How to Stay Inspired through the Day Job Doldrums
So I belong to a secret girl cult in New York City (it's 100% as cool as it sounds), and last week one of our members asked for advice on a hot topic for creatives:
"How do you get inspired / motivated to do creative or health related things when you work a day job? I think that's a universally tough one and would loveeee some tips!" -Lyndsay
She's totally right; trying to stay focused and creative when you're working a day job – especially if it's unrelated to your passion or you, *ahem*, f*cking hate it – can feel epic on a walking-this-ring-to-Mordor level.
That being said, there are a few simple things you can do to shift your thinking around this issue. And as you know, when you change your thinking, you change how you feel. Since we're all emotion-based actors, feeling better completely transforms your ability to take positive actions that progress you towards your creative goals!
Here are my top tips for staying focused, creative and inspired through the day job doldrums:
- Focus on WHY you want to do, not WHAT you want to do.
Most of us focus on WHAT we want to accomplish. For example, I want to lose 50lbs and write a lot more. But where do those goals come from? If you think about it, the pattern usually looks something like this: (1st) Find yourself lacking in some area; i.e. "I'm fat," (2nd) Determine how to fix the deficit you've identified; i.e. "Lose 50lbs." Do you see the problem with this setup? It's totally based on self-judgement! As a result, whenever you try to work on your goal, your brain goes right back into that hard-wired judgement space and you end up feeling shitty about yourself instead of motivated or inspired.
Here's what to do instead: don't focus on WHAT you want to accomplish. Focus on WHY you want to accomplish it! Let's look at one of the other examples I gave above: I want to develop a weekly habit of writing blog posts for my business. While that's a worthy goal, it's not the real goal. It doesn't speak at all to all the amazing things that will happen if I actually manage to get this shit done.
The real goal looks more like this: I want the sense of pride that will come with developing the discipline to build a regular writing habit. I want the satisfaction that comes from witnessing my practice grow. I want to have a body of work that I can use to share the foundations of my work, as well as my best coaching tips, on social media and with people I encounter through networking. I want editors at prominent publications to see that I have a long-established history of writing awesome, helpful stuff, so they'll want to bring me on as an expert. I want the validation I experience when friends, family and colleagues engage with the writing I've recently shared through social media. You get the idea. If I can stay focused, there is SO MUCH AWESOME SHIT at the end of this goal rainbow!
So get out of the habit of trying to accomplish your goals by focusing on the WHAT. Instead, take the time to flesh out what this accomplishment will mean to you, and how that will impact your wider life. THAT'S what makes the work worth it, and THAT'S what will keep you inspired to achieve!
- Make creativity social!
Day jobs take up a lot of time, there's no way around it. So in the precious "free time" we have left (once you'd deducted gym time, appointment time, food prep, sleep...), it's only natural that we prioritize seeing our friends over focusing on our creative goals. That deep human connection is super crucial for our mental health as well, so you don't want to neglect your besties. So how do we resolve this dilemma? Combine your social and creative time! Whether that means hosting a vision board brunch or inviting your friend to take a figure drawing class with you, you're 100% more likely to commit the time and energy your creativity deserves if you have a partner in crime. If your creative project is more serious, try asking a friend or two if they want to have a co-working day with you - either at home, or at a great local co-working space like WeWork or Grind Spaces!
- Schedule time for exploration & discovery.
Inspiration is all about new encounters. Encounters with new minds, new ideas, and new experiences. And unfortunately, web surfing during your workday will only take you so far. So if you're feeling cut off from your creativity, schedule time for some exploration! You could go to a specific event, like a new production off-Broadway, or you could visit a center of creativity such as a museum or sculpture garden. If you're craving something less formal, you could plan a walking tour that takes you past some unusual architectural features of your city (through a street fair if at all possible)! Bring a sketch/notebook or a tape recorder to capture your thoughts as you explore, and you'll have the seeds of creative generation with you whenever you're ready to grow them!
