There are some people who have fulfilling, lucrative careers doing something they enjoy that fits conveniently into a standard work day. I am not one of those people.
Never in my life have I had a job where I was happy and making good money. My best situations are always those that I assemble myself.
I'm much happier when I freelance and run my own businesses. And it pays better for the investment of time. If I need more money, I don't have to go ask my master for more. I am the master. It's on me to figure out how to make more. If I'm doing ok on money and I want to invest more time into practicing, research, or otherwise bettering myself, I just go do it. I don't ask the boss for days off. That terrifies some people and energizes others. I'm definitely in the latter category.
Challenging? You betcha. But I like the chase. I like the processes of researching testing new business ideas and it's a hell of a thrill when something works.
But I have worked plenty of jobs to stay afloat until I got to the point where my projects could pay my bills. Some jobs pushed me forward and some held me back. I didn't have any help figuring it out. It was mostly trial and error. A lot of well intentioned employment advice I was given was awful or didn't work.
This article is another headache saver for you. I gained a few gray hairs and lost time figuring this stuff out and I'm writing about it so you don't have to.
My goal here is to steer you towards jobs that will help accelerate your journey without being too prescriptive. I don't know your specific situation. Even if you're an aspiring bass player in the Northeastern USA, you have a different set of talents, weaknesses, and interests than me. Apply the principles to your own situation.
How do I know this stuff works? I'm at the point where I've lapped a lot of the people I went to school with. I'm not kidding when I say that I was one of the worst people at my music school when I started. Now I sound better and work more than people who were at one time more booked and better sounding than me. This is not because I'm a genius. I had basically three things going for me that made this happen: A love of performing music/high motivation, a decent level of discipline, and a tendency to think strategically.
Lots of people get hung up on the last one which is why I want to focus on it. Taking a job that doesn't fit into any kind of strategy can be the kiss of death for some people. You need enough money to live and enough time and energy to work on yourself. When you are working jobs where you trade time for money, these things are at odds.
There are some of the attributes and practices that helped me progress more quickly than others by saving time, energy, and teaching me things.
You're absolutely allowed to break some of these rules if there is some amount of compensation in another area. I had one job in particular that had an atrocious commute. But the pay, downtime, and flexibility were so good I put up with it. Look at the big picture.
Seek flexibility. Being able to choose when you work, or at least have a little control over your schedule is a huge advantage. I'd take a cut in pay for increased flexibility every time. It frees me up to devote time to the stuff I really want to work on and seize time sensitive opportunities.
If you're doing everything else right, one day an opportunity is going to fall into your lap because of your effort or dumb luck.
You need to be able to take it.
Everyone gets lucky here and there. The people who recognize luck and are in a position to take advantage of it tend to do better.
Flexibility is possible to arrange if you can easily find a sub for yourself. Know who your replacement is. If you have a job where you have the keys to the castle, building momentum is much harder outside of the job. You can't take advantage of opportunities when they arise because too many people depend on you at a job you want to eventually get out of. The best medicine is to avoid getting into this situation at all
Seek and utilize time at work. It's a known fact that when people are at work, lots of them screw around. Lots of employers have a hard time solving this problem. They plug one hole and employees find another way to procrastinate. If you have any doubts, here is a list from Forbes of things people were caught doing in 2014:
1. A married employee was looking at a dating web site and then denied it while it was still up on his computer screen
2. An employee was caring for her pet bird that she smuggled into work
3. An employee was shaving her legs in the women’s restroom
4. An employee was laying under boxes to scare people (I'll admit, this is kind of funny.)
5. Employees were having a wrestling match
6. A sleeping employee claimed he was praying
7. An employee was changing clothes in a cubicle
8. An employee was printing off a book from the Internet
9. An employee was warming her bare feet under the bathroom hand dryer
Use this loophole to your advantage. Work on the clock a little bit instead of hiding under boxes to scare people. Usually menial office jobs are the places where you can kind of get away with this. Please do not try this at any job where you screwing up could involve injuring anybody. If you're trying to put together a freelance musician's schedule, it's probably a good idea to stay away from meat slicers, bandsaws, and heavy machinery anyway.
Don't feel guilty about doing your own work at work. While you're sneaking in something to better yourself, other people are taking a smoke break, guessing the size of Kim Kardashian's ass by the water cooler, killing time by pretending to be busy, having a wrestling match, or wasting time some other way. Get your job done, but opt out of the bullshit and use that saved time to do something productive. If it cuts in a little bit to work time and doesn't piss off your manager enough to get you fired, so what? I've been put in situations where my manager told me to "look busy" even when there wasn't much to do so HE looked like he was doing a good job. If someone hands me a box and says to "look like I'm taking it somewhere for 20 minutes" (yes, this actually happened), no way in hell I'm just going to waste the time.
