Here’s a sobering truism: we don’t get to do only the things we wanna do. Never have. No doubt the kid version of you wanted to eat taffy all day, but your parents intuited that an all-taffy diet leads to gout, psoriasis, and eventual renal failure. Consequently, your taffy intake was strictly monitored.
We face similar dilemmas as adults. All things equal, I’d rather bang away on my novel, pounding the hard plastic keys of my baby blue IBM Selectric typewriter, rather than show up bright and shiny to my UX content writer day gig. But unpublished novels don’t put orthopedic shoes on the baby, as they say.
If you’d rather be launching your own entrepreneurial/creative venture but find yourself biding time in corporate America, all hope is not lost. I follow a few simple rules to maintain my sanity during working hours so I can write a bunch of stuff outside them. Adopt them and you, too, can pull of a balancing act worthy of The Flying Wallendas.
Rule #1: Separate yourself
Just like Tyler Durden proclaimed we are not our khakis, I say you are *not* the work you produce for someone else. Don’t get me wrong; I advocate producing tell-‘em-what-your-name-is type work. But what you need to guard against is getting overly attached to something that you’re not in full control of. When I write content for a new hosting interface flow, I don’t get carte blanche to indulge my every creative whim. I also don’t get a byline. And I shouldn’t. And that’s okay.
Embrace the benefits afforded by the cog/wheel relationship you have with your employer. Don’t become irate (and squander precious energy) when your brilliant idea gets voted down or someone takes your sweated-over prose and mangles it behind your back. No, creating for someone else means embracing that process. Reserve the tapping of unbridled passions for your grand pursuit.*
Rule #2: Activate learn mode
You might think every minute spent on your 9-to-5 is a waste of 60 seconds. If you’re not progressing on your grand plan, then you’re falling hopelessly behind, yes? Nope. This all-or-nothing approach can blind you to the learning opportunities right in front of you.
Just like I find short fiction fodder in the work situations I witness, you should attune yourself to everything going on at your job — people, politics, processes — and tuck them away for future use.
You might end up using the company’s design review meetings in your own venture, or throw some freelance work to Josie, your fave visual designer, when you start in on your sequel to The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist. Point is, there are lessons to be learned right where you’re at. Remain vigilant, and you’ll collect them en masse.
Rule #3: Get outta there
Growing up I could set my Mickey Mouse wristwatch by when my dad walked through our side door, home from work, briefcase in hand. He was a strict adherent to this time management rule: leave work the same time every day, no exceptions. Was he mad? No, he just set this internally-imposed deadline to spur him to finish his legal wranglings expeditiously.
What if you applied the same principle as my old man? I’ll tell you what: you’d throw yourself into each work day with gusto, become a model of efficiency, and get home in time to walk your dog 20 minutes every night. Okay, maybe. Perhaps not. That’s not the point, though. The point is to work like hell while you’re at work. If you’re afraid exerting yourself during the day means less energy at night to do your thing, know it ain’t so. You’ll face each night with newly forged discipline and a clear head.
Rule #4: Find your BFFN (best friend for now)
Remember mom’s advice on your first day at a new school? “Go up to someone who looks nice and ask them to be your friend.” Good ol’ Mom. She’s right, like always. As much as you’re a lone wolf, corporate America is not your habitat. You need some quality pack time.
Befriend someone who hasn’t let the grind get the best of them. This person is going to be equal parts sounding board, release valve, lunch companion, and foxhole co-occupant. Choose a funny person. One hilarious comment from your workplace compatriot packs more medicinal value than a bucket of Xanax.
Rule #5: Stay in touch with your ultimate goal
Corporate America is to you what a pitcher plant is to an unwitting insect — the longer you hang around it, the greater the risk of getting permanently sucked in. It’s not their fault; there’s just something inherently seductive about bi-weekly paychecks, health insurance, paid vacation, et al. But you need to make consistent progress on your outside-the-office stuff, lest one day you wake up to a shiny gold watch and a fistful of regret. How make progress, you ask? The answer’s as old as time.
Think of the day job is your wife — steadfast, reliable. Your grand scheme to rule the world is your mistress — fun, a tad crazy.
The latter doesn’t care what you’ve done for the former. She just wants to go out and dance, baby. So dance with her, even when your feet are sore from two-stepping for your boss. If you refuse to because you’re binge watching Orange Is the New Black, your side thing is gonna find another dance partner. ‘Nuff said.
It’s a wrap
Sometimes the lords of karma put us in strange places like cubicles instead of helming a successful startup or holding court during a five-state book tour promoting your debut novel. No matter. Follow the above five rules for keeping your sanity — and making progress on your grand scheme — and you’ll curry immediate favor with these karmic beings. Apply them religiously and you’ll soon be up to your elbows in the adult equivalent of taffy, and you have my permission to consume all you want.
* Don’t think this mindset switch makes a difference? I’ll put you in touch with my buddy Frank who once worked with this guy Steve whom he hated to such an extent that he (Frank) spent all day at his desk steeping in seething anger, and by the time he (Frank) got home at night, the vitriol he’d indulged in had exhausted him to the point where he (Frank) would pass out on his sofa, clad in nothing but short pants.