Review: "Real Artists Have Day Jobs" by Sara Benincasa

by RJ Newell

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Real Artists Have Day Jobs (and Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School) is a collection of 52 luminous essays.

In other words, this book contains 52 sweet reasons to say, “Wow, this book really gets me.” 

Sara Benincasa knows a thing or two about uncertainty, anxiety, and all those lovely little nightmares that come with being in your twenties. Real Artists Have Day Jobs isn’t a ‘self-help’ book so much as a ‘nobody knows what they’re doing and it’s okay’ book. Wisdom comes from experience, and Sara Benincasa has plenty to share. 

For anyone who struggles to reconcile what they do with how they make their living, the author offers a loving, validating, swift kick in the pants. After spending the last year swinging between bouts of identity terror and career anxiety, I really needed to read this. If you’re a human who worries about why you’re here, Real Artists Have Day Jobs is for you.

While Sara will be the first to tell you that she is not a life expert by any means (“I have always been suspicious of those who give advice without admitting their own misdeeds and missteps…” she writes), sharing her own fears and mistakes was what made the advice so real. 

In ‘It Gets Better, Mostly,’ Benincasa takes us on a very honest exploration of her lifelong battle with mental illness. Now that she’s become a successful writer and comedian, Sara is sometimes asked to speak to high school kids about her agoraphobia, panic disorder, and major depressive disorder…but it isn’t like she magically got better one day. The last thing she wants is to mislead others into thinking there’s a quick solution. The best we can do is to grow from our struggle. Life will never be perfect, but that’s okay. There are plenty of reasons to keep going, and there are people who love you. 

Sara Benincasa loves you. That’s why she wrote this book. 

These 52 essays cover pretty much every topic I’d ever wanted to hear honest advice about. I loved hearing the author’s quirky and no-nonsense perspective on career, self-care, relationships, dealing with less-than-loving family members, asking for help, masturbation, and wearing weird hats. If you’re worried about anything – anything, at all - I highly recommend this book.

Reading Sara Benincasa’s Real Artists Have Day Jobs is like getting a back massage from someone who knows where all the knots are. She knows pain, because she’s lived it. She also knows success, and has done some really powerful things with her art. (I mean, have you seen The Focus Group?) But most importantly, Sara knows failure. Imperfection is ultimately more motivating than winning all the time. 

One of my favorites of her essays is called ‘Do It Anyway.’ It begins with a list of things Sara is very bad at. It’s wonderful to know that for every talent we possess, there are at least ten things we are terrible at. And it’s okay. “Do it anyway.” Making progress requires abandoning what you know and trying things that you’re “mostly okay at.” This book would not have been written if Sara had waited until she felt it would be good. She worried, like the rest of us. She panicked, like most of us. She did it anyway. And that’s how Sara Benincasa wrote Real Artists Have Day Jobs. 
Just go ahead and read it, already. You’ll be glad you did.