An Interview With Sara Benincasa
On soul-destroying day jobs & exiting your creative comfort zone, one step at a time.
Sara Benincasa, if you haven't yet had the pleasure, is an amazing comedian, writer and author of "Real Artists Have Day Jobs". Her candid advice and honesty is brilliant. She's talking terrible jobs, creative comfort zones, realistic work advice and more below.
1. What's the worst day job you've ever had?
Gosh, that's a tough one. I've had many day jobs, some great, some shitty. My year as a high school teacher in the Southwest was extraordinarily difficult, but incredibly important. I would not choose to repeat it. Thankfully, I'll never have that opportunity! I do have a lot of wisdom from that time and from subsequent reflections on that time. It was not wasted. But it was very painful at times.
My job as a radio host and producer was not often fun, I can say that much. But I still learned a lot. I'd do that again. It brought me some wisdom. It brought me future career opportunities. It brought me more technical knowledge. It brought me a lot.
I've learned that if you get on well with your boss and/or coworkers, you can get through just about anything. My favorite day job was probably being a barista - in a gym! In New Jersey! Who knew?
2. You recently wrote a book, "Real Artists Have Day Jobs". What did you learn about yourself in the process?
"Real Artists Have Day Jobs" is my fourth book in four years. Good Lord, I'm exhausted. Starting to get better, I suppose. Anyway, I loved writing that book. I wrote it at the same time as my most recent fiction release, "DC Trip," a sexy nutty novel that I'm now adapting as a film.
In writing "Real Artists", I found that I had a lot to say and I was delighted to have this platform with which to communicate the lessons I've learned. It was a relief to write this book. It was fun to write this book. It's not a condescending self-help book. It's a book of hard-won wisdom based on all the times I've made mistakes and the few times I've gotten something correct the first time around. It's not just for artists, but I think I became a better artist while I wrote it.
I learned that I write best in the morning. I learned that I need to be happy with myself and my life situation in order to write the best and truest book possible. I learned that I needed to change my life, and in writing this book I gained the energy to change it.
I hope it makes people laugh happily and I hope it makes them feel less alone.
3. What would you advise someone who is scared to exit their comfort zone?
Go slow and steady and get yourself a good therapist. Sudden moves are not necessary unless you are in absolute immediate danger. Baby steps are great. Dip a tiny toe in the water. Hang out for a bit. See how that goes. Keep trying, gently. Failure is part of the giant thing we call success. Trust me. I've failed plenty. I've succeeded plenty. The two are intertwined.
The author and artist SARK wrote, "Nothing is lost." She's right. It all goes into making who you are.
4. You're the ultimate multi-hyphenate - a writer/comedian/artist/actor. Do these creative mediums complement each other? How do you keep yourself inspired?
They absolutely do. I take a little bit of time each day to myself - I try to do it consciously. Not long sometimes. A few minutes. But that helps. Taking walks helps. Looking for natural beauty in the world around me helps. The therapist helps! Good people help. Good food helps. And I've learned I can't run on fumes forever. Sometimes I create; sometimes I take a break from creating to fill the well back up, you know? It's important to enjoy other people's art rather than just going, going, going on your own.
5. You've spoken a lot about "struggling artists" and the relationship between creativity and money. How has your relationship with money evolved over the years?
Oh, I suppose I've learned that I can't pretend I don't have a problem with it. I've got to own my shit and money shit is shit! So I learn about it and read about it and put into practice some good little lessons. I've also noticed that a commitment to having fewer things - as in actual THINGS in my home - is quite a good thing.
I very rarely spent lavish amounts on designer items. I did spend too much on taking others out to dinner and lunch and coffee, purchasing experiences and items that I thought would make people love me and stay around. NOPE.
I'm in Al-Anon to work on some of that because it was often attached to being friends or lovers with folks with substance abuse problems and the sort of typical personality associated with that kind of issue. Of course, I'm got my own problems to do with being codependent. When a co-dependent person meets an alcoholic - even a dry drunk - sparks fly! And garbage often results.
My addiction to "helping" was sometimes about being a great person and sometimes about wanting to be seen as one. Martyrdom carries with it enormous ego benefits. It's hard to change that. It's hard but I have to do it to be healthier overall. And doing this work makes me a better lover, friend, family member, human.
There are many ways to recover from bad habits and I'm exploring different ways. Often I realize I don't need to "cure" something but rather to learn to manage it in such a way that I can be happy and act kindly in the world.
6. What drives you?
It's funny - until very recently, even earlier this year, I would have said "fear." Fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of not being good enough. Fear of being unloved. Fear of disappointing my father. Fear of not being independent, of having to rely on my mother. Fear of all sorts of things.
I wrote four books in four years, plus a feature film adaptation of one of those books and a pilot adaptation of another one of those books. I moved across the country from NYC to Los Angeles and then back to NYC and then back to Los Angeles. I went on book tours. I traveled to do comedy. I wouldn't stop moving. I was afraid if I stopped that I would be worthless. People would know I was broken or boring or stupid sometimes. If I slowed down, people could get a good look at me and who I really am.
Now I'm not motivated by fear.
Now I'd say I'm motivated by my own happiness. Sometimes I have to make tough choices that scare me or hurt me or even hurt other people - not in a malicious fashion, but because I've realized I can't put up with the same old bullshit anymore. Growth can hurt. There's a reason they talk about "growing pains." One knows that making a move or leaving a relationship of any kind, including a job, can feel like ripping off a Band-Aid. Or worse. But you've got to do it sometimes if you're ever going to have hope of real joy in the future.
7. Your new book talks about your tumultuous twenties. Do you have a particular life hack you can share?
Get a good accountant and a good therapist. You can shop around for both, you know. Don't just take what you're given, if you can help it. If you've not got the money for it, I suggest seeing if you can do work-trade or pay on a sliding scale. For example, I know you're in the UK, but here in the States many yoga studios will hire someone to work for a few hours a week in exchange for free classes. Things like that can really help!
Oh, and move your body! While you're doing all this work on your career and your love life and your mind, you've got to take care of that body as best you can. I've learned I love to walk and I chose to move to California (again) to be in the sunshine; to walk frequently (I don't own a car and I don't want one); and to live my life in a manner that requires me to move around more.
7. Lastly, what's the one piece of work-related advice that has stayed with you?
Work smarter, not harder. Still figuring that one out, of course, but it guides me. Spinning one's wheels mindlessly leads to burnout. Work with clever planning. And remember to breathe, and to literally - and I mean this - stop and smell the roses. All the flowers, really. Well, not all of them - that would take rather a long time. But at least once a day, take a moment to really notice something in nature. And then move along knowing you're not the only thing growing in this world.
Follow Sara on Twitter @SaraJBenincasa.