Quit Your Day Job – 15 Practical Ways to Start Now

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Want to quit your job? 15 easy ways to start your journey

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When I left my day job in April 2010, an overwhelming number of people told me they wanted to quit too but had no idea how to start.

After reflecting on my own journey, I’ve identified 15 simple but important actions that helped me find the clarity to leave my job.

Some of these actions were inspired by articles or books, some I made up, and some were things I was already doing.

If you feel stuck in your situation, I hope these 15 practical tips will kick-start your journey towards your dreams. Let me know what you think or add your tip below.

1. Declutter and give your dreams space to grow.

Open space facilitates thinking, creativity and gives you room to work towards your dreams.

No matter what your goals or aspiration are, they need space to manifest. If you want to be a photographer, you need room to process your photos and space to display your work; if you want to be a chef you need an organized kitchen to cook in.

Decluttering brings you closer to your dreams by removing distractions, and creates room for new things to flow into your life.

Uncluttering is not easy – it took me years to fully declutter (up to last spring, I still had math tests from high school). However, I promise you will be rewarded with a great sense of relief, lightnes and freedom afterwards.

An effective way to start:

  • Pack all your clutter into boxes
  • Take things out of the boxes only as you need them
  • After 3-6 months donate all the remaining items in the boxes (if you haven’t used something in 6 months, it’s unlikely you’ll use it again ever)

If you prefer to unclutter item by item, look at each item and ask yourself “would I replace this if it broke?” – if the answer is no, it’s not worth your space in the first place.

2. Build an emergency fund.

Whatever you want to pursue after quitting your job – world travel, a different lifestyle, new skills – you will need financial resources to fund it. To start building your dream fund, begin saving now and trim unnecessary expenses.

Key benefits from having enough money to cover your time off are:

  1. Money is no longer an excuse to stay at your job
  2. You can focus on pursuing your dreams without worrying about how to make ends meet

How to start right now:

  • Open a savings account just for your goal and set up an automatic savings plan from your paycheques. Start with 10% of your pay and increase the amount until it hurts.
  • Consider which expenses you’re willing to cut back to quit your job faster, for example drinking 1 less Starbucks coffee a week, subscribing to fewer TV channels, or eating out less.

3. Follow your “white rabbits.”

Can't wait to quit your job? 15 ways to start nowEvery captivating or moving moment we experience is a signpost pointing us towards our destiny.

In Alice in Wonderland and the Matrix, the white rabbits are clues that lead the characters to places where things are possible beyond their imagination. The only way to find your own magical place is by following your white rabbits.

This was how I discovered my interest in web design. It started with reading a blog; finding more great blogs; discovering the software behind blogs and websites, learning about social media, marketing and user interface design; wanting to make my own websites and blogs; taking classes; and then realizing I want to pursue this path. I would’ve never found this path if I didn’t follow my curiosities.

Tips on white rabbits:

When you see something captivating, follow your curiosity and learn more about it. If a book catches your eye, buy it, read it and find more books. If you want to learn photography, take a class, find online tutorials, and ask questions on forums. If you see someone interesting on the bus, talk to them. If you have a brilliant idea, research and discuss it with people. You owe it to yourself to explore these opportunities.

4. Find people doing what you want to do.

Whatever you think you want to pursue, surround yourself with people doing the same thing.

This gets you to your goal faster by making yourself realize your pursuit is possible and normal, and by learning from the experiences of people already doing what you want.

The thought of a non 9-5 lifestyle used to be foreign to me, but the more people I talked to, or knew of, living a fulfilling life away from the corporate environment, the more that idea became “normal”. After a while, leaving my grey cubicle seemed a natural step because I felt familiar with the non 9-5 universe.

How to find people:

If you don’t know anyone with the same interests (or even if you do), I highly recommend reading blogs about the topic (the Technorati blog list is a good place to start). Bloggers are some of the most insightful and kind people I’ve met. If you feel adventurous, you can also find a MeetUp group in your city to meet local strangers with the same interests.

5. Change the way you think about “work”

Dream of quitting your cubicle job? 15 simple ways to startUntil last year, I believed that working a corporate job was only normal lifestyle to have.

Then I realized that just because I’m surrounded by people in cubicles and suits, doesn’t mean there aren’t people working in lofts, wearing jeans and making just as much money. In fact, to those people, working in an open space and wearing jeans is probably what’s “normal” for them.

Whatever you imagine work to be – gruelling tasks and low pay, or satisfying work with high pay – there are people who’d consider that “normal.” Whatever you picture your dream work to be, it’s just a matter of making your dream your reality.

