Want to Follow Your Dream? Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Nov 14, 2011 -
If you’re trying to pursue your dream job – whether that’s writing a novel, starting our own business or owning an alpaca farm) – chances are you view your day job as the enemy. It sucks up your time, drains your energy and generally stands in the way of the things you’d much rather be doing. I felt this way myself until I read Quitter: Bridging the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job. Author Jon Acuff lays out some pretty interesting arguments for why staying in your day job as long as possible can actually benefit your dream. I know; I wasn’t a fan of the idea myself at first. But take a look at his arguments and decide for yourself:

How your day job can actually help you achieve your dream job

It offers security. Yes, “security” is pretty much a bad word to dreamers — akin to “settling” and “selling out.” But the truth is, it’s hard to pursue your dream full tilt when you’re constantly worrying where your next meal will come from or how you’re going to pay the electric bill next month. Having your day-to-day needs met by a steady paycheck frees up your attention for your dream in a way that’s almost impossible when you’re operating in pure survival mode. It gives you structure. There’s some real truth in the saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” When I’m forced to squeeze writing into the hours between and around my day job, I’m pretty good at keeping myself on task and really pounding out the words. I’m already in “work” mode, and since I know this is the only time I’ve got to get “my” stuff done, I really make it count. Contrast this to the Fridays I took off over the summer (my so-called “writing Fridays”), when I wound up getting a ton of work done around the house, caught up on lots of HGTV and futzed around with my blog widgets — pretty much everything but writing. I really thought having unlimited time would let my muse run rampant. Instead, I learned just how easily distracted I am when left to my own devices. Sure, it is possible to develop a consistent and disciplined routine when you’re working on your own terms. But it’s best to ease yourself into the transition rather than jump into it all at once, only to find yourself floundering in the midst of too much free time too fast. It provides the freedom to experiment. Any new venture has a learning curve. You’ll try some things that don’t work so well; you’ll try some things that fail spectacularly. If your dream job is your financial be-all and end-all, these ups and downs can be devastating — for you, and for any family members who also depend on your income. But if you stick around in your day job until you’ve worked out the kinks in your dream, you can afford to make all those newbie mistakes without worrying that you’ve just lost the mortgage payment for the month. You can see failures as the learning experiences they are, dust yourself off, and try again, without suffering dire financial consequences. It gives you discretion. Acuff calls this the power to say no. If your dream is the only thing putting food on the table, you’re much more likely to take that low-paying assignment or off-topic speaking gig because you need to do whatever you can to bring in some money. Already having the financial bit taken care of gives you the ability to turn down less-than-ideal opportunities and focus only on the projects that will truly advance your dream. If my dreams (writing and freelancing) were my only sources of income, you’d better believe my blog would be covered in blinking sponsor ads and I’d be selling my time at $5/hour to any content mill that would have me. But they’re not. So I get to say no to the advertisers who clearly contribute nothing to my readership. (You want me to promote your electronic cigarettes? Have you even read my blog?) I get to focus on a few quality freelance assignments, knowing I’m building a respectable portfolio, and let someone else slave away for hours rewriting the same article five times for different sets of SEO keywords. My day job allows me this integrity, and for that, I am honestly grateful.

Day job as sponsor, not adversary

When you consider it from these angles, your day job is actually more of a patron for your dreams than a mortal enemy. I have to say, as someone currently living the day job/dream job double life, this can be a nice change of perspective. When I sit down to my desk in the morning seeing the next eight hours as a way of funding my dream, it’s a heck of a lot better than seeing them as a colossal waste of time. That doesn’t mean I don’t still get a wicked case of the Mondays from time to time, but it sure helps. Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.