How Not to Hate Your Survival Job

Survival jobs. I mean until we reach that Lin-Manuel-Stephen-Schwartz hybrid of greatness, most of us MT writers are largely dependent on a day job or side hustle to sustain ourselves. It’s hard not to get resentful when you’re making money doing something you’re not exactly jazzed about. But here’s the kicker that will rock your world: your survival job, like your career, can be your choice. Having held a couple of survival jobs now, I can tell that you that the concept of choice has just recently revealed itself to me, and heck it is freeing. Choosing my employment more wisely has not only helped support my writing career goals in a more productive way, but it’s also simply made me happier. Here are some tips that have helped me navigate finding the right side hustle, and hopefully, these tips will help you too.

  1. If you can’t find a theatre survival job you like, explore a different field. Now, I know this may sound sacrilegious, but sometimes opting to take a turn out of theatre for a survival job may work in your favor. Don’t get me wrong, if your survival job is hopping around as a PA from Broadway show to Broadway show, STICK IT OUT. However, if you’re ushering and nothing in particular is coming from it, maybe rethink a few things. If the gig isn’t servicing your long-term career goals in theatre, then I’d bow out for a bit until the right opportunity does come your way. I was working at a cabaret for almost three years, and though I am very grateful for that job to this day, by the end of my time there, I was deeply unhappy. I felt as if all of my time, emotions, and energy were being controlled by that particular job, and consequently, I had no spare time to productively write without resentment. However, I had a “Come to Jesus” moment last year, and I chose to leave that job in order to pursue makeup artistry as my side hustle. That choice has given me a creative survival job with flexible scheduling and extremely low emotional stress. I don’t take makeup artistry home with me; I leave it at the door. Having a job that allows me so much more extra emotional and physical space to devote to my career goals has literally rocked my world, and for the first time in a long time, I feel excited about my future as a writer again.
  2. Craft your schedule wisely. This trick is a potential game changer, and it ties in a bit with the previous tip. Make sure the survival job you pick is a schedule that you can get down with – meaning that it allows you enough free time to pursue theatre as well. We have to remember that attempting a life as an artist paired with your bill-paying gig means that you have TWO full-time jobs, so make sure your survival job allows you to achieve balance.  Whether it’s a 9-5 or a 5-1, make sure it works for you.
  1. Make enough money. Sometimes we think of money as the enemy, but that’s usually because we’re stressed about it, or, yunno, we don’t have it. However, it’s New York City, guys. We need money to live. So pick a survival job that makes you enough money so that you’re not adding another stressor to that heaping plate.
  1. Surround yourself with good people. Since you’re not at your endgame job, at least make sure you can enjoy each shift. Being in a positive work environment with solid citizens is a huge key to accomplishing that. If I hated the people I did makeup with (or for), why bother doing it at all? Your survival job isn’t meant to be life or death for you, so don’t subject yourself to a miserable environment with miserable people if you don’t absolutely have to. Ideally, this is a job where you can define a new set of skills, have fun, and make a few awesome friends.
  1. Get out when it’s time to get out. The moment might be clear, like Joe Mantello has decided to direct your musical. Or it might be less clear, like you just have this overwhelmingly vague feeling of dissatisfaction with your day to day. Either way, it’s time to leave your survival job. Either you pick a new survival job that can alleviate some of your dissatisfaction and gift you with a new burst of inspiration, or you are one of the lucky ones and you’ve finally achieved that well-deserved “big break” and you can afford to leave. It is important to remember that as we try to navigate our artistic careers, we don’t linger in an unproductive place for too long. The minute our survival job provokes complacency, it’s time to leave, because complacency (not money) is the true enemy. Complacency is the true killer to any career in the arts. So know that you can always get out, and that you can always continue your journey to theatre greatness.

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