What to do when your day job doesn’t fulfill you

Last week, I wrote “How to Make Art Your Daily Habit.” Which is a list of strategies I personally exercise to make drawing something I do every day. What I find typically get’s in the way of that the most is… you guessed it… the day job. If you enjoy your day job, this list isn’t for you. This is if you have a day job that doesn’t fulfill you. Whether it’s not what you went school for, a bad boss, or really dull, these are some things that’s helped me over the months when I’ve worked somewhere that drove me into an empty feeling of listlessness and despair otherwise.

Very few things kill an artist’s creativity more than an unfulfilling day job.

As an artist, you may want to quit your day job, but that’s REALLY not a good first plan unless you have the savings or means to do so.

Here are some things that help me:

Get Over It

Boy. Ashley is MEAN this afternoon, isn’t she?

Well, yeah. But really, sometimes, after going into a downward spiral that the day job can put you in, I really need to get metaphorically slapped into reality. I find that I start complaining about my job to anyone who will care to listen, and that makes me a very unpleasant person to be around.

The truth is, nobody likes their job. Even when people work their dream job, it’s NEVER as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be (stay at home artist? Prepare for financial instability, loneliness, and dealing with stupid people who want art for free. Video game tester? Well, you just play the same five minutes of a game over and over and OVER again taking notes each time! Cartoon animator? Prepare for a very tedious job in an industry with very lonely men who don’t understand boundaries.)

Be Physically Healthy

I find that when my job is killing my soul, a downward spiral starts to occur. I don’t feel like exercising, not to mention taking comfort in sugar and alcohol. My body then becomes more unhealthy, which causes even less energy and tolerance for bullshit at work.

If you find yourself on this downward spiral, the best thing to do is to try to get back in the habit of being healthy. Go on a ten minute walk every day, eat good breakfasts with lots of protein (yes, even if you’re not hungry in the morning), drink lots of water. Eat some baked chicken and salad for lunch.

Getting endorphins going can help you feel healthier and mightier.

Maybe it’s not your job that sucks. It might not even be your mental health that sucks. It might be physical.

Start the morning on your own terms

I find that getting up early, a couple hours before I have to leave for work is what helps. I get to enjoy some time painting or drawing-something that I’m good at (and I find that I paint and draw better in the mornings.)

Spend 30 minutes- 1 hour learning a new skill or honing one you’re good at, particularly something creative, something you enjoy, or something that you want to get good at later. Then, you can walk through those doors at work already with a sense of joy and accomplishment.

Even if your boss is actually THAT awful and unfairly accuses you of things you didn’t do, that you’re STILL not good enough on that one skill you’ve been working your ass off to improve on, and that you’re too sensitive when you’ve given them three clear unbiased examples of behaviors THEY did that negatively affected your productivity (yes, all of this has happened to me), you can think (for the love of God, not out loud), “Yes, but I painted a beautiful portrait this morning, added something to this world, and told my husband how much I appreciated him. I’m happy with who I am. What is so wrong with you that you have to pick on your underlings to make you feel better about yourself?”

Journal at work

This might be a little risky, but if you’re able, journaling at work can really help. Actually, if anyone asks, this would be an easy thing to say, “this is a personal self evaluation of my work to help improve my productivity” and that’s exactly what this would be.

Not only can it help you put your feelings into words, but journaling can also help you find patterns in your job and work that you can learn from and improve.

At one job I had, I would always come to work before my boss did and while I was settling in, I would spend about 15-20 minutes journaling.

Typically, I would open a PDF of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and write about the passage of the day, and how I would use the advice to be a better version of myself at the job- whether that would be doing kind things for people, taking a deep breath and not take anything nasty my boss would say to me personally, or try to find opportunities at my current job (trainings, skills I’d learn, etc) that would help me when I eventually get a new job.

