Many people fantasize about quitting their jobs. Most of us don’t have the luxury to. But many of us don’t know the full consequences when one finally makes the decision to quit. This is my story of what I experienced and maybe you can learn from this to better inform your decision before you quit your job.
I quit my job in the spring of 2014.
I did it for many reasons including the desire to be closer to home (my commute was over 3 hours a day). I also did it because I just felt like it. While I didn’t have the guts to do it my 20’s, I certainly was more financially stable to do it in the early 30’s. So even though it was a long thought-out process with my parents, I ended up writing that resignation letter one morning.
I also did it because, like most of you, I had the “grass-is-greener” syndrome. I was having trouble with the idea that I’ll be working 40 hours a week for the next 30 years until “retirement” (what is retirement anyways?). I didn’t feel like I had a purpose anymore. I felt like my purpose will present itself IF ONLY I had the right job working at the non-profit, or IF ONLY I had the job working at that nice swanking office space on Madison Avenue. If only, I found out later, are two very dangerous words.
So when 2014 rolled around, I decided to make the leap. By then, I’d been at the company for over 3 years and in the same industry since I left college. If I wanted a change it might as well be now.
It’s been over 2 years since I’ve quit and this is what I’ve learnt and done:
1. A Job is it’s Job Title
At the time, when I had the job, I felt like it was the bane of my existence. Life was lived after you left work and the measly hours that were given to you by your job. A job was just a means to an end, to be able to fund one’s personal life and desires. But I didn’t realize that having a job (which most people do) also constituted my identify as well.
Most of the world works. Even if you think of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, they are after all — employees to shareowners and working on the behest of their Board. We are all employees and a job IS the job title. You identify with what you do and you identify is so ingrained with what you do. No one really escapes this. Look at the digital nomads and solopreneurs. They still have to brand themselves as digital nomads or solopreneurs. They are still their label — however self-created it is.
Think to the last Thanksgiving or Christmas party you want to? What are the most common icebreakers and topics of conversation for people who you don’t know. (“What do you do?” rather than “How do you do?, think about that one.) Even for your family, your career and work comes up likely more often than you’d like. That’s because, and I found out the hard way, that people are married to their jobs to be their identity. It’s also indicative of your social status not just at work, but in your social spheres too.
So before you quit your job, think of how your mental model is of working and employment. That’s why many entrepreneurs and mentors like Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income suggest having a mastermind group. Just being around people who think as you do and also seeing examples of the mindset where people have different mental models about these work/job labels helps you put yourself in the frame of mind. Sadly, I’m still working on this aspect.
2. Money is (not) Everything
The months leading up to my decision to quit, I was saving up and also reviewing my finances to see if I could possibly be financially independent. (The answer was a flat out ‘NO’.) Instead, I did the necessary steps to clean house: I unsubscribed from any nice-to-have subscriptions (e.g. Vogue magazine, Amazon Prime membership, gym membership) and made sure I watched my finances by using Mint to get some feedback on my spending (I should’ve probably used this even when I had the job).
But even after all of that work to decrease my recurring expense, I did fall short. I had money saved up enough to last me (by my own projections) a good six months. But those six months turned out that I had to live below my normal comfort levels — eating out very little if at all, having one drink at the bar instead of 3 etc. I can tell you that I survived it. It wasn’t anything that I couldn’t live with, but it did decrease my enjoyment levels.
How it made me feel being strapped for cash. Indeed, by all intent and purposes, I was living below the standard poverty line based on my yearly projected income and it stifled the way I lived and my creativity too to a large extent. Every time I start the car, I think about what gas prices are or how far I can go or if taking the bus will cost me less. It certainly wasn’t a fun way to live and like I said, really put a damper on my ability to feel free. In other words, I did feel trapped.
To play devil’s advocate, money really isn’t everything though. There’s been an aggregate of scientific studies that suggest money and job satisfaction have a very weak correlation. And it’s somewhat true in that the money aspect comes in at the beginning when you sign the contract and negotiate the compensation. You might think about it during your annual review and also, like me, at the end of your employment how much money you’ll need to replace your employment income.
3. Losing Yourself
This is somewhat related to point #1 (A job is the job title). My identity was tied to my job, that it was hard for me to disassociate from the job and what I do.
