My first job after college was doing typical office work in a typical office setting. And like many people working at their first real job, I wondered how long I would last doing the same thing day in and day out.
I had been preparing for this job for years. An undergraduate degree in the field coupled with a string of summer internships positioned me for this role. My fate was sealed, or so it seemed. But I still found myself blindsided by an longing that would be impossible to ignore.
I wanted to create unabashedly.
After work, I would run home to the comforting arms of my hot glue gun to make something, anything. Glitter, paint, markers. I vomited my ideas uncontrollably. My tiny apartment was cluttered with arts and crafts projects in various stages of completion. I rarely had friends over because of the mess. The little money I had after paying rent financed trips to the art store.
I was stuck in that cycle for a year. Five days out of the week feeling creatively repressed followed by two days of unbridled, artistic explosion.
A Creative Resurgence
Then one day while on the way to my office, I heard an enchanting violinist performing Méditation from Thaïs in Grand Central Station. I was already late for work but stopped to listen. He played with his entire heart, a beautiful gift for anyone who could hear it.
The music filled me with a renewed ambition to be creative no matter where I was, whether it was climbing a mountain of spreadsheets, or swimming in a sea of cubicles. I began looking for art as if my life depended on it, because it did. And as if I had suddenly woken up, I began seeing art again in everything.
I found it in the office supply closet where I took great pleasure in looking at a neatly arranged rainbow of highlighters. That eventually led to smuggling a couple boxes of binder clips back to my cubicle where I would create abstract art sculptures. Sometimes during lunch, I would camp out in a vacant conference room while sketching the bustling Manhattan streets below. I even experimented with background fill colors in Microsoft Excel and made pixelated art.
And when I found myself working late nights, in an act of rebellion, I scribbled “I AM NOT A COPY” in Sharpie on my hand and stuck it in the Xerox machine. I printed out a dozen pages but didn’t know quite what to do with them.
Crossing the street evolved into performance art as I began to savor my moments outside of my office building, stopping in the middle of the crosswalk to admire the beautifully orchestrated chaos of midtown Manhattan. I waved to people in the building across the street hoping that someone — anyone — would notice (they usually didn’t). I people watched on the subway and made up fantastical stories about random strangers.
I soon realized that my Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job that I currently held was just another canvas, one that challenged my creativity to even greater heights. I took all that it offered me and was able to create even when the situation seemed mundane and uninspiring. It served as a training ground for my imagination and execution of artistic ideas when I had few — or no — resources at all. That typical office job was quite possibly the best thing that could have happened to me, an artist in a cubicle.