Why Quitting Your Day Job Is Not The Answer When Making Art

Jun 22, 2015 / Day Job & the Practical / risks & rewards

“I’m quitting my job,” a friend recently announced. “I want to go to grad school and do art.”

Should he quit or not? I faced this exact question when I started my MFA.

I’m exactly one year out from graduation, and my advice to him was an emphatic no.

I have three reasons.

Minimize financial risk of graduate school

Financial risk is the most important consideration. Graduate school is expensive, and if there is any way to reduce the financial risk of graduate school, you should do it. The loan interest that awaits after graduation is an argument against quitting your job.

But what if you really hate your job? What if your job is a soul-sucking kind? Well, I would still recommend that you stay, because of the next reason.

Your Center of Gravity Changes

A curious thing happened while I was doing my MFA. I realized that I no longer hated my day job. In fact, I began to appreciate the benefits of it: a steady income, an enabler of dreams. I began to think how lucky I was to have a job! I became oblivious to company reorganizations, company politics, unfair performance evaluations, and annoying coworkers. In short, my center of gravity changed. I no longer identified with the job. It is important, yes, but the job was not me, and I was not the job. Some people hate their jobs because they don’t have anything else. Maybe you are one of those people. I was. But once I got a sense of focus (be that art or something else), the day job ceased to be “the problem.” Shouldn’t you find that out first before doing something drastic like quitting your job? I would.

Any task expands to the allotted time

One argument that my friend brings up is that he wants to “concentrate on his art.” I used to say that too. In order to really give it my best shot, I thought that I really had to focus all my time on it.

We actually have a lot of time.

For four years, I was working a full time job and I was going to grad school. Granted, I was doing it part time (that’s why it took four years), but there is actually a lot of time. When you allot entire chunks of time to making art, the task will expand to fill that entire time. There is no guarantee that you will actually produce more art. I’ve developed mantras for this phenomenon:

Any task expands to fill the allotted time.

Stated another way:

The pace of work is directly related to how close the deadline is.

I’ve noticed at work that if there is a deadline, people work faster. They somehow get it done. If there is no deadline and it’s open-ended, they take their time. Deadlines are good.

I need deadlines to continue to do work. And this is why I don’t recommend quitting the day job to focus on art full time. By keeping the job in place, I create an urgency to create art during the remaining allotted time. It worked during the four years I did my MFA, and I’ve kept that structure one year after grad school.

If after all of the above, you still hate your job, then find another job. Looking around, most artists I admire have a combined life, a combined career. They are not only artists. They are educators, publishers, writers, and lawyers. I’m following their example. I’m an accountant and an artist. I’m making a go of doing both at the same time.

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