It’s a term I’ve heard used frequently:
I really love sculpting, but my real job is software development…
There’s nothing I’d rather do in life than paint, but my real job is working as an admin…
I compose music when I’m not at my real job in a warehouse…
Writing fiction is more real to me than technical writing — even though one could easily argue the work I do as a technical writer matters more than the fiction I write. (There are plenty of works of fiction out there, but if the company I worked for suddenly ceased to function and the technology we make suddenly gone, much of the world would seriously grind to a halt, i.e. many major airlines could not fly; tens of thousands of hotels could not be booked.)
My day job, writing fiction, podcasting, juggling, and all the other things I do are, however, real.
The Day Job
It’s a little thing, calling one’s “real job” a day job, but it matters to me. Calling the job most people would not do if they were independently wealthy “real” and placing it above the work we love doing seems sad to me.
Granted, I make “real” money as a tech writer, while I make no money podcasting and very little money writing fiction. But when people say, “My real job,” they don’t seem to be talking about finances and security — they seem to be saying, “I now have to step away from what I love dearly in life for ‘reality.'”
It’s as if they are saying, “The thing I love isn’t real — it’s just a silly dream.”
Everything in Context
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s entirely possible to say, “My real job,” while not diminishing one’s efforts in their creative pursuits. So if that describes you: cool.
But I’ve met so many people who create a solid wall between what they love and what they must do to pay the bills. There’s a real world, and there’s a dream world where they do what they love most, and never the two worlds shall meet.
While it’s too self-helpy for my tastes, listen to a couple episodes of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast, and you’ll hear stories about people who need permission to do the thing they love because the “real world” has ground them down.
It’s not-at-all uncommon, and it’s tragic that so many people think that way.
(When you think about the permission thing in a different way, you look at life differently. I don’t need permission to write, but I need permission to go to my day job. You can’t just walk into the building where I work without a security badge, but you can write or draw on almost anything in sight if you’d like. What is more real than that which is right in front of you, while if I showed up to your day job, someone would say, “Who the hell are you?”)
What is Real?
My day job is real, and the stories I write and the podcasts I record are real. Juggling is probably more real than all of it because I must contend with gravity, which at least seems more real than a series of 0s and 1s instructing computers how to process things or words on the pages of books.
It’s all real. Whether things we do at day jobs or our careers, or the creative things we do, the reality is that most of us work day jobs that fund our creative lives. I could be homeless and write novels in a public library, but I’d much rather do in my little office. Day jobs afford art supplies, musical instruments, travel, and so many other things.
I know people whose dream jobs are the way they pay their bills, and that’s wonderful. But no matter how much the Internet seems to chime, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it,” that’s not reality for most people. Most people who choose to write fiction will never support themselves writing fiction. (And never mind the many people who don’t want their creative endeavors to be the way they support themselves.)
The job I do during the day is as real as the creative work I do early in the mornings before starting my day job — and continue doing in the evenings.
It’s never lost on my how fortunate I am to have the day job I have and the ability to do the creative things I do.