I guess, in some way or the other, we all have an idea of what “The Dream Job” is. When I graduated from university, I wanted to travel the world, taste it on my plate, and write about it for a living. Another dream of mine, which I was so close to pursuing, was moving to the beach and working at a Bed & Breakfast or coffee shop. I want to start something of my own someday, but for now, I thought that this would have to do before getting there. I swirled these thoughts in my head too often, quitting my first three jobs in advertising and PR, “in the pursuit of The Great Perhaps.”
Between these two jobs, I was lucky to have become a food writer for almost four years. My schedule was pretty flexible; so my time permitted me to do other things that helped iron my life out. I was able to travel a lot in my early twenties, and as a result, I was always broke from backpacking, “pursuing the next adventure”, and taking spontaneous beach trips during the weekends. None of these experiences I regret, because they taught to see and appreciate the world differently, but there were a lot of moments, though, when I’d stop and think, “Is this really it?” And so, I decided to take a different route.
When I turned 25, I started reassessing my priorities, and I realised that what I was after now was some form of stability, while still being able to live a creative life. There are some voids that I want to fill. What most of them are, I still do not know. I’m still in the process of figuring them out. I moved from home to start a new life in a new city, and so far, one of the biggest things I have been learning so far is that it is possible to still pursue your creative goals and build towards “The Dream”, while having a day job. Having experienced both sides of the coin, I never thought it would be possible until I started to shift my mind-set. It is not easy, I tell you. There are so many days when I just want to give up and sleep; but then, my desire to keep myself sane, knowing that I am creating good work (even if it’s just for myself), makes each day more meaningful. We all operate at different levels, but if we’re in the same boat (aka trying to just make it work!), then I hope this list helps you live a more creative life despite a 9 to something job. I am not an expert at this! But this is what I have learned so far:
Prioritise Yourself by Making Time for Yourself First
Before I fill out my free hours and days with all the creative stuff and side projects that I want/need to do, I make sure that I’ve allocated some time for myself first. Whether it’s setting aside time for watching shows, going to the beach, taking myself out on a coffee date, playing video games, or simply taking a nap without setting an alarm (my favourite, lol), making time to recharge helps me to not get burned out. Remember, the most important person in your life is no one else but you.
Plot Down Creative Milestones/Goals that You’d Like to Achieve and Invest in Them
I like doing this because I feel that it gives my life purpose beyond my day job. I think of what I’d like to achieve apart from my work’s milestones and write them down on paper. I also have this obsession for listing things down like a crazy person, and I find it so therapeutic to plot down goals and create feasible action plans for each of them. The problem here, I realised, is that I often spend more time planning than actually doing! So I made a weekly performance system to check my progress. Haha, I know it sounds daunting (I used to think so, too), but you’ll be surprised at how much you actually get to do. I’m working on a post that focuses solely on this Personal Progress Report, so stay tuned!
Consume Hungrily and with Purpose
I read a lot of inspirational and self-help books and magazines that help me improve (yes, I’m that type of person!). I also bookmark a loooooot of articles that provide tips that touch on skills that I want to develop such as managing my time better, striking better and meaningful conversations with people, etc. etc. etc. But don’t get me wrong! I still enjoy my regular does of Y.A. and Chicklit.
Since I still love writing about food, I read food books and I try my best to keep updated with what’s happening in the food scene around the world. I guess that’s how I realised that I really really love food—I still look for it and write about it even when I don’t have to do it mandatorily anymore!
Set Clear Boundaries Between Work and Your Life
Your day job is important, but it doesn’t mean that it has to take over your life. Know when to stop, recharge, and get back in the game. Putting your health on the line because you “work too hard” is not a badge of honour that you carry around and should be proud of. I used to think that staying late at work made me a good employee, but now I think that it was a dumb mind-set to have because it only meant that I was inefficient with my work.
But don’t get me wrong, staying at work beyond hours is inevitable (especially in my industry), but know when you need a break. I also always have a book with me, just in case, so I can refresh my mind and perform even better at work.
Shake Up Your Scenery from Time to Time
Whether it’s reorganizing my desk, or working at different areas of my office, getting a change of scenery always helps me reset my mind and soul. Outside work, taking road trips, travelling, trekking in nature reserves, and exploring a new part of the city every now and then is always a great way for me to unwind, recharge, and go back to my roots.
…Or Maybe All You Need to Do is Disconnect
I love going on Airplane Mode. Even for just 15 minutes, sometimes. Social Media can be a huuuuge distraction, so cutting myself from connectivity helps me to really focus on what I am doing—even if it’s just writing in my journal or taking a nap. There is a great, big, and unexplainable kind of freedom in knowing that you’re disconnected and untraceable; that you are simply and presently in the moment.
Use Your Day Job to Your Advantage
Apart from the financial stability it provides, there is so much you can learn in your day job. This sounds so much easier said then done, but if you try applying an open mind, I’m sure you can see that there is so much knowledge and helpful tips that you can pick up and apply to your personal creative projects. For me, I have been learning how to be more organised and detail-oriented. I thought that whatever I knew about organising and planning was okay, but because of my day job, I realised that there is still so much to learn. I know it can be difficult, but applying a positive perspective about your day job (even just little by little) can help you to appreciate it so much better than you thought.
Keep a Journal. Use it.
I can be a very forgetful person, which is why I like writing everything down on paper whenever I can! I am not digital savvy—using apps to plan my life is not as effective for me as writing things down on paper. My journals help me add clarity to my thoughts since I am more articulate in writing then I am in speaking. (I stutter a lot and I get dyslexic.) Writing notes helps me stay on track and organise my thoughts better so I can get clear next steps on what to do next.
Bird by Bird
This was power-glued to my mind after I read this book by Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird simply means taking things day by day, one step at a time.
"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"
I used to have this really bad habit of procrastinating and then wanting to speed everything up and then losing my mind in the process (still happens once in a while). When my brain explodes and turns into cerebral goop, I achieve absolutely nothing. Whenever I fall into this trap, I always think “bird by bird”. I give myself a pep talk and sometimes a pathetic pat of reassurance on the back (especially when I know shit’s gonna hit the fan) and remind myself to just take it one step at a time.
There are so many things that I want right now, but I hate/love how good and smart work should often be part of it. All these things about “enjoying the process” or “finding beauty in the process” irk the hell out of me because the process can be boring, frustrating, and absolutely annoying. But I see the beauty in it because what comes out after is the art that you’ve created that’s completely and absolutely your own. And that, I think, is the most fulfilling reward and the best bit of it. Feeling this sense of accomplishment is what motivates me to keep at it and to not lose sight. Even though it’s just a feeling, it’s an unexplainable kind of joy that can only be replicated by knowing that you have created.
And that, I know and I feel, is what gets me to closer to “The Dream”, whatever that looks like for now.
Mikka Wee is a pint-sized food editor & travel writer from Manila but is currently living in Singapore.
@mikkawee / firstname.lastname@example.org