The idea of a day job arises from this tension between the exchange economy and the gift economy that artists contend with on a daily basis. This tension was best articulated in the book the gift - hyde. Since some if not all of an artist’s best ideas are not always immediately profitable, he needs to have a source of income that supports him financially while providing the freedom he needs to experiment on his ideas. Enter the concept of the day job.

Some ideas on what constitutes a good day job

According to Margaret Lobensteine in her book The Renaissance Soul, a good day job, which she calls J-O-B, should have two to three of the following five criteria:

  1. Provides income and benefits
  2. Conserves your energy for your “real” work
  3. Saves or frees time that you can use for your “real” work
  4. Access to training and equipment
  5. Provides networking and publicity opportunities to advance your real work

In his book Overlap, Sean McCabe advocates the thesis that an artist should never compromise his main craft or vocation by prematurely making money out of it or sucking the energy and time needed to nurture it. Because of this belief, he sets out the following ideas about what consitutes a good day job:

  • A good day job should cover 100 percent of the artist’s bills.
  • A good day job should be in a different industry from the artist’s vocation to avoid tempting the artist to invest more into it than his vocation and original creative vision.
  • An excellent day job should make you feel excited and charged to pursue your vocation, not drain you.
  • A day job should not be the place to grow your vocation.
  • A day job should not be excessively lucrative so as to prevent you from quitting it even if it is terrible.
  • You should avoid making it too hard to leave a terrible but lucrative day job just because you live excessively luxuriously.
  • Remember your priorities. Your vocation is more important than your day job. Do not invest the same energy and time that you invest in your vocation to your day job.
  • A day job doesn’t have to be your favorite thing but you shouldn’t hate it (i.e., it doesn’t drain your energy or creativity).

Sean’s strict rules about what constitutes a good day job runs counter to the ideas of Carol Lloyd in Creating a Life Worth Living. Lloyd agrees that one of the dangers of a day job is that it could take the time and energy that an artist needs for his art. Depending on its nature, a day job does this in two ways:

  • If the day job is lucrative, its illusion of security and comfort could eventually make the artist forget his original creative intention.
  • If the day job is intolerable and low-paying, the artist lives in poverty and discomfort, making him give up his art and blaming it for his misfortune.

That said, some of the qualities of a day job that Sean preaches against were actually found attractive by artists that Lloyd interviewed in her book depending on where they were in their careers. Lloyd presents the following four categories of day jobs that artists choose for themselves.

  1. Big tent - These jobs don’t necessarily require you to use your main craft, but it puts you in contact with individuals and groups that engage in it because they deal with the business side of your craft. The downside of big tent jobs is that they could cause “midwife syndrome” or the feeling that you are helping others succeed in their art while neglecting yourself. Big tent jobs are for the most ambitious artists who are just starting out because they allow for a lot of networking that could lead to a big break.
  2. No contest - These jobs are chosen by artists who want a clear reminder of what their priorities are. No contest jobs do not tempt the artist away from his dreams as they require very little qualifications and almost no career growth. Because of this, no contest jobs help artists be focused in their goals. Among their benefits is that they could be a source of research or inspiration for the aspiring artist. They could also provide opportunities for physical exertion that balance an artist’s intellectual activities. However, they are notoriously low-paying and repetitive that they can eventually feel like drudgery. Artists could reframe this though and turn it into a motivation to strive to change their situation. Younger artists like them more than older ones. A strategy is to find a no contest job in a big tent context.
  3. Counter balance - These are jobs in an entirely different industry from an artist’s main craft. Like no contest jobs, they can be sources of inspiration or they can also take your mind off your projects completely, which eventually works wonders for them. However, unlike no contest jobs, they require more commitment as one needs to achieve a higher level of skill to do them. Because of this, they could tempt an artist away from his original creative vision if he is not careful.
  4. Wellspring - These are jobs that are closer to your passion or craft because they use it. They can be more lucrative than other day jobs but they present more temptation on the artist and could rob him of the time and energy he should be giving to his art because his day job and his art use the same creative energy.

These four categories organize the different day jobs Lloyd noticed from her interviewees. However, she presents only two main criteria for a good day job:

  1. It should pay the bills.
  2. It should not be at odds with your creative ambitions.

The second criteria implies that it is very important to really articulate what your creative ambition is. If you start there, you can design a day job that matches your ambition more.

Thinking about all of these ideas about what constitutes a good day job, helped me articulate My ideal day job.


Lobenstine, M. (2013). The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life―A Creative and Practical Guide (Updated edition). The Experiment.

McCabe, S. (2017). Overlap: Start a Business While Working a Full Time Job. seanwes.