When I first started my job hunt after graduation, I’ll admit I didn’t really understand what it meant to “have a job”. Of course I understood that people defined their lives by their careers and where they were working, but there was a big difference between just knowing about careers and experiencing one first hand that caught me by surprise. It was as if I had such a strong visualization of what it was like to work at a full-time job that I never questioned the idea of having one in the first place. I remember during my first month of job searching feeling so lost as to what I was doing. It was the first time that I had no school or classes to get ready for which had never happened to me since before I could remember. It was completely unfamiliar territory that I was blinded to the paths that I actually had available to me. Despite already having a client that I was doing freelance work for (although I didn’t understand the real meaning of freelance at the time — hint: its not necessarily “unemployed” or “in-between jobs”) and talking with a friend of mine about business ideas, the thought or idea of not having a job didn’t make sense. Of course I could fantasize about building a business or working passionately on side-projects, but that wasn’t what “you were supposed to do” right? I was wrong, and it took me 8-9 months before I understood that not only was a traditional job not required to live a fulfilling and successful life, but that by having one, you were accepting mediocrity over doing something special or extraordinary.
The realization of what it meant to sit in a cubicle for a full-time job hit me like a ton of bricks the first week I was required to be in the office. I was used to developing with a clear head in the evenings and possibly late into the night when it was quietest. There’s something about the night that still sparks my creativity and some of the best code I was writing at the time was in 3-4 hour long sessions after the sun had set. All of a sudden I was thrown into this atmosphere where I was forced to wake up by 7 to get to work on time no matter how long I had been up the previous night. And no matter how tired I was or how little work I had to do, it was more important to be in that cubicle between the hours of 9-5 than to put all my focus and effort into a project and be passionate about it. I developed a routine of simply waking up early, going to work, plopping myself in the cubicle, staring at the clock until 5pm, then leaving to have dinner and being so tired by 7-8 that I would fall asleep until it was time to wake up at 7am again.
I started thinking there must be another way to make a living that didn’t drain all my energy or feel meaningless. Since I was already freelancing for a client before I found this job, I realized it could be possible to find more clients and maybe do bigger projects especially with the help of my friend. Within a month we found a fairly large project and excitedly got to work on it. It was at this moment I started being more happier and optimistic about not only the future of a business, but also being able to get paid for doing work rather than just sitting in a cubicle. It was one of the most confusing things to me during those first few weeks that I was being paid for my time in the cubicle rather than the amount of time I spent on a project. I could walk in like a zombie and stare idly at my computer screen for 8 hours and get paid as long as I kept up with timelines.
I started not only working during the day at my full-time job, but spending my entire evenings and nights working on side-projects and building up leads for the business. I starting having the drive to do whatever it would take to become self-sufficient outside the 9-5 lifestyle. This meant spending long nights reading books about marketing, freelancing, entrepreneurship, and working on projects to build relationships with the clients we had. On an average day I was getting around 4-5 hours of sleep, but I didn’t care because I knew once I figured out how to successfully make this work that I could break out of the reliance of a full-time job. The simple inspiration of knowing there was something I was working towards – a goal, was enough to keep me going for a few months working essentially 70-80 hour weeks including weekends. It was soon after joining a Coworking space and meeting other entrepreneurs and freelancers that I gained the confidence to be passionate about living life on my own terms without a “real job”.
Finally in mid-November, the business was picking up and an author of a book I had read and been inspired by was passing through Denver and meeting up with readers on what he called The Unconventional Book Tour. I met Chris on his stop in Cheyenne, WY along with a few others at a Starbucks in a Barnes and Noble. After I told my story briefly about what I do, the business I had started, and what drew me to the book, I asked him for advice on my situation. I knew I could make enough money on this business, but I still felt trapped to the idea of a full-time job. I kept thinking about how bad the economy was and how there were probably many people struggling who would give up so much to have the stable job I did, yet here I was ready to throw it away. Was I making the right choice? Chris ended up simply telling me that when most people ask for advice, its not advice they’re looking for; they’re looking for encouragement, for someone to say “Yeah! Do it!”. So he said I already knew what I wanted to do and wished me luck on the business. The truth was I did already know. I had known for weeks, but I had just been battling with myself to figure out how best to leave the job gracefully and not upset my manager. So over Thanksgiving break I told my family, and when I returned I told my boss as I put in my two weeks notice.
It was the most freeing experience. There’s just nothing quite like having the freedom to work for yourself and build your own path.
‘Brave people don’t live forever, but cautious people don’t live at all.’ - Richard Branson.
If you’re not where you want to be, start living the life you want by taking steps towards it. All it takes is a drive that you will accomplish it at all costs.