Why I think day job is good for you. (for aspiring artists out there)

I was buying a box of cereal. I said “hi” to the girl at the checkout counter, but she didn’t even look up. She scanned the cereal box and throw it back at me without even saying how much the total was.
I try to be nice at the checkout counters. I look them straight in their eyes and say “hi, how are you?”, even when they look like they are not having a good day. Which is, well, most of the time.  Their attitude changes, they smile back, and we part by saying ‘Thank you. Have a good day’ to each other.

The girl who threw the cereal box, though, she was taking her unhappiness out on me. I didn’t even feel like wasting my time patiently smiling at her. So I took the change, mumbled thank you inside my mouth and left.
The good thing is  that I can forget this bad experience right when I step out of the store. On the other hand  she has to stay working unhappily all day long. 

One of the most common questions young artists, especially those who just graduated, ask me is: “did you have to take a day job when you were starting out?”.
I don’t know exactly what they expect me to answer, and what is the intention of the question. However what I  know is that this is not a simple yes or no answer for me.  If you are asking about the time after finishing my MFA  in illustration, my answer is no.  But I also spent 11 years in corporate PR office job after I finished college before going back to art school much later in my life. So, the answer is yes if I count those 11 years as my day job. And I do.

The fact is that it was during my day job I learned everything about how to work efficiently, how to organize, multi-task, how to make good phone calls or to negotiate terms either with clients or with bosses and coworkers…. you name it. (including, minor things like don’t make phone calls before 10AM, don’t e-mail important topics on weekends or Mondays, which I still follow till this day.) In short, it taught me everything about how to run my small business of illustration later on.

When I went back to school as an art student at age over 30, I initially felt old and inferior to those bright 17 year olds in my classes. But soon realized that though I may have been old(er), I also had a lot of life experiences under my belt. Now, after finishing up exact same amount of time, exactly 11 years, of working as an illustrator, I often stop and think: would it have been even possible to be working as an illustrator for this long if I didn’t have that day job first? The answer to this is very clear to me.

I was a hopeless 21 year old, who had no life experiences or social skill but thought I was someone special, like any other (or should I say most of) 21 year old may think. I used to pick fights with bosses when I thought I was right. (though I still think I was right in those cases! LOL.) I now know exactly how to talk that boss into letting me do what I think is a good idea, among everything else. (After all, any business is about person to person relationships. ) Yes, I learned them all during my day job.
Though I never loved that job, which ultimately made me decide to leave and pursue my childhood dream of being an artist, I don’t regret the priceless experiences that later allowed me to jump start my ‘second career’. If I have a time machine to go back, I won’t change a thing.

I believe day jobs are too underrated. Maybe you feel inferior to those who don’t need to take that day job? Please don’t ever be ashamed!  Trust me, there is a lot you can learn from any day job  as long as you try to make best of it, even when the situation is not ideal. The reality is, business of art is half art and half business. There are far fewer young artists who are completely ready to run their own one person business when they graduate than those who are not. Think of it as you are given a special opportunity to get yourself ready.
When that day comes when you can finally let go of that day job, I guarantee you will be thankful for the experiences you have had. Besides, you will be So thankful for not have to work on day job anymore that you will focus and work even harder than if you didn’t have to go through it.

Trust my word. It’s all going  to be good! (and let’s start from smiling while you are on the job.)

(PS: The last photo is a Google street view of the office building I worked for 11 years in Tokyo. Because I am just about to start the 12th year working on my second job, I thought it was a good time to talk about this now. Hope it would be helpful for some of you. Thank you. )