Lately, I’ve been writing a psycho-analysis evaluation. I would write what I was originally excited about for this job, where it went wrong for me, what I can do in the future, five things I did that I was proud of (again, which you can tell people interviewing you in the future), and how I want to move forward.

Again, this is strictly work-related, and work-improving related. I find it better to write these journals at work because I don’t want to be thinking about work while I’m at home. Plus, this isn’t some stupid diary where you’re venting your frustrations (unless you also write about how you plan to MANAGE these frustrations), or writing about the cute guys at the office. This is a therapeutic way of changing your perspective at work, figuring out how you can make your situation better rather than simply becoming helpless and letting things happen to you until you finally snap.

Because, remember, depending on how much of a son-of-a-bitch your boss is, s/he may not like it when you spend 15 minutes to journal. It needs to be framed in a way that helps you improve your productivity. It’s a lot harder for your boss to be mad at you for trying to improve your work situation.

Look for another job

“If you’re not willing to change your situation, you have no right to complain.”

Don’t know where I heard that from, but it’s true. Trying to find a new job can be time-consuming, frustrating, and hopeless from feeling rejected again and again. But the act of finding a new job in and of itself creates a feeling of progression, that the exit is there, you just need to get there.

Not only that, but part of the journey of job hunting is looking at your most positive qualities, your accomplishments in your past jobs, and share them with potential hiring managers with confidence, which can be difficult, but you are worth getting out of your old job and finding something more fulfilling.


If you can get a volunteer job while you’re working- even if it’s only once a month, that can be beneficial for so many reasons. You can make connections to add to your list of references (especially when you can’t add your boss at your day job).

If you’re volunteering for a good cause, then it adds a sense of purpose and meaning to your life. There are people who have it worse than you, and by giving some of your time, that can help rejuvenate your feeling of self worth, help you, in some small way, leave the world just a bit better than you find it.

Most importantly, you can brighten someone else’s day.

Then of course, you can learn additional job skills that you can add to your resume. Sounds selfish I know, but hey, we’re human. We’re fundamentally selfish.

Appreciate the People in Your Life

It can be easy to want to isolate yourself, but working a job that makes you depressed means you need people more than ever. This is especially the time you need to appreciate your family.

Hell, they’re probably suffering from your crummy day job as much as you are because they have to hear you complain it.

Just like you deserve better, so do they. When you feel yourself tempted to complain, think about what your friends and family did for you. Did your spouse make the bed without being asked? Did they do this dishes? Did they make you tea or coffee? Then, from the bottom of your heart, thank you. Your job is a cause of suffering, and they’re making your life just a little bit brighter.

It’s a lot easier to notice the negative things in our lives than appreciate the good things. But if you let the people in your life know the things they’re doing that you like, usually it will make them want to do those things more.

This would also be a good time to see if one of your friends has been down lately, and to hit them up for coffee. In my case, I have a few friends who had babies and found themselves isolated because of it. I asked them if they want me to come over, I bought a pack of diapers and a pizza, and visited them.

When you do something like this, you can go back to work, listen to your boss harp on about how you’re not good enough, or whatever s/he says to make themselves feel better, and you can take some joy knowing that you are worth more than the cog in the machine.

In Conclusion

It’s not wise to leave your day job. Everybody knows that. But I don’t know, maybe God is leaving signs for you and will provide when you take that leap of faith, but until you finally affirm that, you may need to figure out how you can make the best of your situation first.

I don’t think people of my generation were fully prepared for the corporate (or government-funded job) world which is full of insecure, sociopathic bosses, unreasonable demands, and people who just don’t care about you as a person, but for what you can give them. We’re told we need jobs that are “fulfilling” and some jobs try to be that, and still fail. Worse, it seems as though we’re always being told we have no control of our situations, that everything happens to us.

We’re told that if a boss is being unfair to us, then that’s wrong, but we’re not told how to manage that. HR will not side with you either, if anything, if you’re not careful, you are instead told that YOU are the problem. That you should get over it without being told HOW.

And how hopeless is that?


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