I can still feel the quakes in my stomach as my alarm sounded at an ungodly hour.
I can feel the bumping along of the commuter bus, paired with the sad sound of a crinkling Pop-Tarts wrapper. I remember the smell of the elevator on my way up, and the relieving scent of stepping onto the street at 4:30 sharp, prepared for my hour long trip home.
During that time, all I dreamt of were excuses to quit my desk job. The initial allure of framed desk photos of my family and dog, office birthday parties, and company discounts wore off quickly. From there, I found myself spiraling into a dismal state of mind, which confirmed my suspicions that I was not, indeed, cut out for the typical nine-to-five.
I was yearning to jump into the deep end and make my own way. Having received considerable praise as a writer, I turned towards freelance writing to serve as my ship away from uncomfortable dress shirts and squeaky office chairs.
I finally did quit after another three months, with the help of a part-time internship. But it took some critical thinking to be sure a jump into the world of working for myself would be fruitful. If I’d had the experience and foresight to share some advice with myself during that stressful time, here’s what I would’ve said.
Money isn’t everything, but it deserves your attention
Growing up in a materialistic society, you were probably taught that the more stocked the bank account, the happier you’d be. And try as you might, it’s hard to let go of that age-old myth and challenge society’s (and your own) expectations.
Plus, it’s no secret that financial instability, especially in 2017, is not something to mess around with. We all have bills to pay and food to buy. These monetary roadblocks make it hard to see the big picture, which makes taking a chance on yourself even scarier.
So before taking the leap of faith into your artistic dreams, it’s a good idea to take a good look at your finances.
First, add up all of your monthly expenses, down to the very last subscription or weekly snack you treat yourself to. While you’re at it, consider weeding out any old subscriptions you barely use, or swapping a Hulu subscription for a new set of nice pens each month. From now on, try to zero in on purchases that will support you in your new career.
Maintaining stability after quitting and before selling your first piece is mega important. Anything you can do to create a safety net will help make things a little less stressful, especially if it’s awhile before your work starts selling. If that’s not something you can do right now, take a deep breath and consider staying at your job a little longer to save up.
Try your new job before giving your two weeks
If you’re feeling shaky about leaving a steady job for a life of unpredictability, you could try kickstarting your indie career first. There are plenty of places you can promote, publish, and maybe even sell your work for little to no cost to you.
Making art in your spare time is a great way to get your career off the ground; it’s an opportunity to create a portfolio and gain publicity simultaneously. It allows your actual work to exist in the actual world (or internet) for whoever finds it. Plus, without the pressure to make money right off the bat, you can give yourself time to find a niche that works for you and will hold your interest for years to come.
Though it may mean some late nights or early mornings, once you do decide to go for paying clients down the road they’ll be much more likely to hire you after seeing existing works you’ve already published. Some people spend years juggling their freelance and corporate careers to maximize income before they dive head first into it - and that works too!
Your happiness takes precedence
If you have any sense of empathy, you might spend day and after day pondering the effect your absence will have on your place of work. Heck, you may envision the entire building tumbling into chaos; papers flying to and fro while your ex-boss weeps in a corner.
Instead of sitting there sweaty-palmed and worrying about how your current employer would possibly survive your resignation, remember that your skills, as valuable as they are, are not what’s keeping the company afloat. And any good employer should be prepared to handle whatever their employees throw at them.
Also, consider the fact that your employer doesn’t want an unhappy employee. By hanging out on their payroll, miserable and unmotivated, you’re draining the system of quality work and money. And morale, of course. If you think quitting your job will be unfair to your employer, think again. You may be doing more harm than good by sacrificing your dreams to keep your day job.
It’s a big decision, and often a vulnerable one, to pursue a career based solely on your artistic (and self-marketing!) abilities. You could be feeling some judgemental vibes coming from your friends and family when they hear the words “self-employed” come out of your mouth.
As a freelancer, artist, or independent contractor, you’ll battle a lot of societal expectations every day. You’ll be told that success, happiness, and worth are all measured in profits. And you’ll need to remind yourself every day why you’ve chosen to take a different path and become self-employed.
Only one person on the planet has any clue what you should do with your life and it’s you. Rather than justifying your decision to everyone you encounter, commend yourself for finding the courage to make a change. It takes some people years to realize that they’re unhappy in their job and even longer to find the courage to jump off the treadmill. Some of the bravest people I know are artists who stop at nothing to make their voice heard. All that’s left for you to do is get yourself organized and take a chance.