I left my 9-to-5 desk job on July 14, 2015. You know the saying that we “have no control over external pressures, so why should we worry”? We should worry because there’s certainly a point where we can control what external factors affect us. I wanted to control how stress enters my life, and one of the easier stressors to change was my job. Anyways, I had been getting the entrepreneurial itch a few months prior, so leaving my desk job just seemed like the right thing to do. I put in my two-weeks notice on July 1st, 2015.
For me, as long as I could afford to eat hot food, live in my own house, and spend REAL-QUALITY time with my family, then I could be an independent for as long as wanted.
The goal of this post is to detail how I took that jump, and how I learned to fly on the way down. Please keep in mind that this is purely anecdotal, and while I hope that this helps someone out there to take charge of their own lives, I do realize that everyone’s circumstances are different. Your mileage may vary!
The be-all, end-all excuse for most people. When I left my job, I had a little under $10,000 in the bank. That could have afforded me 2 months of living expenses, or perhaps 3 if I wanted to stretch it out. Since I didn’t want to stretch it, I realized I needed a source of income prior to jumping ship. This was Risk #1: Not Enough Savings to Cover Living Expenses.
I’m sorry if you are reading this hoping to figure out my “secret”, or whatever, to make it big out on your own. Unfortunately, I’m incredibly far from “big” or having “made it”. However, I have been living frugally and comfortably for the past five months. I know if my A.D.D. brain can sit still long enough to figure out a personal finance system that works for me and my family, then certainly you can as well.
What worked for me is making sure that every purchase was at least 1) a necessity or an important creature-comfort, or 2) something to grow your business. This is so strong in me now that I picked up, then immediately put down Fallout 4 multiple times at the store before finally buying it a few days later. I finally rationalized that fun gaming time is needed after 3-4 months of hard work. Anyways, I cannot explain how difficult that is for someone with A.D.D. Those of you who know me know that I can be impulsive at times… the energy required to combat that impulsiveness is immense. You really, REALLY need to be mindful whenever you pull out your wallet. Otherwise it’s back to a 9-to-5, and no one reading this really wants that. My point is: if I can be mindful of spending, you can be mindful of spending.
Flying Lesson #1: Make a budget/chart for what you need and want, and make sure you have enough to cover that before you jump.
You really can’t read a “What I Learned from Quitting My Job” article without a Time section, right? Of course not! Time, in this case, is referring to personal time. For me, my most important goal was to be able to keep my 9-to-5 lifestyle without having the 9-to-5. Unfortunately, as a freelancer, that meant I needed to work more hours to bring in same amount of money. Obviously this doesn’t jive with my requirement that I must be able to spend quality time with my wife and doggies. I needed to make time.
Given that we all only have the same 24 hours in a day, time-management became an issue. I couldn’t have personal time if all of my effective hours were being spent on client work.
Here you have Risk #2: Spending All Your Time For Work.
Spending all of your time in development/production meant no strategizing, no working on your own projects, and most importantly, no time with family; the same people who support you in this journey. (My apologies if you don’t have a familial support group, but it’s incredibly beneficial to find emotional support of any kind.)
My strategy to deal with this came from a combination of different lifehacks I’ve stumbled across on the internet. 1) Whatever work-thing I’m doing right now, can I come up with a way to never do it again? and 2) Whatever I’m doing right now, can I just put it off?
As a programmer, obviously this can be a challenge for some things. If code could write itself, we wouldn’t be doing this. However, being programmers, we are allowed to automate many parts of our non-work lives. For example, I’ve set up all of my bills to auto-pay, a google spreadsheet adds up all of my work hours and calculates my fees for invoices, and I even automated watering my garden by running pipes from the lawn sprinkler system. These little things add up. You now have a few extra minutes each week, and also more headspace since you don’t have to worry about all the little things anymore.
As far as procrastinating goes, I’m not saying to shrug off everything and eat bagel-bites all day. I’m saying you need to examine each and every thing you’re doing to see if it’s worth the time. Opportunity cost is incredibly important as an independent; the time spent doing dishes (or doing nothing) could mean you show up at a networking event 10 minutes late and miss that chance to speak with your next big deal. I know, I know, cliché example, but you get the idea. Put off the dishes, or maybe put them in the dishwasher if you absolutely need things tidy!
My goal is to never go back to a 9-to-5. Dishes don’t care about my dreams. Also, is the bagel-bites song stuck in your head yet? Because it’s stuck in mine…
Flying lesson #2: With automation and [smart] procrastination you can actually make a bit more time in your day.
Here’s a new one for these types of posts: curiosity. The thing that makes you look behind curtains, or flip a switch in the hall to see what light it turns on. Without curiosity, I’d just be coding away, never growing. Just….robotic. On a larger scale though, I’d never discover new things that make me happy. For me, being able to learn something new, even in programming, and being able to apply it is hugely satisfying. Curiosity will keep you from becoming stale. The world around us is constantly evolving new ways for us humans to live fuller, happier lives, we just need to take notice.
Risk #3: Not living a fulfilling life.
I know, exploring curiosities can make people feel ignorant about whatever they’re exploring, and that’s uncomfortable. However, as the saying goes, you can either suffer the short-term pain of sacrifice and discipline, or suffer the long term pain of regret. Go out and do something new; if it’s not for you, then it’s not for you. But better to know now than when you’re too old to find out.
To apply this to jumping ship, though, a good example is my current dev contract. The codebase is written in Actionscript, a language that not many gamedevs enjoy. “It’s old, archaic, and dying”, some may say. Some would run with that and not take the contract for that reason alone… It was actually a little anxiety-inducing to sign that contract, I didn’t remember much of what I knew about Actionscript. Plus, I didn’t need the money, why suffer the pain of learning an unpopular skill? One month into the contract, however, I’m finding myself enjoying working with the contract and hope to keep it in my tool-belt for later projects. Even better though, I’ve met new colleagues who are both fun and experienced with making games. I never would have gotten that if I wasn’t open to trying new things.
Flying Lesson #3: Keep your mind open in order to find new and fulfilling experiences.
By focusing on how I spend my time, money, and energy, I’ve been able to keep myself very happy while venturing out on my own. My wife says I’m a completely different person; smiling more and generally more happy. I can feel it. Working for myself is in my blood, and I couldn’t be any happier finding this out now, even in my 30’s. I’m confident crossing “regret” off my list of fears, and I’m hoping you can too.
Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening… humm humm humm supper timeeee.