How to start:

3 books that really shifted my views on working are The Joy of Not Working, Real Success Without a Real Job and The 4-Hour Workweek. These books opened my mind to the idea that success isn’t necessarily tied to a job and working intelligently is more important than working hard.

6. Practice taking risks

Leaving your secure day job to pursue your dreams might seem like a big risk. The only way you’ll work yourself up to taking big risk is by practicing taking small risks.

Practicing small risks will also help you overcome personal fears so you can explore more possibilities.

For example, I was afraid other people wouldn’t approve of me if I was different. One day I decided to drastically change my ‘proper’ shoulder length hair to a assymetrical cut (think Girl with the Dragon Tattoo haircut but longer) which you wouldn’t see in an office environment. Not only did I do something I was scared of, but I found that my colleagues didn’t treat me too much differently. I realized that my perceptions about how I ought to be were mostly in my head.

How to take small risks:

Start by doing small things you normally wouldn’t do or are afraid of doing. If you always wear plain colours, add a bold coloured accessory. If you’re concerned with how people perceive you, wear an unfashionable shirt to work. If you’re shy, say hi to a stranger in a bookstore. If you’re scared of being criticized for quitting your job, put up a blog and tell the world your goal. Do one thing that scares you every week.

7. Tell friends, loved ones and strangers.

Want to escape your cubicle? 15 steps to take nowSharing your goals with people around you creates positive pressure to achieve your dream and you’ll have supporters to give you encouragement as you face hurdles in your journey.

Also, the more you articulate and think about your goals, the more your mind will naturally find opportunities to achieve those dreams.

How to start:

Start by telling people who will be supportive of your aspirations. Your loved ones may even help you get there sooner by introducing you to people with your interests or by helping you brainstorm ideas of what you’d like to pursue.

I also recommend telling a stranger about your plan (the bookstore is a good place to find someone). As unconventional choices always face scrutiny (and quitting your day job is considered unusually), talking to people now will prepare you for standing by your dream when you face criticism in the future.

8. Surround yourself with brilliant ideas.

In our daily interactions, we only see a fraction of what’s happening in the world. Not only are there people working on projects at the edge of our imagination, there are people discovering things beyond our wildest dreams.

The more you expose yourself to new ideas, the more your mind expands and discovers magnificent opportunities in the world. Any one of these new ideas could inspire you and lead you down a deep rabbit hole to your calling.

Where to find brilliance:

  • Ted Talks has fascinating lectures from experts inhuman behaviour, technology, science and more
  • Talks@Google features talks at Google office from prominent authors, professors and politicians

You can also sit in on lectures at the local university or make a point to browse through sections of bookstores you normally don’t look at.

9.  Read lots and lots of books.

Can't wait to leave your job? 15 tips to help you start now“Thirty minutes a day will make a delightful difference in your life because you will quickly start to see the vast reserves of knowledge available for your use. Every answer to every problem you have ever faced is in print. If you want to be a better lawyer, father, friend or lover, there are books out there what will rock you to these goals. All the mistakes you will ever make in your life have already been made by someone else.” ~ The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

In addition to books, I also recommend finding good blogs to read. Much of my personal journey this year was guided by great blogs and books on personal growth.

How to read more:

Set 30 minutes a day for yourself to read. Reading a beautiful book before bed is a great way to end the day and to sleep better. Books I recommend are

Blogs I highly recommend are Think Simple Now and Zen Habits. To save time, sign up for the blog’s email newsletter to get new articles delivered right to you.
[Subscribe to Explore for a Year by email as well.]

10. Be more of yourself.

We often spend too much energy doing what we think we should do, or pleasing other people, that we end up hiding ourselves. After spending years doing something “you don’t mind”, it’s easy to lose touch with what you’re really passionate about.

By starting to do less of what you don’t like, you’ll free up energy and time to pursue what really speaks to you.

When I was working, I felt drained every morning just putting on dress clothes and shoes. Once I decided I wanted to be more myself, I went from dress shirts to sweaters, from stiletto heals to flats, from lots of makeup to none. As I transitioned to being more “me”, it became clear that my job environment didn’t fit who I was and it felt natural to leave.

How to be more of you:

Take notice of what zaps your energy. For example acting or dressing in a certain way, participating in activities you don’t enjoy, gossiping about things you’re not interested in. Every time you identify something you don’t really enjoy, break the cycle by doing less of it or completely stop.

When you find something that excites you or makes you feel great, spend 15 minutes each day doing more of it. Find other people doing the same thing, or tell your friends about it. I guarantee you’ll soon feel happier, clearer and more energized.

11. Envision your ideal day.

Quitting your day job - 15 ways to start nowIf you had the freedom to completely self-direct your day, how would you use your day?

Being able to answer this question is essential to leaving your day job.

