Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle used the down time in his medical office to write detective stories. Isaac Newton worked for more than 25 years at a job in the Royal Mint, helping to prosecute counterfeiters and putting England on the gold standard.
The novelist Anthony Trollope got better at his craft only when he took on a civil service job in the post office (where he designed Britain’s famed cylindrical red post box). The same happened to William Faulkner on this side of the Atlantic: he was his most prolific as a writer when he was also a postmaster.
And who knew that Hedy Lamarr, the famous film star of the 1930s and 40s, had a passion for radio technology? Next time you’re on your cell or using Wi-Fi, give a nod to the screen siren for her pioneering work in prototypical 1G technology.
From moonlighting to daylighting
I knew little about the second lives of these people until I read the galley of the book we just published at Levenger Press, Don’t Quit Your Day Job. In today’s hardscrabble job market, the book provides a reassuring message: even if you don’t love your day job, you can often find ways to do what you love off hours.
Explains Levenger author Jack Lynch, “history is filled with famous people who held more than one job—real jobs, not honorary posts or mere recreation or low-prestige jobs abandoned for the dream job.” By day Jack teaches English at Rutgers University, where he recently made full professor—in between writing our book, along with The Lexicographer’s Dilemma.
“There is something unsettling about the great and powerful continuing to push the time clock,” Jack says. “We expect our geniuses to hide themselves away in attics and have little to do with the mundane concerns that occupy the rest of us.”
Yet Jack can tick off at least 100 well-known stars in their fields who aren’t so much moonlighters as daylighters. Some of them have loved both their jobs. Others have resented the one job, and this became added fuel that fired their true passions.
“Poetry and surety claims aren’t as unlikely a combination as they may seem,” observed Wallace Stevens. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet was a longtime and devoted employee of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. If he could find poetry amid insurance policies, that should give the rest of us confidence that we, too, can find ways to feed our passions and sustain our souls.
From dreaming to doing
The Labor Department reports that over the past couple years, Americans have started to watch more TV (2 hours, 49 minutes a day) and spend more time sleeping (8 hours, 40 minutes a day). Is there some time here that we can steal to do what we dream of?
The 50 famous achievers that Jack profiles in Don’t Quit Your Day Job—including contemporaries like playwright/politician Václav Havel and engineer/musician Tom Scholz—remind us that dreaming and doing can live together.
“Their interstitial lives invite us to think about how we might reinvent our own life, and reconcile our jobs with our passions,” says Jack.
How about you, dear reader—have you found a way to do what you love, regardless of what else you do? I’d love to hear how you do it.