I've been wanted to share this post for a long time now, but I haven't had much time to gather my thoughts and get them together in an organised way for you. It's been 3 months since I left my full-time job, so it's high time I wrote this post.
Late last year, I decided that I needed to escape my job. I was full of self-doubt though. Why did I deserve to leave this lifestyle? What right did I have to work on my own terms? Why should I be 'free', leaving behind others to 'suffer' the 9-5 fate? There's nothing wrong with working in an office. So many people thrive in that environment, but I have always struggled with the corporate grind, wishing away the days and only feeling truly alive for my 4 weeks holiday each year.
I really should have realised all the way back when I first left school. I had worked through high school, but my first full-time job was in an office. It was stifling, and I lasted only 6 months before deciding that I really should go to uni. I applied and was accepted into two courses: Forensic Science and Interior Design. I'd always been fascinated by psychology and forensic science and was thinking I might pursue a career in crime scene analysis and/or criminal psychology. I decided that the design degree would be more fulfilling to my creative longings I'd been having, and the rest is history. Surprisingly (for me), I found all of my 'creative' jobs were not much different from my first office job. Yes, I was designing instead of filing and answering the phone, but I was designing on someone else's terms. Always corporate, always someone standing over your shoulder, and worst of all, always surrounded by office politics.
For the past 12 months, my work situation went from bearable to absolutely miserable. I don't want to go into details publicly, but it was very immature high school behaviour, and things got nasty. I decided that I didn't need to put up with it and that I would be able to survive working for myself. It was tough to keep positive when I was being told every day that I was no good as a designer, that I was worthless and lazy. I knew that the criticism was coming from a minority of people who I worked with, who were insecure, jealous, or covering their own mistakes. One day I saw Jess tweet about a company called Paid To Exist (this site is a fantastic resource). I immediately checked out Jonathan's site and subscribed to their newsletter. On his advice, I created a document that stated the day that I would quit my day job (it was August 13th, 2013).
In June, I had a meeting at work that changed my carefully laid plans completely. I did something I have never done before and walked out. Never to return. It was scary, but I simply could not put myself in a position every day where my physical and mental health was suffering. It was surreal sitting on the train coming home at lunchtime, knowing I would no longer be dragging my sorry butt into that place every day.
As I walked home from the train station, convinced I had made a terrible mistake, my phone rang. It was a company who I have freelanced for on and off, wondering what my availability was like for an upcoming job. I cannot tell you how I felt at that moment. It was the perfect synchronicity, a sign that I had made the right decision, and that everything would be OK.
I spent the first week of my 'unemployment' cutting a new showreel (I do motion graphics primarily) and creating a personal website. I published the website on a Tuesday night and emailed some former colleagues, letting them know that I was available for freelance work. The following morning, I received my first job offer. Throughout the day I had to turn down 5 more jobs. Honestly, the relief I felt was incredible. I now have the freedom to pick and choose who I work with, when I work and when I travel. I will never take my work opportunities for granted, I know that I need to continue to work hard to remain employable and I will also need to manage my life around the busy times and the inevitable downtime. But I feel a sense of possibility that was completely lacking before, my only regret is that I did not do this much sooner. I feel like a wasted a lot of time doubting myself. Please don't do this too!
Here's some tips on how to make the escape:
- Figure out how much money you need to survive - mortgage/rent, utilities, food, transport
- Cut down any costs that are not 100% essential (I changed my phone plan, stopped my organic vegetable delivery and was preparing to cancel my gym membership)
- Figure out how much money you need and save up to cover your expenses during a potential period of unemployment (my time-frame on this is ideally 6 months)
- Oh yeah, pay off all of your debt. It's probably not a great idea to take the plunge if you owe some dollars to your credit card company. Better yet, scrap your credit card altogether, or bury it under a rock in the desert somewhere, only to be dug up in case of an emergency (not a ModCloth sale emergency, either)
- Make sure that this is your passion. Make sure it will cover your expenses, and make sure that you have the skills to pull it off. Before you quit your job you will be already making money from your 'side project'. Ideally, it will be enough money to cover your expenses before you strike out on your own.
- Don't rely on one source of income. I do freelance motion graphics, blog design, graphic design for print and web as well as earning a teensy bit of money from this blog. It's really important to have some backup, in case your primary income has a slow period.
- I'll pinch this one from Sarah - (I hope you don't mind!) Consider the worst case scenario. What happens if you (hush) FAIL? Figure out what you would do if you were about to lose your house because your escape plan is not going so smoothly. You need to have a plan B, but you will also have the buffer of savings (see point #3) and enough time to take action - like getting another office job, if it comes to it.
I know that list might sound daunting. This has been my life for the past year (or more):
7.45am - Commute to work, working on blog/freelance design jobs on the train
12.00pm - Lunch break spent working on my laptop (bringing lunch from home to save time + money)
6.00pm - Commute home, working on freelance jobs/blog on train
7.00pm - Arrive home, head to gym (valuable 'off' time for my brain!)
8.30pm - Dinner and pack lunch for next day (I'll admit that C often did this for me!)
9.00pm - Work on blog/freelance jobs
1 - 2am - collapse deliriously into a fitful sleep while brain refused to turn off
Weekends consisted of blogging and more freelance design work. I feel amazed that I made it through, it has been seriously draining. The end result is SO worth it! I don't want to give the impression that I've had to do this alone, either. I've had so much support from C. At the end of the day though, I'm pretty fiercely independent and have never, ever been comfortable with taking it easy while someone else paid my way. I know people who are quite happy to take 6 months off traveling while their significant other works 6 days a week to support their lifestyle. That's just not MY style! I'm a Libran, what can I say? Plus, between the two of us, we are in a position to help out friends and family when they are in need, which is one of the best feelings.
Normally I try to keep my blog less personal than this, so I feel a little vulnerable about this post, but after reading similar experiences, especially Sarah's story, I feel like I need to share my experience to give a little hope to someone out there who may be drowning in a job that they hate, or the victim of a toxic work environment.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions for me, I'm more than happy to chat more about any thoughts you have. I have a couple of posts coming up that go into more detail on how to manage your time while you hatch an escape plan, let me know if there is anything specific that you want to know and I'll do my best to offer some useful advice!