In this new version of the Weekly Letter, I have stated my intention to bring even more honesty and openness to the work of the entrepreneur, so that we are firmly grounded in reality when discussing this subject.
Today I want to talk about one of my side gigs: my work at a local donut shop. No one wants to talk about their side hustles in professional circles for fear of the judgment that would ensue. What if people think I am doing this work because my creative work isn’t valuable enough?
Then there is a really big, tough thought that gets at the heart of the still very real class lines: how many former donut shop employees do you see showing art in New York or showing their apparel line at fashion week? For all we know, a lot. But there is something inside of us that says–no. That kind of person does not accomplish those types of things. Our perspectives on class and creative access are still very entrenched.
And yet the reality is that A LOT of brilliant creative people had all sorts of side hustles. And perhaps we don’t hear more of their stories because of the subtext that says that successful creative work is somehow elite and divorced from the grunt work of cleaning a toilette at a donut shop.
But this week I am not here to talk about dismantling our judgments around creative work and the side hustle. Instead I am going to talk about the value I get from it, apart from a paycheck. To set the stage for you, this particular donut shop is one of the most popular restaurants in our community. It is packed every moment of every weekend and remains busy throughout the week. Picture herds of children, frazzled, hung-over parents, and lines that rival the state fair. In one of the tough, physically exhausting moments I recalled the original Karate Kid and the scene where Mr. Miyagi has the kid, Daniel, doing a series of physically exhausting, repetitive tasks such as cleaning and waxing a lot full of dirty old cars–"wax on, wax off.”
Daniel comes to learn that the purpose of this work was to practice moves that were vital to accomplish the goal of his training: the Karate match to fight the man who has been bullying him. I thought of this movie as I started to notice all the little ways that the repetitive tasks at the donut shop are conditioning me for my major battles to achieve my dream. Here are some of the moves that I’ve learned:
Don’t overthink it
How much of your work can be done from muscle memory? My brain is used to being involved in every action, chattering away about this and weighing in about that. I noticed during my first rounds of counting the change drawer, my brain chimed in: “Was it 60 cents or 70 that I counted?” (yep, folks my brain cares about seriously mundane crapola sometime). And then the perfectionist in me would recount it. But if I could set my brain chatter aside and let my hands do the counting or my body remind me of the next action I need to take opening the restaurant, it was all so much easier and less exhausting. With sewing and drawing this is important. When I make mistakes with basic sewing tasks it usually has to do with my brain rattling away about some fear and questioning my muscle memory and thus interfering with my hands. How much of your life can you do from muscle memory? What happens if you actually let your muscles direct you for this work?
In a super fast-paced restaurant where you are short on time for a lot of tasks, the work forces you to rapidly prioritize. Often this goes back to not overthinking it. Move from one task to the next and address the most pressing one first. And then I get home and my ability to prioritize budget, versus executive summary versus responding to that email is much less laborious.
Watch the self-talk
You know what makes you feel super tired after a long shift that started in the wee hours of the morning? Telling yourself how tired you are. I am not advocating for ignoring when our bodies need rest, but sometimes you have to work a long shift, then conduct an interview, and then go to your super brutal art class. On those days, ban the phrase “I am so tired” and drink lots of water. Also, the stories we tell ourselves around the work are really important. A personal favorite that I battle with every week: “I am so tired from working that I can’t actually do the creative work I’m working for.” Usually this is patently untrue. Take a power nap and get sewing. With all the time I spend with this story, my work could be in the Louvre by now.
Consider what kind of fuel you eat
Most of the time when I genuinely feel like crapola it is because of what I’ve been eating. What you eat and drink affects your mood, your stress, your energy and your ability to get a good night sleep. This is different for everybody. It is worth investigating what your optimum fuel is, because it could be that you do genuinely have time to pursue your dream if you are eating the right things and taking care of yourself. A side note here – I find that eating healthy takes time but is worth every moment I invest in it by having the clear, calm energy to do the work I love.
Don’t go it alone
The natural inclination of this overachiever is to try to do everything as good as I can and to do it all myself. The whole dinning room is crowded with dirty dishes and needs to be cleared–I’m going for it! And then I find that I’ve run myself into the ground and still have many hours left ahead of me at work. (This is a great parable for my work life in general.) Nope – you got to learn to think of yourself as part of a team. It is so simple that it is easy to forget. You don’t need to do it all. Your community has your back. No body needs to be worn down when there are lots of hands working on a problem.
Use your whole body and be present with your movements
Serving plates of hot food and fancy hot beverages was a great wake-up call for how uncoordinated my body was after years sitting in front of books and a computer. Broken plate. Eggs on the floor. Beautiful latte mostly in a saucer. Thus began the body presence bootcamp. Where are my elbows? Where are my feet? Where are my eyes? Level 2 is learning to distribute the heavy lifting from carrying plates of food to other muscles in my body. This coordination carries over to my sewing and my drawing. It is an important tenant for any active life.
If you have a “wax on, wax off” strength you’ve built from jobs you’ve worked on your dream-building path, please share in the comments.