How to Avoid Being the "Starving Artist" - Part 1

“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.”
— Moliere

I didn't know it then, but two years ago, I was a walking, talking example of a "starving artist".

Flashback to December of 2015. I'm preparing to return home after spending several months with my grandparents. During this time of seclusion and deep work, I cranked out an estimated twelve paintings. I was feeling quite accomplished! After getting my things packed for the return trip, however, my grandfather (who is also a car mechanic) quietly advised that I replace the vehicle's battery soon. Half-listening to what he said, I thought that if I simply turned on the car every morning I would avoid the problem while saving money at the same time. 

'So smart!' said my brain.

'So stupid,' said Reality.

One week later, I'm standing by a permanently dormant car, shame-faced and embarrassed while calling to reschedule a missed appointment. I had no money. In my pride, I didn't want to bother my parents with the necessary expense. The car battery, however, needed to be replaced, whether I liked it or not. 

A day job will spare you this pain.  

Here are a few things I've learned:

1. Pick a job that won't leave you completely drained.

The right day job should mesh with your personality and feed your strengths. From my experience, I would advise the job not be related to your dream work. This strategy keeps you from wasting your creative energy during the day, allowing you to allocate it towards more important work during the off-hours.

Here's what I know about myself and how it led me to choose a particular job:

Organization, data-management, problem-solving, and efficiency are my strengths. I prefer silent work to talking on the phone all day, therefore, I sought an office job that would check those basic boxes. I applied to two local recruiting agencies. At the first agency, I physically organized files into cabinets. This was a part time project that only lasted two days, but it reinforced the fact that this was work I could do without feeling overwhelmed or stressed. The second agency offered a full time position that required managing data for medical providers and problem-solving workers compensation disputes. I took the position and have been working there ever since. The job has been a great fit.

The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results.
— Anthony Robbins

2. If possible, do your work before going to work.  

The reality is that the best part of my day is spent working for someone else. As a result, I've learned to be proactive about doing work for myself before going to the day job. My shift goes from 7:30am-4:30pm. I try to be in bed by 9pm so I can get up at 4:30am and write or do art before going to work. With this strategy, I'm able to make headway on my passion projects. 

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
— Aristotle

3. Prioritize and organize. 

When I first started, I was trying to do it all. Juggling various tasks and whittling away at each one was the standard work routine. As a result, I was constantly stressed and felt like I wasn't getting anything done. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, I began doing the following instead:


  • Prioritizing each need based on the level of urgency.

  • Organizing those needs into separate groups.

  • Working the groups one at a time instead of all at once

Because I was able to devote my full attention to each group, I solved the problems more efficiently. This process has not only proved effective at my day job, but also in the many personal and business goals. I could easily be overwhelmed by all that needs to be done (ex, list building, art creation, writing, blogging, researching publishers, planning for conferences, creating contracts, establishing a process, going to the gym, reading books, giving talks etc.). My day job helped me learn to take all those goals, sort them into categories, assign priority levels, and break them down into actionable tasks..

If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.
— Russian Proverb