We all know the story of creative people who work temp jobs waiting for a big break, but some people devote as much effort to their day job as they do their passion.
Their day job is not just a paycheck, but gives an alternative fulfillment. Some of them keep their day jobs and passion as separate parts of their lives, but others have found a way to incorporate what they love into their employment.
The common link for all of them is determination, drive and focus. That means giving up traditional leisure activities like watching TV. And sometimes it means not spending a lot of time with friends and family to fit it all in.
Want this lifestyle? Here’s how they do it.
For Dr. C. Dale Young, medicine and writing are callings he’s pursued his entire adult life. A San Francisco-based oncologist, Young has published four books of poetry and won a Guggenheim Fellowship. He also teaches part-time at Warren Wilson College’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts program in Asheville, N.C.
Even with full days at the clinic, Young makes time to write or read daily, even it’s only an hour or some time on the weekends.
“You have to commit to it and make time for it. Even small amounts of time, if done consistently, can add up to a great deal,” he said.
He takes vacation time to teach the 10 days for the MFA program, and during the semester he supervises two or three students, which means his weekend writing days from July to November are devoted to reading his students’ work.
While he may feel tired at times, Young says he doesn’t feel burned out.
“I make sure at least once or twice a year to take a vacation during which I do little except lie about and regenerate,” he said.
The company president-horse farm owner
Pete Baldine is president of two businesses: Moran Family of Brands, a national franchise specializing in automotive accessories, and Bella Rose Farm, his family’s horse boarding and training facility about an hour outside of Chicago.
Baldine grew up loving horses, as did his daughter. When she started working with horses professionally, he founded Bella Rose Farm in 2007, which has since grown to include 22 horses.
His days are typically 15 hours long, seven days a week, fitting in farm work in between office hours, and on weekends. He said the company is very supportive of his passion, and rarely does farm business cut into his day job. Plus, he added sometimes he conducts Moran business on the farm. The company culture promotes flexibility for all their hard-working employees, not just him, he said.
“Every once in a while, there may be a situation where there is a sick horse. But that’s no different than anyone else who might have a sick day and miss work. That doesn’t happen often…. They’ve never felt like they haven’t gotten their fair share, and I’ve never felt like if I needed to make a work change that they resented it,” he said.
His vacations are traveling to horse shows. He admitted this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, especially for people who need a lot of downtime. Having the right frame of mind helps.
“With anything, even if you really enjoy it and like it, there are times when it can feel like a burden. If It does, you have to recognize it and deal with it and get your head screwed on right,” he said.
Yoko Noge sang the blues professionally in Japan, but disliked the commercialization of music. Instead, she moved to Chicago to study and play with some of the greatest blues musicians including Willie Kent, Johnny B. Moore and others.
Her day job is co-bureau chief for Nikkei’s Chicago bureau, a Japanese media company, where she’s worked for 30 years. At her peak, she would perform with her band two or three nights a week, often getting home at 2 a.m. and working at Nikkei the next day.
Noge said over the years she’s found the best balance is to focus completely at the task on hand – when she’s at the office, she concentrates on journalism, and when she’s playing it’s all about the music.
Only one time in her work career did she have an issue with a manager. Noge found out from colleagues he disapproved of her chosen music style and didn’t think she deserved a promotion.
“I was fiercely angry about it… My reaction was, if I was a classical violin player, would he have said the same thing? Probably not. If I were an opera singer probably he would have said different things…. But I had enough supporters because they know how hard I work,” Noge said.
It didn’t have any lasting repercussions, as Nikkei’s president and chief executive officer come hear her play when she visits family in Japan and performs, which is a great honor, she said.
She’s cut back on some of her performances lately because she is also caring for her husband, fellow musician Clark Dean, who is in hospice care.
“Sometimes I get depressed, of course, but then I tell myself, life has different stages. You do your best at each stage and what’s the best for yourself and others. This is my choice right now,” she said.
The educational publisher-creative writer
Zoe Zolbrod is a manager at an educational publisher’s literature division, and has written a novel and a memoir. She says her company appreciates how her ties in the creative-writing world help her spot new talent and different stories for textbooks.
Zolbrod not only juggles writing and work, but she and her husband are also raising two children, ages 8 and 15. To write she takes vacation time from work, and on Sundays she leaves the house early, in addition to writing at night when she can.
Being a parent adds to the juggle, but she added it can work.
“I think kids’ needs come and go,” Zolbrod said.
She tries to fit in a bit of yoga, too, and after her last book she took a break to spend more time with her family, which she can’t always do when she’s writing.
“It’s a constant juggle, a constant negotiation, what am I willing to give up?” Zolbord said.
The commercial painter-artist
Gene Pellegrene, who owns the socially conscious painting company artist painters, looks at his company as a piece of conceptual art. It’s a traditional commercial painting company, but he also uses the time to learn about the people who hired his crew. From that interaction he creates an original piece of art for the customer upon project completion.
“You’re around them in their most personal space, interacting with children and pets in this vulnerable place, and you pick things up. My job is to take that and turn that into inspiration and try to create an art object,” he said.
Pellegrene said incorporating art and business does a couple of things. If the business doesn’t do a great job, then the art falls flat, so there’s extra pressure on the company to deliver. It allows lets him focus on making art he finds important, rather than worrying about needing to sell pieces.
In his downtime, he gathers and distributes toiletries and other essentials to his local homeless population. “Sometimes I can have meaningful conversations with people,” he said. “That’s helpful for reasons I cannot articulate.”
The life coach perspective
Peggy Caruso, an executive and personal development coach, and author of “Revolutionize Your Corporate Life,” worked two jobs, write a book and cared for a child simultaneously. She said to balance a lifestyle like hers, good time and stress management are critical.
“Keep track of your productive actions versus the nonproductive actions,” she said.
To manage stress, determine your priorities and delegate when possible, she said. That goes for working parents, too.
“You can juggle children, passion and career. I always tell working mothers, ‘lose the guilt.’ I’m not saying don’t spend time with your child, but don’t be so hard on yourself [if you] get a caregiver, to delegate, to hire a housekeeper,” she said.