Today, I officially left my 9-5 office job.
After spending 3 years in a corporate environment, at jobs that I didn’t feel connected to, I’ve decided to change how I spend my days and what I will spend my time doing.
For the next year, I will dedicate myself to pursuing my interests, self-directing my learning, living a healthier lifestyle, and working on projects I find fulfilling.
My goals for the year are:
- Complete a diploma in web design
- Build at least one web community
- Travel solo for the first time, and
- Create an income stream doing something I enjoy
Taking a year off work will use a chunk of my personal savings, but I see this as an investment in myself and my well-being.
It took courage to leave my job, but I have to believe things will come together if I do what feels right.
How I got to this spot
Since I was young I followed what I thought were the safest paths – I chose to study math instead of design, and worked in banking instead of non-profit.
At the age of 27, these choices led me to a well-paying job at a large financial institution with a good title and decent responsibilities.
My current (and past jobs) were adequate, but they never felt right for me. From the first time I stepped into a cubicle environment when I was 19, things didn’t feel correct. But over time I accepted not loving your job was normal because most people I knew felt the same way.
For a long time I didn’t know what to do about not loving my job, or that I could even do something about it.
Why I finally quit my job
I’ve daydreamed about leaving my day jobs before, but a few realizations made me follow-through this time:
- Time will pass no matter what I do. If I don’t leave my job now, I’ll still want to leave 6 months from now, and I would have let 6 months go by without making any progress in myself.
- If I pursue what I enjoy, I should attain at least the same level of success and income as I have doing what I don’t fully enjoy. By doing what I’m interested in, I will find ways to create and spot opportunities for myself.
- There will never be a good time to quit. The economy will always be uncertain, my workplace will always be short-staffed, I’ll always have expenses to fund, and I’ll always feel nervous about leaving behind a stable income.
If there is never going to be a good time to quit, then the best time is now.
Common questions I’ve been asked
1. Wow, how are you paying for this? Why one year?
A year felt like the right amount of time – long enough for things to happen, but short enough to keep me focused on why I’m taking this time off, which is explore my interests and find an income stream from doing something I enjoy.
Also, a year of expenses was a reasonable amount for me to fund from my savings, this includes living costs, tuition fees and travel expenses. By having enough resources to comfortably fund my year off, I had no excuse to not do it. In total, I’ve budgeted about $25,000 dollars for the year (more about this later.)
Most likely, I will start generating income before the year is over by working on projects I’m interested in.
2. That’s a lot of money, don’t you have other uses for it?
When I looked at my financial resources, I saw two paths:
- Use my savings towards a home and continue working my day job to pay my mortgage, or
- Use some of the money to fund time off, and to see what can happen if give myself space to explore my interests
Choosing to explore for a year just felt right.
3. You wouldn’t be able to do this if you had kids
Whether you’re single or have dependents, your path will be not be exactly like mine. You might have more assets because you’ve been working longer, or you may have other responsibilities even if you don’t have kids.
Variations of taking a year off could be taking a half-year leave, working half-days instead of full days, or waiting until you accumulate more funds.
Kids or not, if taking time off from work is right for you, and you’re ready for it, you’ll find your own way of making it happen.
If you are thinking of quitting your job one day or taking extended time off, here are some ways to prepare yourself.
1. Have an emergency fund
Have enough funds to comfortably cover your expenses over the period you want to take off. Factor in living costs, education, travel and other expenses.
Even if you’re not planning to leave your job, you may still want to maintain an emergency fund large enough to cover a few months of expenses in case of any unexpected events.
An easy way to build your fund is to set up an automatic saving plan that saves a portion from each paycheque. For example, you can start with saving 10% of your after-tax pay, or an amount that works for you.
2. (Re)discover your interests
Do you want to quit because you hate your job, or do you want to quit because you want to pursue more fulfilling?
Before you leave your job, you should have an idea of how you’ll spend your days instead. It might be easy to know what you’d do the first few weeks or months (most people would probably travel), but what about afterwards?
Here are some of the questions I asked myself when I was figuring out what I’d pursue if I left my job. If you can’t answer these questions immediately, just let the questions simmer. It took me over six months to answer these questions with clarity.
- If money was no issue, what would your ideal day be? (Be as specific as possible – how do you feel, what would you feat, who would you see, what would you do?)
- What do you enjoy talking about? (List everything you can think of, from technology, art, philosophy, photography, etc. What are you good at explaining to people?)
- What do you want to learn more about and how would you learn it? (Do you want to know more about a topic, learn how to design or build things, how to interact with people? Would you take classes or an internship?).
There are no right or wrong answers, these questions will help you understanding what you’ll pursue when you have complete control over how you spend your days.
3. Set your last day and tell everyone
Writing down a date for your last day and start telling people about your goal. This gets the wheels in motion towards your dream, even if you don’t know how to get there yet.
Keep your date in sight
By having a date set and keeping it at the top of your mind, you will naturally start creating the path to get there.
It’s like if you’re running a marathon in a year, you may not know how to start, but you’ll know you have to train, change your diet, and find gear – with that big picture, you’ll be able to fill in the details.
The first time I seriously considered leaving my job was in August 2009. It was a crazy idea, but I put it in my calendar anyway and set August 2010 as my last day. Soon after, I started telling a few friends about my plan.
Tell as many people as possible
The more you talk about it like it’s a fact (“My last day is X, I’m taking a year off to pursue A, B, C”), the sooner it becomes reality and you also become accountable for your goal.
It’s scary to tell people at first. Even up to the week before my last day, I was nervous to tell people what I’d be doing with my time off.
After all, what if after a year I failed at all my goals? What if my web designs suck, I chicken out from travelling solo, or end up being a starving artist who has to go back to working in an office again?
However, the more I told people about my plans and what my goals were, the more liberated I felt and I ended up receiving a lot of support from friends and colleagues.
If leaving your day job is a serious goal for you, but you’re not ready to tell the world yet, start with telling just one friend. You can also tell strangers online by leaving a comment below or write to me about it, I love emails :)
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~Andre Gide
Are you thinking of leaving your job to pursue something else? Share your thoughts below.
Other articles you may like
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- Lawyer turned photographer: Interview with Holger Mette
- Leaving a Job, Travelling Solo – Highs and Lows of An Unforgettable Year
- 6 Months of Travelling Alone – a Safety Update
- The Joy of Not Working (book)
- 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job (article)
- Oprah’s Stanford Commencement Address (video)
- Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech (video)
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