The fact is, that people often overestimate the pleasure they get from truly having that freedom of time and space. Like in my case, the freedom of having time, wasn’t the primary ingredient for me to self-reflect, evaluation (which was want I had intended to do). Instead, that structure that you previously were accustomed to dried up and what filled the void was emptiness.
Even though I made daily and weekly commitments, I would often miss them because I would procrastinate. After-all, there was all the time in the world! But it was the drive for me to fill the void, that caused me even greater anxiety. I began asking myself these questions: “What If I cannot find another job?”, “What if this is the end of my career?”, “What if they six month period ends and I struggling to pay rent?”.
The anxiety lasted longer than I thought and I’m still not sure how it eventually went away. I think I eventually relented and just accepted things are going to be as they are. But it was a tough first-year when I first quit my job.
4. Friends that were Benefits
The old adage that you should look for a job when you already have one — is very true. By quitting my job without having a concrete plan in mind on what I’d do next, was a big damper on my self-esteem. I lost the drive and momentum that comes with having a job, even one that you don’t feel motivated at.
What I discounted, and what you might discount when you quit your job, is that there are all these intangible aspects of being in the office that cannot be replicated otherwise. As we found out, money isn’t everything, but social interactions were so important. What’s interested is that I didn’t miss them until I had left.
It wasn’t that was ungrateful for the people that I worked with — in fact I truly enjoyed the close personal relationships I had with colleagues. They were generally smart, young, bright people just like me. I enjoyed working with them, but I still felt that itch to leave. I certainly didn’t cherish our friendships as much then as when I quit.
It’s also very awkward when you quit your job. Especially when the people at work, the ones you see day-in, day-out are not personally close friends. The circumstances at work made you into friends and the friendship stayed within those physical boundaries. Now that I’ve decided to leave that place, most of the friendships ended. And I do, in-fact to this day still miss them.
There is nothing like a hard, challenging project to bring people together. You bond over, difficult client demands, demanding bosses, late nights or tired mornings. You bond over the proverbial water cooler, out for some caffeinated drinks. The social aspects WERE your job really, building rapport on the one hand and being fulfilled by being part of a “pack”.
A “job” offered way more than financial security, it was place for you to be you and be seen.
5. Nothing is Worthwhile if it doesn’t involve a little…
Looking back and having had the time to think of why I wanted so badly to quit my job, I realized that part of the reason so that I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. I wasn’t able to see my future at the company or in that career path. I was impatient.
By then, I had been on that career path for over 8 years and aside from being bored, I was restless. I was suffering from the mindset of being future-oriented. I couldn’t see my future in the crystal ball so I decided to leave it.
This pain or suffering, as I call it, came from my impatience to suck it up in the short term for long term gain. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but this is certainly how it was for me. I chose to quit my job because I didn’t want to put in the work that was necessary now.
I know there are those that would say to “pay your dues” – though it sounds bad, there is a lot of wisdom in that saying.
Here, let me give you an example that maybe is more accessible and relatable. Have you every seen the career of acting and actors struggles? Most people in that field never “make it”. They shuffle around Hollywood or NYC to get cameo roles or small theatre productions, but most people never make enough money or are high profile enough to sustain a full-time profession as an actor.
But if you had the opportunity to watch celebrity interviews on Late Night shows or more in-depth ones like Inside the Actors Studio or Charlie Rose, you’ll notice what the common theme is. These actors careers were to take every opportunity they could find. They paid their dues, they auditioned, worked, just let the chips fell where they did. Of course, there is a degree of luck and being at the right place at the right time, but the key is to take on as many paying jobs as possible to get exposure, gain experience, gain knowledge and go from there.
If only I had a brief career in acting, would I have been more patient with how things were to turn out. There is something to be said about playing the long-game over thinking just about the short term events.
Frankly, I didn’t enjoy myself on the job and I wished I had enjoyed it more and focused more on the present and being patient with the circumstances.
Almost everyday now on Entrepreneur.com, Inc Magazine or Medium is filled with stories of people making it big. It’s achievable and possible but keep what I’ve learned in the article in mind. My general suggestion is to keep your part-time job and find other ways to increase your hours, increase your skills or increase your payout (by freelancing for example).
The summary of findings – don’t quit your full-time, 9-to-5 job. At least not yet. The best thing to do if you have an inclination to want to do something is to do it on the side. Be a Freelancer. Start a side hustle or side gig. These days it’s as easy as ever to start something on the side while still keeping your job.
And be patient. Take any gigs coming at you.