounded in doing something that is a strength for us, can free up loads of energy for actually making art, and allowing our relationships the time and space they need to sprout and flourish.
Carol Lloyd has written a lovely book on career planning for creative folk, Creating a Life Worth Living, and wisely included a very practical chapter on day job selection. Lloyd’s tome definitely values making money from one’s art and finding ways to eventually spend more work time on one’s passions. However, if you’re looking for a way to map your route through a “for-now” day job, this is a great place to start.