Questions to think about for your ideal day include:

  • What time would you get up and how would you feel?
  • What projects would you work on?
  • What would you spend your time learning?
  • Who would you see during your day?
  • What will you eat for each meal?
  • What would you wear?
  • What physical activities will you do?
  • How would spend your evenings?

Imagining your ideal day is a great self-discovery exercise. When I first did this exercise 2 years ago, I pictured myself going to work happy and coming home still feeling energized. I knew how I wanted to “feel” in my ideal day, but I couldn’t picture what projects I would actual work on. I realized I hadn’t discovered what I wanted to do with my time, so I had to reflect more on what I was passionate about doing.

Picturing the details of your ideal day is challenging, but over time your vision will become more clear and aligned to who you are. The details you have trouble picturing indicate areas of yourself you need to explore further.

Here’s how to start:

Spend 10 minutes every morning and evening envisioning how you’d spend your day using the questions above. Try to account for every hour of the day and fill in as much details as possible.

12. Live a bit of your ideal day, everyday.

Once you have an idea of what your ideal day looks like, start living some of it everyday.

Even if you can’t quit your 9-5 immediately, you might be surprised by how much of your ideal life you can incorporate into you daily life right now. We often put our goals off into the future without taking action now, but that someday will never come because the only way to achieve goals is to start taking action in the present.

If your ideal day includes drinking delicious smoothies every morning, then start drinking those smoothies now. If you want to write a novel, craft a title and outline on your commute now. If you’d want to spend more time with your spouse, start now by holding them 5 extra minutes every day. Whatever you imagine your ideal day to be, start incorporating elements of it into your life now.

How be live more now:

Begin by adding small aspects of your ideal day into your life, such as food you’d eat and what you’d wear. Slowly add in the people you aspire to spend time with and the skills you’d want to learn. Take 15 minutes every evening to pursue your interests. If you do this for 2 weeks, you’ll be surprised by how much of your ideal day you can have right now.

13. Try it out for a month.

Wanna leave your cubicle? 15 ways to start nowOnce you have an idea of how you’d spend your days if you weren’t working, take an extended vacation to see how it actually turns out.

Taking a trial period will help you discover:
1. If you actually enjoy living your ideal day
2. If you feel as engaged in pursuing your interests as you imaged
3. How well you can handle structuring your own day

Tips for your trial month:

Keep a daily journal on the events of your day and how you felt about it. Did your day go as expected? Did you feel the way you anticipated? Is there something you want to do differently tomorrow?

Tips on asking for time off:

  • Ask like you’re expecting to get it, e.g. “I would like to take a month off in [insert month] to do X Y Z.
  • State this important for you and tell them the time off would energize you, e.g. “This is important to me and would really refresh my mind.”
  • Check the company vacation policy to prepare for your discussion. If you don’t enough paid vacation left, offer to take part of it as unpaid vacation.

Do not check your day job email on your time off. The point of your trial month is to see how you handle planning your whole day yourself.

14. Set your last day, set 3 goals for your time off.

Once you’ve taken a trial period and know leaving your job is right for you, to set the last day of work and goals for what you want to accomplish during your time off.

Tips on setting the last day:

If you’re still building your emergency fund, choose a day far enough in the future to ensure you have enough funds for your time off. If you have enough money but are working up the courage to resign, choosing a date will force you to start preparing to leave.

Be professional and kind to everyone at work, be prepared for lots of congratulations, as well as criticism from people. Don’t let un-constructive remarks distract you, they have no effect on your ability to live your dreams.

Tips on setting goals:

Having specific and measurable goals for your time off will keep you on track. For example, “I will write 300 pages of my novel”, “I will complete my Diploma in Interior Design”, “I will create income doing something I enjoy.” Remember to keep your goals at the top of your mind by putting them up on your wall and sharing them with people so they help hold you accountable for achieving them.

15. Have faith things will work out.

Want to leave your job? 15 practical steps to takeLeaving your secure daytime job and salary may seem daunting, but is no reason why you can’t achieve extraordinary things when you do what feels right.

If you got this far in your current career without being passionate, imagine what you can accomplish if you pursued something you’re actually interested in.

Tips on believing:

When you are following your heart the universe will conspire to help you. Think back to coincidences that lead to great opportunities, chance encounters that lead to beautiful friendships, or random events that changed the direction in your life.

Parting words

I hope these tips give you a kick-start to pursuing your dreams.

If you’re ever scared and are tempted to stay in your unfulfilling job, remember that working in a cubicle is not your destiny, neither is chasing an impressive title or a salary. There are much more extraordinary things waiting to happen in your future.

