I once attended a professional development workshop for artists in San Francisco and someone in the group asked if they could consider/advertise themselves as professional if they still had a day job. Another person in the audience (not even the presenter) very boldly told the whole room that if you didn't support yourself full-time as an artist, then you weren't serious and you weren't really an artist. She then went on to brag about how much she got to travel and how many artist talks she did.
First of all, this is a very insensitive and privileged thing to proclaim. Art school is expensive and so is living in a city. So unless your parents or partner paid for your school, apartment, flights, and/or gave you money to start your business, no artist is going to be able to support themselves right off the bat. Some of us paid for our own school, had to work for everything, and started with nothing. Eye roll!!!
With that being said, I think pretty much all of us creatives have needed "day jobs" or something other than our art for financial consistency. For me, my day jobs have become a treasure trove of interesting experiences and memories, and have given me a diverse range of skills and connections.
I started working when I was 15. My family struggled financially so when I was old enough, I had to start working if I wanted to participate in extracurriculars that required extra lessons. I paid for my own tumbling classes so I could be a better cheerleader and my own flute lessons because I loved playing music. I was the person lining up at the crack of dawn for Black Friday sales so I could get cheap school clothes. I worked my way through high school and college, and I'm not mad about it. One thing I know I'm good at is that I can hustle.
For my own reflection and for your entertainment, let's take a look at some of the day jobs I've had throughout the years and the ways they've influenced me:
High School: My first job at 15 was a gymnastics instructor at the local gym. I got discounts on my own tumbling training and I loved stretching and tumbling with the kids I taught. I also had regular babysitting gigs after school on the days that I didn't teach gymnastics. At one point I started working as a sandwich artist at Subway. That only lasted a few months... I was a cute 16 year old working with a bunch of older dudes who had just gotten out of jail. The amount of sexual harassment I endured at that job was outrageous. My dad used to come sit in the restaurant menacingly for the last hour of my shift when I had to close the store late at night with male coworkers. The sad thing is that I didn't even realize that it wasn't normal or acceptable to get harassed like that on a daily basis because it happened so much. I never felt the need to report it or tell my parents. Now, as a seasoned creep-deflector, I cringe thinking about what I put up with as a teenager. I'm super thankful for my "annoying, over-protective" parents (that's how I felt at the time) going above and beyond to protect me from weirdos.
College: Throughout my four years of undergrad and art school, I did part-time work study as a librarian's assistant at my university's fine arts library. I loved that job! First of all, the fine arts library was beautifully designed. It was attached to the art museum, and there were no right angles in the entire building. The architect, I.M. Pei, was the same mastermind who designed the famous pyramid at the Louvres in Paris. At work, all I had to do was complete a list of tasks, put some books away, then I got to work on my homework the rest of the time. Being able to study at work was vital for me. I always had full class loads because I was completing two separate bachelor's degrees (a BFA in Painting as well as a BA in Spanish Language), and a minor in art history simultaneously. One time, things got exciting and someone stole a book - like she took off running through the art museum when the book sensor alarm went off! I was so tickled and baffled by that because literally anyone (even a non-student) could obtain a library card and check out books.
In my college years, I also spent my summers working. I taught art classes and waitressed at a Mexican restaurant one summer.
However, my two most eventful summers were spent in neighboring states:
One summer I lived and worked in Sandusky, Ohio at the world famous Cedar Point amusement park (known for having the most roller coasters in the world, many of which are record-breaking heights and speeds). I worked six days a week, 8-12 hours a day on my feet as a ride host for one of the roller coasters. I learned how to operate the ride, spiel to the guests over the mic headset, worked on a ride team and interacted with many international guests. I met young people from all over the world who came to work at CP for the summer. We all lived in dorm-style housing near the park. I didn't have a car and the only food establishment that was walkable from our housing was... McDonald's. I ate at McDonald's almost every day, unless friends were carpooling somewhere else. It was kind of a miserable job... but fun because of all the new friends I made. Two of my roommates, who I became good friends with, were from Taiwan.