If you find a situation with lots of downtime by nature, even better. Put it to use.
Sometimes you can even have your cake an eat it too. When I had a truly soul sucking data entry job where they monitored my work output to the minute, I would listen to entrepreneurship books on tape. (Podcasts weren't invented yet. I feel old.)
Jobs that pay in knowledge are best. One really good reason to violate some of these guidelines is if a job teaches you some skill that you want to learn. I know I've been bashing the hell out of jobs insufferably for this whole article because they're often a bad deal financially. This is the exception. Getting paid to learn is a great deal because the alternative is paying to learn. Provided the thing you're learning can transfer into something you're trying to do down the line. Jobs are basically a ripoff, but if you find one that also pays in knowledge you can get a leg up on people who just show up and punch into the time clock. The only problem here is that on a lot of jobs, the learning level is really high for about 6 months then it levels out.
If you feel that happening and have no other attachments to the job, start looking for something else. Feel free to do this often, especially if you are young. If anyone tries to call you out about changing jobs often you can point out that many economists consider this a sign of a healthy economy. You're an ambitious optimist looking for the best possible situation for yourself. Who could fault you for that?
Minimize your commute. The time you spend commuting to and from work and recovering is absolutely work. It is required to perform the job. Most employers just refuse to acknowledge (pay for) this. It is time an energy you can't get back.
If you have a short, low energy, low stress commute, that is worth it's weight in gold. Its no coincidence that people are fleeing to suburbs and flocking to walkable neighborhoods where they don't need to get into a car to do most things. The higher rent is a better deal than saving the money and being stressed out from a long daily commute.
The best scenario is a job you can walk or bike to in a short amount of time. The exercise and fresh air will energize you. You'll save time and money and be less stressed.
The next best possible commute is being able to take public transit easily. You can read or work on something while you ride. I religiously bring a book and a pen with me when I travel on buses, trains, and planes. It passes the time and it's a great opportunity to think and learn independently.
The worst option is driving. You can't really do much because you have to stay very focused on driving. Your attention is stuck focusing on something that doesn't improve you or your situation. If you live in a very congested area like me, the stress of being in traffic will drain you. It increases the recovery time you need. If driving is the ONLY option for you, try to work out a carpool situation or find a few people willing to split an Uber with you.
If that isn't enough reason to minimize your commute, here's one more. Unless your boss pays your train fare or provides a company car, you are paying to get to work with post tax income. You are working to pay taxes on money that is then taxed AGAIN when you buy your train ticket or buy your car. This is to get you to a job where your boss or employer sees most of the benefit of your labor. On a good day you probably make 10-15% of what your work earns for the company.
(Not that I'm against paying taxes. Its just frustrating doing it twice here in the U.S. where the government currently spends over half a trillion dollars per year on the war budget while the citizens pay out the nose for lousy, inconvenient health insurance as our infrastructure crumbles because our representatives like to to cling to ideology rather than solve problems.)
Short commute. Fight for it. It's great.
Don't get wrapped up with workplace socializing. Don't get sucked into going out for drinks with anybody you don't actually want to go out with, don't gossip, don't join the office fantasy football league, and don't draw attention to yourself.
Do be all business, be polite, be civil, and do get out of there everyday as fast as you can. Be the quiet one, but not so quiet that the workplace busybodies make a challenge out of getting you to open up. Appear bland and boring. Your goal is to save as much time and energy as possible so you can roll that into the stuff you actually want to build on. You have a job out of necessity. You're on a mission to make your stay there temporary. You're not there to make friends or find a bowling partner.
Lots of people get sucked into the co-worker social club because their co-workers are accessible and they need a social group to feel included in. If you aren't interested in the people you work with, you have no obligation to be buddies. Just do what you have to do and go hang out with your actual friends.
Now if you meet someone legitimately worth getting to know who happens to work with you thats a different story. Go be buddies, if you want.
This is by no means comprehensive. Ask around and see what other people do or did. I even left a few off here because they were a little niche and not adaptable. You see the idea here though. Too many people focus on the paycheck aspect of a job without thinking a few steps ahead. That's how people get stuck in a lame day job and can't get on to working on their own vision.
If you don't fight to preserve your time and energy, there's a line of people around the block looking to take it from you.
Stick up for yourself.