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.” ~Jesse Jackson

>> What do you think of these tips? Is there anything you’d add to this list? Share your thoughts below.

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  • Wilson Hong

    Hi Lily, great tips, if you ever get tired of your day job again, you might want to consider giving career coaching a try. There are lots of people, students etc who would need some help at one point or another :)

  • Yan_zhi07

    Loved this post Lily! Very inspiring!

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  • Ry

    Inspire

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  • L.O.V.E. lily, i’ve just bookmarked this to serve as a reminder and support for times i get freaked out by what i’ve just done. thanks for an excellent post that is sure to help LOTS of people get a little closer to their dreams. love how you’ve offered tips within each point, and white rabbits?? genius. :)

  • I love the fact that I’m reading this now as I already set the day that I’m going to quit to go on my RTW.  I’m leaving in March of next year, so now I’m in the trip planning process and “new lifestyle” preparation.  Great post! 

  • I was thinking about this last week.  I am not sure I could quit my job but last week was as close as I have ever come to thinking about it.  I love these ideas – so practical and creative.  If nothing else, I have been inspired to travel more so I will still use these tips to make my travels worthwhile.  Will wait and see with the job though!

  • Flipnomad

    great tips!!! everything is geared towards acting on your vision… i just got the 4 hour work week and will read it later… heard a lot of great things about it….

  • This is a great list!  I like your “white rabbit” reference. 

    I also was very inspired by 4-Hour Work Week.  It was what kicked me in the ass to create a plan and actually start executing that plan to quit my job and travel.  I haven’t found my “muse” yet, but at least I’m doing what I love.

  • Kelly

    This is amazing! Great tips. Good for you for finally doing it! 

  • Great article, Lily!  :)

  • This is my favorite thing I’ve read all week! You really put a smile on my face because I think I’m actually doing most of these already. The “white rabbit” idea is so true too. About a year ago, I took a travel writing workshop that had a guest speaker who talked about blogging. I never even considered having my own blog until that day, but now my blog is a huge part of who I am. :)

  • Great tips – I love the one about following your “white rabbits”!  Hopefully this will inspire and inform a lot of people.  :)

  • Very well written Lily and this sounded like it really came from your wise heart. Did you ever imagine that you would be at this point in your life where you are able to inspire others? Wow, right?

  • Very well written Lily and this sounded like it really came from your wise heart. Did you ever imagine that you would be at this point in your life where you are able to inspire others? Wow, right?

    • Graciel, you just warmed my hear with your comment. I just know that when I started the journey, I was confused, sad and miserable. It was so hard to talk about it and it seemed that normal people around me just accepted it was “normal” to feel disconnected from your job or lifestyle. Breaking out of that mentality was hard for me, but I think I was also lucky from having come across great people/books/blogs that really guided my journey.

      Yeah, I think “wow” would accurately describe how I feel when I look back!

      – Lily

  • This was the perfect post for my friend, who is in a rut and doesn’t know where she wants her career to go. I showed this to her in hopes that she’ll consider taking some time off, and really think about what she wants out of life. The world is too big and there’s too many opportunities to be stuck doing what you don’t like doing.

  • Very insightful! I believe a lot of anxiety and anguish could be avoided if we were to have asked ourselves after high school, "Do you see yourself working a shift, getting money and then enjoying free leftover time? Or do you see yourself pursuing your own means to provide income and delegating your own time." This would allow a lot of us to discover our paths early on.

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  • Great ideas. You laid out a bunch of very good ideas on ways to slowly disengage yourself from the 9-5 grind.

    To be honest I wish you had written this years ago, I would have saved me a lot of angst and turmoil.

    I really like your points about

    a. reading more

    b. surrounding yourself with brilliance

    I am a huge reader. (Well I read fiction and LISTEN to self help books while running) and I think that has helped me as much as anything

    and surrounding yourself with brilliance is an excellent concept

    I truly believe what Jim Rohn said, "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with"

    Thanks

  • Excellent read. I'm taking away many things to help me on my own journey. Thanks much for sharing.

  • Amy

    Wow, so many great ideas! My ideal day…well, it's (almost) today, but I don't do this every day. But I'm working on it :) You mentioned TED talks, my friend put me onto them and I love 'em, my favourite so far is this one about eating to starve cancer: http://www.ted.com/talks/william_li.html

    • Lily

      Thanks for the TED talk recommendation Amy – I've bookmarked it for my weekend. It's incredible how many leading-edge and inspiring presentations there are on that website! All the best on your ideal day/20 hours journey :)

  • Tom Brussels

    Excellent blog post and very inspiring! Thank you!

    • Lily

      Thank you Tom. I look forward to sharing more articles with everyone on a weekly basis :)