- Break it down into tiny pieces.
Every project is overwhelming if you only look at ALL THE THINGS I HAVE TO DO TO GET THIS DONE OMG WHYYYYYYYY. Do yourself a favor and break it down into little pieces. Then when you're ready to start, pick one of the smaller things that seems like it will actually be fun. Something that reminds you why you agreed to/set yourself this project to begin with. No one says, "I hate painting! So I think I'll spend all my free time on a terrible, horrible painting project." And yet, when we force ourselves to follow our creativity in ways prescribed by other people (how you "should" do it), we end up despising the very thing we're most passionate about! When you start with the fun stuff instead, you'll discover the inspiration and momentum you'll need to carry you through all the "shoulds". Makes sense, right?
- Turn off your time-suck - OOPS! I mean TV.
I'm sure you've all seen that obnoxious meme that says, "Beyonce has the same 24 hours you do. Make it work." I say obnoxious because Beyonce, while limited to the constraints of time like everyone else, also has a huge support team to help her stay on top of running her empire. That being said, one thing I hear most often from creative people on the struggle is, "I just don't have time to work on my [book, play, reel, whatever]. Usually a little further investigation reveals that they're spending a few hours a night watching TV. Now, don't get me wrong - I love TV as much as the next person. (I have a special fondness for cop dramas and British TV, what can I say?) I also understand the need to turn off your brain after a long day at a boring job. That being said, time moves really quickly when you move TV, and you're letting someone else's imagination do all the work. Try reading a magazine relevant to your craft. Listen to some amazing music and draw with a nice glass of red wine. There are a lot of ways to decompress without turning off your creativity, and you'll be amazed by how much time you have when you make the simple choice to turn off the TV instead.
- Go just above, not beyond, at your day job.
Speaking as a Type A Overachiever, I completely understand the drive to KILL IT, no matter what you're doing. However, as a brain-based life coach, I'm here to tell you that our energy and attention are limited resources. You won't have enough to go 150% all day at work and then give that same 150% to your creative efforts at night. If you overdo it at work, you'll also be too tired to explore, much less to notice the simple wonders that surround you every day. So make a decision: how much of yourself do you want to give to your day job? If it's just a job, and not your dream job, and not your career, and not where your heart lives - then I encourage you to find a way to exceed their expectations, but not your own expectations. Save that little bit extra for your passions, and you'll still have the energy to get creative when you need to.
- Read. Read. Read.
I really can't emphasize this enough. Read whenever you can. Read for 5 minutes or 5 hours. Read a book or a magazine or a blog or a blurb. Read on the train on your way to work. Read on your lunch hour. Read in the bathtub in the middle of the night (that's me). Read whenever you can, in whatever quantity you can manage. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. Reading is a two-fold inspiration win: (1) you get inspired by the crafting of language. Beautiful words in well-constructed sentences. You don't have to know anything semantics or grammar to appreciate this, because our brains naturally crave it. We love ideas that flow into our heads without obstruction, which is entirely the purpose of beautifully-used language. (2) You get to absorb ideas without being shown exactly what they look like. You are learning while simultaneously firing up your imagination in a massive way. I dare you to read for 30 minutes a day, and tell me you haven't had at least 5 new thoughts or ideas as a result. I double-dog dare you.
Day jobs are the shits. I know. I've been there. I did the NYC hustle for almost a decade - working my day job 9-5pm, going to the gym, then designing and brand consulting for clients from 7-12pm, so I could earn the right for that next life. My dream life. But it doesn't have to be horrible. There are so many ways, including those above, to stay tapped into what you love. To stay creative. Just remember to approach creativity and inspiration with your whole self. Don't try to squeeze every ounce of inspiration from your passion project, or you'll bleed it dry. Seek inspiration from the people and the world around you, and use that as fuel to become the creative person you know you are inside.
More than anything: don't give up. You got this. <3