Fire Me—I’m An Artist! (Or, How Side Jobs Can Crush Your Creativity)

Love Your Side Jobs - Pyragraph

I tried.

I tried with false sincerity to work a job I didn’t like. Tied the plain white-toast apron around my teenage hips and navigated poorly-executed kitchen traffic to deliver plates of greasy non-food to budget lunchers soon to inhale it indiscriminately into their unkempt grills. I even mustered a half-smile for the dusty old man who should have known better when he commented with well-intent on my cuteness. (Gentlemen, cute is not something grown-up ladies strive to be.) I gave that gig my half-hearted all.

My first waitressing job established a record for me. I’d never been “left off the schedule” after only a half day’s work. I had lost 13 factory jobs in two years by more mainstream dismissal methods: not showing up, or getting arrested (why not?). But never had I been so unfit for a position that after only one day I wasn’t given another chance. So much for working jobs I didn’t like.

That’s what a “side job” is, right?

I mean, if you are genuinely interested in a gig, then it would be a “front job” or maybe even a “center job” where the cash is a useful side effect. But if you don’t like it and do it exclusively for the extra income, it’s a side job. I have admittedly failed miserably at 100% of my side jobs. But I think that’s because as artists we set ourselves up for failure even looking for one.

I’ve had plenty of jobs in my life that didn’t involve performing.

I’ve written for magazines, assisted a master gardener in the soil, sold freelance sculptures at art galleries. Heck, I even own two companies that service the movie industry in Hollywood today (Solid Hollywood and Happy Mandible). None of these are performance gigs, but I certainly wouldn’t call them side jobs. Why? Because I have a genuine interest in them, I enjoy the process, I learn, and I have fun. Yes, I sometimes even make money.

There is a sort of scarcity mindset one has to adopt to even look for a side job. That mindframe does not resonate with the artist. We are like little kids who play make-believe our whole lives long. Our spirits must remain untethered to explore, create, express and reflect. Just the act of doing something one does not enjoy can damage the precious artist’s spirit.

Listen, it is easy to work for money. It’s easy to robot, unhappily running the consumption and accumulation program—that’s why everyone is doing it. Artists are choosing the path less traveled and are rare and courageous for it. We are the stuff human evolution is made of.

If you ever find yourself working a genuine side job, for goodness sake, quit—or better yet, challenge your artist spirit and learn how to be creative anywhere. That spirit is a scarce and priceless spark you must nurture, that even the diners and factories would protect if you shared it with them. Even if they have to fire you 13 times before you do it.

Photo by Tonya Kay.

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About Tonya Kay

This Magickal Child from Michigan farmlands is an award-winning actress and writer, professional dancer, burlesque performer, pole athlete, danger artist, stunt woman, world-traveling conservationist, raw vegan celebrity and living proof of what a child raised in love grows up to be.

You’ve seen her on TV’s “Criminal Minds,” “Glee” and “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien”; in The Muppets, The Lone Ranger and Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant movies; in Rolling Stone, TV Guide, SPIN, Inc. and Vertical magazines; and on stage with STOMP, De La Guarda, Panic At The Disco and the Lalas Burlesque.

When she is not road-tripping to see her favorite heavy metal rock bands play live or rebuilding her 1965 Buick Riviera classic hot rod, Tonya Kay is seeking out organic farmers markets, sustainable vineyards and life-changing art. It is this renegade’s passion to shape reality, push evolution, exist in love and take the whole wide world along for the ride.


  1. billy on September 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    word up. I think the true sign of an artist is to find humor/stories/performance in things that normally bum other people out. In other words, getting fired is no big deal as long as you get a good story out of it.

  2. Tonya Kay on September 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Haha. I just said today that everyone makes mistakes. It’s what you do with them that makes art.

  3. Daphne E. Stanford (@TPS_on_KRBX) on September 6, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Great article — thanks! :-)

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