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Dream Career Toolkit: The Day Job vs. Passion Job Equation

Shawn Tolleson talks about finding that balance between having a day job to support your passion job.

Shawn Tolleson talks about finding that balance between having a day job to support your passion job.

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As you are building your career you will likely be confronted by the problem of having to earn a living as you are pursuing your passion. Unless you are a trust fund kid (and my hat’s off to you if you are!) you will face the very critical challenge of needing money, time, and energy to pursue your passion. Alongside this, you will need to spend time and energy to earn a living. Having to manage both demands simultaneously can be fatal to your passion if you’re not careful.

Here are some guide-posts I’ve developed over the last dozen years to guide my own choices and coach my clients to solving what I like to call the A Job/B Job problem.


First off, I like to call your passion your A Job and how you earn your living (if it’s by doing something else) your B Job. The reason is that “Day Job” has a negative connotation. When I hear the phrase it says to me that you are just passing your time as a wage-slave until your big break comes along.

If we rephrase the challenge into “A Job” and “B Job” it opens up several possibilities. First, your B Job can be a vocation in which you are able to learn, grow and contribute in a meaningful way, even as you are pursuing your passion. Take me for example. I’m a filmmaker, a writer and director. That’s my A Job. My B Job is career coach. But, I don’t even think of it as a B Job, let alone a Day Job. It’s a B+ Job or even an A- Job. I love it and I make a huge difference in the careers and lives of my clients.

With this in mind, here are several guideposts for you…

  1. Money: Your B Job needs to pay you enough in the time that you work that you can earn a decent living, and still have time to pursue your A Job.
  2. Time: Your B Job can’t demand that you work around the clock, leaving you no time to pursue your A Job.
  3. Synergy: Ideally your B Job has some synergy with your A Job. It’s not completely disconnected. (Example: Working in a doctor’s office versus working in the entertainment industry as an assistant or PA.)
  4. Relationships: Ideally your B Job helps you build relationships with people who can support you in your A Job.
  5. Learning: It helps if you’re learning at your B Job. Since you’ll likely spend a lot of time at your B Job, being able to grow and contribute makes it sustainable over the long haul.
  6. Flexibility: This can be really important for some people, like actors, who have auditions come up at the last minute. This might be less important for writers whose priority is to set a writing schedule and keep to it. Be clear about how much flexibility you really need.
  7. Stability: It really helps if you don’t have to keep looking for a B Job. Although with B jobs that are freelance (production comes to mind) traditional stability might not be possible. Even for freelance-type jobs, however, having a semi-regular source of employment is critical. When I worked in production I had several people who hired me a few times a year. While not “stable” exactly, I wasn’t constantly having to search for work.
  8. Variety: It’s critical that your B Job not be too similar to your A Job. Why? Take being a script reader, for example. This is often thought of as a good B Job for a screenwriter. On the contrary. I submit to you that it’s really hard after reading 3 bad scripts during the day to go home and stare at your own script. (I know, I’ve tried to do it.)

Now, it’s important to note that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find all eight of these qualities in one B Job. The key is to prioritize these for yourself and keep them in mind as you are identifying the type of B Job that is a match for you.

The two that are critical are numbers 1 and 2, Money and Time. It’s not a good B Job if it doesn’t pay you enough to live. It’s not a good B Job if you have no time for your A Job.

After Money and Time, the other priorities will depend on your A Job and your temperament. As an actor, Flexibility might be your next top priority. It doesn’t work if you can’t get yourself covered so you can go to auditions. After that, it might be Relationships and Synergy, with Stability, Learning, and Variety following.

If you’re a Director, Relationships, Synergy and Learning might be your biggest priorities. For me as a Director, Flexibility was less important, because my work as a director was scheduled with a lot of notice. I didn’t need last minute flexibility.

If you are someone who gets bored easily and can’t imagine waiting tables night after night, Learning might be the most important priority for you after Money and Time. What you are temperamentally suited for is also critical to pay attention to.

After you’ve identified your priorities, formulate them into a sentence. Example: “I’m looking for a job that pays at least $X working an average of X hours a week, with Stability and the opportunity to meet and build industry relationships.”

Be careful to ground your goals in reality. You might want to earn $100,000/year while having the flexibility to go to auditions-- having just graduated from college. But, no one will take you seriously when you share that. Clarify for yourself how much you need to earn to live (and pay for things like your health insurance) and set that goal. Take into account what things are necessities (food and rent) and what things are actually luxuries (cable TV, dinners out.)

Once you’ve done this work, start researching, talking to friends and mentors, and observing how others have successfully solved the A Job/B Job problem. Build a list of potential B Jobs and then explore your options before committing to a track. You might think that working as a PA is perfect. But, then you do your first 23 hour music video day and hate your life.

Finding the right B Job can take time. But, it is worth the investment because it will set you up to have the time, money, energy and resources to create breakthroughs in your A Job. It is tough to create breakthroughs as a make-up artist, composer, writer or producer if you are constantly freaked out about making your rent. There’s simply no space for creative breakthroughs when you’re faced with survival issues.

Finally, by giving your B Job attention and respect, you open up the possibility of having a B Job that brings your A Job even closer. I know assistants who wrote scripts, pitched them to their bosses, and then partnered with their bosses to sell the scripts to networks and studios, for example.

Best of luck to you in making your A Job/B Job equation work for you!

Shawn Tolleson is a career coach working with screenwriters and other entertainment industry professionals. She gives you the practical tools you need to accomplish your dream career. Check out blogs, videos, classes and more at!

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