In September 2013, I walked out of my office and into the unknown. I had resigned from my job, the first after my studies, with no concrete plans as to what I would be doing next.
It had started with a request to my boss to take a three-month sabbatical. Off I went to South America to travel from Quito, Ecuador, through to Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my travels, I devoured every personal development and career book I could find on Kindle, I chatted to people I met in hostels and listened to their very different stories about what they were doing and why, and I did a whole lot of soul searching. Then halfway through that trip, I called up HR and I officially gave my resignation.
Fast-forward to today, four years later, and I’ve been on one big rollercoaster journey! I had quit without any kind of clear plan, which has led to quite a few detours and sharp turns along the way – and, to be honest, things are still evolving.
But at no point have I ever regretted my decision.
Here are 10 reasons why…
As I looked out at the world from the comfort of a steady job and a regular salary, the fear of leaving that security behind was almost paralysing. My whole life I had followed the expected path, suffering from what I now call the ‘good girl syndrome’, and breaking away from that path seemed incredibly rebellious and audacious at the time. Once I had made the decision to quit and I was committed to getting off that path, however, that fear all but disappeared. I felt empowered and excited by my ability to make things happen, and I armed myself with information by reading more books about freelancing and consulting, talking to people who had set up their own businesses, going to events where I met like-minded people and, eventually, working with my a number of coaches. I also realised that the security I had felt in my previous job was an illusion: people get fired, departments are restructured, companies fold. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you in a job that makes you unhappy.
I thought I’d made The Big Decision once and for all and that was it, tada, I was forging my own path. But the truth is that I’ve had to keep questioning myself. The call of the corporate world in the first months and years after I left remained loud and alluring: recruiters called with tempting job titles and six-figure salaries, my parents worried about my pension, and corporate clients wanted me to stay on in a full-time capacity. Each time, I had to reaffirm my decision to leave that world behind and each time, I came out that bit stronger and more determined to continue to explore and create my own version of success. In the past, I had always looked to other people for reassurance and confirmation that I was making the right decision, but I know now that I’m the only one who can ever know what’s right for me. So once you’ve made that decision, run with it, trust your instincts, and don’t look back.
In my previous job, I was surrounded by people with the same academic background and with the same ambitions of salary increases and promotions. We were all comfortable within that world and unsure of what lay beyond. As soon as I had left, though, I encountered people with diverse backgrounds, with much broader ambitions, and with altogether different priorities. Travelling in particular allows you to meet people with all kinds of plans, and lack of plans, and this is both reassuring and inspiring. It’s not about following someone else’s version of success, and that is something to watch out for as you meet people with exciting projects and ideas. The point is for you to discover what your version of success would look like. Open your eyes, and your heart, to the different ways of life that are out there and you may be surprised at the possibilities that are open to you.
With a monthly salary flowing into my bank account, I was buying clothes I didn’t need, taking taxis, and spending money with no thought of the future. Being ‘unemployed’, I became more prudent: I bought less lattes, I walked more, I cancelled Spotify Premium; and I didn’t feel at all sorry for myself. As it turns out, it’s quite painless to cut down on those little luxuries! In fact, I find that your spending adapts to your income, which means that you can reduce your spending when your income decreases without any significant impact on your wellbeing; and you can also increase your spending as your income increases, again without any real impact! So, yes, you’ll need to make what may feel like sacrifices in the short term but it won’t be as bad as you think and in the end it’s what will make your goals possible in the long term. Creating a buffer of savings will give you the added security and confidence to pursue your plans.
I left my job without knowing exactly what I was leaving for. I had thoughts of travel, starting a consultancy, taking a year off ‘to write’, taking another full-time job in an exotic location or in a not-for-profit organisation… Within the first year of leaving my job, I became involved as a mentor for two start-up incubators, I was asked to run workshops via a couple of well-established agencies, I did consulting work for several big-name brands, and I gave interviews and wrote guest posts for various blogs and websites. None of these things were even on my radar while I was in my old job. I also became aware of, and grateful for, an amazing network of people who were eager to make mutually beneficial connections and collaborations. So talk to friends and to strangers, go to events where you can meet people who can help you out, and above all remain open to unanticipated opportunities from unexpected directions.
I was always looking for the right job, in the right location, in the right industry – but the reality is that there is no right answer. I wanted to work at the United Nations but ‘ended up’ in consumer goods marketing, something that was far from what I was aiming for but that allowed me to develop valuable skills and knowledge while making lifelong friends among my colleagues. I hadn’t planned to move back to London but I found great opportunities there as I was first starting out. I then spent several years as a nomad, exploring ways to build my business while on the road. And today I’m working on taking my business to the next level, once again back in London and making a base for myself here. Many of the seeds that I started sowing more than a year ago, which at the time didn’t grow into anything concrete, are bearing fruit. I realised quickly that I can’t expect to be a world thought leader and best-selling author living in my dream home from day one; but with each client, each project, each article, I’m shaping the life that I want. As long as you’re progressing in the right direction, taking one step towards where you want to be, then consider it a good move.
It was a huge decision for me to leave my job. It was probably the biggest intentional and proactive change I’d ever made. I told myself, though, that the worst thing that could happen, in the event of not being able to create what I was trying to create, was that I would have to go back to a full-time job. I know people who have decided to go back to a permanent role after a period of running their own business, happy in the knowledge that it’s the right move for them. If my business isn’t doing as well in a few years’ time, if it’s no longer bringing me what I want and need, and if I decide I want to do something else, then I can always shut it down and move on to the next thing. If I don’t want to stay in London anymore, then I can always move. Nothing is set in stone, everything can be changed – if not immediately, then over time. So give it a try, and see how it goes.
It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one with doubts, the only one not feeling fulfilled – but it’s just not true. In my ‘Fearless Fridays’ interview series on my blog, and in my real-world interactions in all sorts of different settings, I’ve been talking to countless other people who have left the corporate world behind to do something less conventional, whether it was to move into a different sector, to start their own business, or to do something more creative. They all faced their own fears and challenges, and some have even returned to the corporate world in one way or another, but not one of them regrets their move. Just pull up a chair in a hostel or even in your local pub and you’re bound to meet someone on his or her own journey of self-discovery. It’s up to you to find your own way, but there are millions out there who are with you in spirit.
I’ve been on a steep learning curve ever since I quit. As a new business owner, I had to learn about limited companies, corporation tax, VAT, PAYE, NI… I was creating proposals, contracts and invoices, I was editing the CSS of my website, and I had to take responsibility for my own personal and professional development with no boss or company to provide me with any standard training or coaching. Possibly the biggest challenge, which persists still today, has been finding the best way to balance work and income on the one side with freedom and personal life on the other; I’m still experimenting, and very much still learning! Don’t wait for the point when you have the perfect plan and you’ve answered every possible question, as you’re never going to have 100% certainty. There will always be some risk – but maybe that’s okay?
Life doesn’t have to be about having a prestigious job title, meeting The One, getting a mortgage, and having two children, a dog and a Volvo. It can be hard to watch “everyone” around you settling down; but if you don’t want to follow that path now, or maybe ever, then there’s nothing wrong with continuing to explore different paths, meeting new people, living in different cities, travelling the world… Life doesn’t have an endpoint – well, death, but I don’t think you should be working towards that as a goal – so why not let it be an endless journey of discovery and continuous learning? I say, bon voyage! And if you happen to see me in that bar somewhere in the world, come and join me for a drink and we’ll share our stories over a pisco sour.
Thinking of quitting your job? Check out my ‘7 signs it’s time to rethink your career’ at onestepoutside.com/7signs.