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Reblogged:The Value of Being Good at Something Else

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Heather Havrilesky, who writes the Ask Polly advice column at The Cut, answers a reader who is dissatisfied with her job and wants to be a writer. She makes quite a few good points in her answer, although some might take some time to understand.1 One point I thought particularly good was what she said about day jobs, both for what she said and some further implications she touches on a bit later:

Now let's talk about day jobs. I've always been a big believer in maintaining a day job while doing what you love on the side. Dropping everything to write a book can sometimes lead to a worst-case scenario in which not only do you sink into debt, but your financial worries eventually incite writer's block. That said, when people have day jobs they dislike, it affects everything in their lives negatively. They constantly call their day jobs "just a day job," downplaying the built-in frustrations of their work life by reminding themselves not to take their careers seriously. But there's a kind of inherent ennui that comes with not taking your career seriously. You show up to work and you hate everyone you see. You don't take your coworkers seriously. You don't take yourself seriously. Every day is a supremely irritating farce. And that's not to mention how extensively people with "just a day job" tend to talk about how much they loathe their day jobs. It's like being married and wearing a T-shirt that reads, "I DID IT FOR A GREEN CARD," everywhere you go. The one thing other people know about you is that you spend 40 hours a week hating what you do, hating yourself, and hating the whole world along with it. [italics in original, bold added]
The bold point is the really important take-home. The last bit is also true, but not quite so important. Crucially, Polly is getting ready to tell this writer to quit her day job, but not quit having a day job altogether. Why?
What I needed was a day job I could believe in, one I was good at. So writing and editing became my day job, first as an intern at a magazine I didn’t like, and then as a copy editor at an online magazine I loved, where I was soon creating cartoons and letting my freak flag fly... [italics in original, bold added]
A day job can provide more than just money. (Image via Pixabay.)
Polly elaborates further, but does not get around to naming a very important truth, which is that the day job can provide perspective in several ways. (I think this is her overall point: She makes a big effort to tell this writer she has time to do what she hopes to do.) But the very important truth is this: There are many intensely frustrating things about writing, and a day job one is good at gives several kinds of relief or perspective beyond the obvious financial one: such a job gives one's mind a chance to back off when frustrated (or leave one wanting more otherwise), and it provides a regular chance to experience efficacy. Both of these things are very important, particularly for inexperienced writers, and yet won't necessarily always be supplied by the activity itself. A broader lesson might be that a writer should seek out alternative mental outlets that can fulfill similar needs, be they jobs or not. Introspecting for a moment, I think that's one of the things I get from futzing around with computers from time to time. Perhaps my title should have been more like, "Give Your Mind and Occasional 'Efficacy Snack'."

-- CAV

1. This is a writer with a wealth of life experience and implicitly the right approach to many of the issues she tackles, but whose explicit philosophy seems to mirror that of the general culture. I often find that I have to let things percolate a little before I feel like I really understand what such writers say, and what about it I (dis)agree with, and why. [back]

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