I also witnessed some crazy freak accidents. Like a person colliding with a seagull at 120mph on the park's fastest coaster, and returning to the station with blood running down their forehead... or what it was like to take shelter from a tornado in the mechanical room underneath a roller coaster. There was also a time that the maintenance building behind our ride caught on fire and the entire park had to evacuate. Occasionally we had celebrity guests like Miley Cyrus and Lebron James. We had to be ready for anything at Cedar Point, and always keep the experience of the guests in mind, while also maintaining our own sanity from those long, hot summer work days.
working at Cedar Point one summer when I was about 20 years old
One of my most memorable and impactful summer jobs was working as a camp counselor (then a Unit Director the next summer) at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Muskegon, Michigan. I learned SO much from that job. One of the largest fine arts camps in the country, we hosted about 1,500 campers per two-week session, where the campers got to study music, dance, and fine art intensively. We lived in cabins in a sandy wooded area close to lake Michigan that was peaceful and felt like a retreat. We were treated to professional performances in music, dance, theater, and other areas of the arts almost every night. There was even a to-scale replica of the Globe Shakespearean Theater on the premises! In addition to leading and mentoring teens, I got to help with the drawing and painting classes, and set up camper art exhibitions. I learned the art of clear communication, conflict resolution and how to present myself well and leave a good first impression amongst youths, coworkers, my superiors, and parents. I was totally immersed in the arts every day, without the distraction of technology. It was during my first summer at Blue Lake that I really realized how important art was to me, and I promised myself (really - I remember writing this down in a journal somewhere) that I would do whatever it took to continue making art, no matter my circumstance or stage in life. I made so many friends at Blue Lake and learned a lot about myself and my own capabilities as a leader, teacher, and mentor. It was a fast paced environment and I had to be on top of scheduling, discipline, and communication. It's been well over a decade since I worked at Blue Lake and I still have dreams from time to time about working there again. They were such magical summers. I left Blue Lake knowing that I could handle anything life would throw at me.
some of the many dreamy memories of my magical summers at Blue Lake
(excuse the graininess - these are old!)
After I graduated art school and finished my last summer at Blue Lake, I needed to find something consistent that would help me start paying off my student loans. I had a lot of teaching experience from camp and teaching gymnastics... so as a last resort I made a profile on Care.com, thinking I would do some babysitting to earn some quick cash while I applied for gallery assistant jobs in New York City. A mom reached out to me about becoming a full time nanny for her three girls - and it paid better than any other starting position I had come across in my job search.
I was excited for the opportunity and needed the money so I went for it.
The family loved me and hired me, and I was having a BLAST with those three girls. I got to travel for work and loved being out in the world, playing and loving on the little ones. I never knew I would enjoy nannying so much! That was the beginning of nearly TEN YEARS of working as a full time nanny for small children. It led me to the Bay Area, where I was well taken care of by the families I worked for, and I had the same benefits as any other "real" job (paid time off, holidays, sick days, etc).
I still keep in touch with all the families I've worked for over the years. We visit each other, send each other mail, and FaceTime. The families I've worked for have supported me creatively by commissioning paintings, giving me tickets to art fairs, and even giving me studio space in their homes. If you're reading this and are one of the parents I've worked for, THANK YOU (first of all, for trusting me with your children) but also for your generosity, care, and support!
some of the places I got to travel to or live as a nanny
I got to travel to and live in some pretty beautiful places (some pictured above): Whistler (British Columbia), Seattle, Nashville, San Francisco, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, and Hawaii to name a few. Being a nanny kept me employed and provided for throughout the pandemic and eventually led me to Kauai, which kind of disrupted the plans I had for myself in a major and unexpected way (more on that later, perhaps). If I hadn't worked as a nanny for all those years, I 100% would never have been able to move to Kauai, pay off my student loans, or done so much traveling. I am forever grateful to all those years of experience.
Now for the most fun and unexpected job I've ever had (and still do): performing!
While I was in San Francisco, I happened to start training in the circus arts with professional coaches. It turns out my body was naturally inclined for contortion and I committed myself fully to training after my work hours as a nanny. Within a year of starting contortion, I started to receive paying performance gigs at corporate and private events, and in weekend circus productions and dinner shows around the city and rest of the Bay Area. This has been, by far, the most fun I've had "working" ever. And I still get to do it! Contortion training and performance has taken me to some incredible places (including Mongolia and getting to perform at a Golden State Warriors Game). As long as my body allows, I will continue to share this art through teaching and performance.
(left to right): performing in a live dinner show at Berber SF, backstage at the Warrior's game,
and photoshoot from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia
As a creative, my path has never been very linear. I've had to be flexible in what I do to earn money and it's taken me to some unexpected and exciting places. From sandwich artist, to roller coaster operator, to nanny and now a circus artist, life has surprised me in so many amazing ways. All of these day jobs, some seemingly silly or insignificant, have contributed to my life experience and skillset. I know I can adapt to new people and places, and learn how to do pretty much anything I set my mind to. I wouldn't change a thing about my journey or past jobs.
The one thing that remains constant is that I know I've been created to make art, with my body and my hands. Through the visual and performing arts, I fulfill my purpose.
Everything else is a means to bringing more beauty into the world.