“Dear colleagues, after many rewarding years at CubicleSlave Inc, I have decided to move on…”
99,9% of corporate employees, at one time or another, think about leaving their jobs. Their dream may be to start a company, travel the world, write a novel, learn Japanese, meditate in an ashram, train for a marathon, study philosophy, lower their golf handicap, paint a masterpiece or star in a porno, but the first step is always the same: get the hell out of this job. My co-blogger and I felt much the same way about a year ago, and ended up leaving our consulting jobs to start our own company and blog, and in general to pursue a more balanced lifestyle. We now feel it’s our obligation to share what we’ve learned so far outside the cubicle:
- 1. It’s hard to see the big picture with your nose to the grindstone
Working full-time, pushing a few personal projects on the side and juggling your family and social life to boot is tough. There are always presentations to finish, chores to do, fires to put out, lawns to mow and parties to go to, so no wonder most people never stop to think about the more profound questions in life: Am I happy? On my deathbed, will I be glad about how I spent my life? To really think about these and other questions, it’s not enough to spend five minutes on them every now and then. You need a proper break. Although it might involve some painful soul-searching, you can rest assured that after a prolonged period outside the daily humdrum of work, you will be a hell of a lot closer to answers than you are now.
- 2. A plan is better than no plan at all
Usually when you work full-time, you tend not to plan further ahead than next year’s summer vacation. Hell, most people abhor the idea of making 10- or 20-year plans, since they inevitably involve huge life-decisions and possibly admitting that one is caught in a rut as deep as the Grand Canyon. But like it or not, having a general idea of where you’re going (as well as at least rough plans B and C in case things go wrong) not only gives you confidence about what you’re doing, but also forces you to think about your priorities and ambitions. Planning ahead is always a good idea, even if you do change plans every two weeks.
- 3. Forget about what people think
Straying from your expected career path can bring out some surprising reactions in your friends and family. Concern, support, jealousy, happiness, anger, enthusiasm and negativity come forth, often from the most unexpected sources. A complete stranger applauds what you’ve done, whereas your best friend turns into a depressing black hole of negativity. Don’t take this as a litmus test of friendships (although it may serve as one), but rather just realize that you shouldn’t worry about what others think. At the end of the day, you need to make career decisions that make you happy, everything else is just noise.
- 4. Don’t worry about wasting time
Once you quit, a world of possibilities opens up: you can develop that app or write that novel or go on that course or take that trip or whatever the hell you fell like. Since people are taught early on to avoid failure, we usually think that time spent on a project that never bears fruit is time squandered. Since most kinds of paid labor will inevitably consume the lion’s share of the week, we guard our time especially jealously. After you‘ve quit, you need to lose that “my time is too precious to waste”-mindset, since it will make you hesitate with every step. Working on something with a 1% chance of success is far better in the long run than never working on anything at all. Jump into projects the moment you get excited, and jot them down to learning experiences if they fail.
- 5. It’s not about money, but it’s not about time either
There’s an old saying that when you’re young, you have lots of time but no money, and when you’re old, you have lots of money but no time. In practice when you quit, you find yourself in a situation where you temporarily have both: money you’ve hopefully saved up and time you can spend whichever way you choose. As most people might know deep down, to lead a socially active, intellectually challenging, culturally explorative and physically healthy life, you really don’t need much money. This becomes especially evident after you’ve quit. What may come as a shock though is that you don’t need unlimited free time either. The key is to know what to spend time and money on. The man who pursues his passions 2 hours a week, 50 bucks at a time is far, far happier than the idle billionaire who buys and sails aircraft carriers out of boredom. Decide what you enjoy and spend your time and money in pursuit of it.
Have you had any profound revelations that came during a prolonged break from work? Share your wisdom in the comments-section!
Ben Hughes and Sebastian Klein are former management consultants who are conspiring to take over the world in a tidal wave of awesome. Their magnum opus is taking shape at The Handbook of Awesome.