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Should you quit your corporate job?

Discover why more and more people are waking up to the fact that the 9 to 5 is NOT the best way to work, and whether you should quit your corporate job

We’ve spent the last months looking at the freedom and flexibility that comes with running your own business, in recent weeks zooming in on how this can be especially valuable when you’re running that business alongside having a young family. With all this in mind, then, we come to the key question: should you quit your corporate job to set up your own business?

There is so much hype now, especially on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, about launching that 6-figure business – no, forget the 6-figure business, you can create 6-figure months! – while working fewer hours, outsourcing most of the hard work so that you can remove yourself almost entirely from the business, and maybe also traveling the world and sipping that pina colada on the beach as you check in now and then on your laptop. I’m always reluctant to be part of this propaganda and for a long time tiptoed around the topic of quitting.

For me, it’s not as simple as telling everyone to quit their job (in fact, I don’t want to be telling anyone to do anything!) and I feel much more passionate about my broader message of ‘reimagining success‘: questioning the conventional definitions of what you ‘should’ be aiming for, getting clear on what’s truly important and meaningful to you – which, let’s face it, may well include quitting your corporate job as you build your own business that you’re really passionate about – and then working towards that new definition.

Of course, I’m a little biased.

Leaving the corporate 9 to 5

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.

Looking back on that decision, it’s the best one I ever made and I can only rave about the amazing experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met since taking that leap back in 2013.

But it’s not just my personal experience that’s leading me to push this message. I wrote an article a while back that was published by Business Insider and shared by Arianna Huffington, after which I received a deluge of messages from people with whom my experience resonated. I’ve been working with clients since training and certifying as a coach in 2015 and I hear the same frustrations and desires again and again. I’ve collected the stories of 50 individuals together in my book, Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5, so you don’t even have to take my word for it but, instead, you can hear what they all have to say about their own experiences of quitting their jobs to do something different.

More and more people are waking up to the fact that the 9 to 5 is NOT the best way to work anymore, and more and more people want to do something about it.

Why this obsession with the ‘9 to 5’?

The idea of working 9 to 5 emerged at the turn of the previous century. It was a revolutionary idea, for its time, and involved cutting back on excessive hours at a time when people were working 16-hour days, or 100 hours a week, in factories in the 1890s (the 9 to 5 doesn’t sound so bad now, eh?).

So, what has happened since then?

Well, at least half of managers actually work more than those 40 hours a week, while 4 in 10 say that their hours have increased in the last few years (Source).

There are many more working mums, and many more families with two working parents.

Technology has made it possible to work anytime, anyplace. There are two sides to this, of course: on the one hand, it means that you’re expected to be ‘always on’, working late into the evenings, weekends and holidays; on the other hand, it means that you don’t need to be in the office all the time and you can work more flexible hours (YES to flexibility!). Surveys have found that 4 out of 5 office workers check their work email after leaving the office and 1 in 3 log on before even getting out of bed (Source), while 54% of commuters are sending work emails en route to and from the office (Source).

Bizarrely, this isn’t what we thought would happen. Or, at least, it’s not what John Maynard Keynes thought would happen. In 1930, Keynes predicted that technology would allow us to cut our working week down to just 15 hours as our material needs were satisfied. (Tim Ferriss, of course, would have us work just 4 hours a week.)

So why are we working so hard?

Well, for one thing, there are a lot of good things that come with a corporate job: promotions and salary increases, the prestige of working for a big-name brand, not to mention the office parties and socialising with colleagues.

Another reason is that we’ve been socialised to this way of ‘life’. It’s perfectly normal and expected that people hate Mondays, that they live for weekends and that work is work and it’s not meant to be fun.

Of course, there are also many who have no choice but to work long hours for little pay.

What’s wrong with the 9 to 5?

Let’s start from the perspective of the corporation, or even of the overall economy: working long hours in an office in no way guarantees productivity. A lot of time is wasted at work with all the distractions that happen in an office environment; we each have different natural rhythms, from early birds to night owls, which don’t necessarily match the strict office hours; and, in fact, our brains can’t even focus on tasks for more than a few hours at a time anyway, or maybe even for more than 20 minutes. Modern researchsuggests that the average employee works productively for just two hours and 53 minutes in an eight-hour day. *Ahem!*

Despite those statistics, people are ‘working’ longer hours and never really taking a proper break. Successful corporate managers and directors have plenty of money but no time to spend it. They’ll buy luxury holidays, snazzy cars and big houses with hefty mortgages to make them feel better. Of course, those same purchases then lock them into this way of life and keep them in their corporate 9 to 5 so that they can afford the lifestyle that they’re so used to by now.

The health risks of working those longer hours have been widely reported. Almost 60 per cent of adults are drinking alcohol to cope with the stresses of everyday life while 38 per cent drink to forget their problems (Source). In the UK, half a million people now suffer from work-related stress (Source). Burnout has become ‘a sinister and insidious epidemic’ and, although it’s a subjective term, it usually manifests as exhaustion and irritability, disinterest, a lack of empathy, poor performance at work, and family issues and relationship problems at home. Medication, vacation – these provide only temporary relief.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are countless lost souls wandering the corridors, people who are “okay”, “fine”. These are the people who are under-challenged, just as there are many who are over-challenged. They spend 10 to 15 years climbing the corporate ladder, reach the top and then ask, “Now what?” They’re surprised and disappointed to find that it doesn’t really bring any meaningful reward and, if anything, simply means working harder for the next step, if there is one.

And yet no one ever says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”. Instead of that, the top five regrets of the dying include “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” “I wish that I had let myself be happier,” and in the number one spot my personal favourite: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

What’s the alternative to the 9 to 5?

Working in “the corporate 9 to 5” involves:

  • working in a private corporation, the primary motivation of which is profit and in which you are a small part of a big machine;
  • working in an office-type environment;
  • reporting to a more senior manager (your boss);
  • working standard hours of Monday to Friday, the so-called ‘9 to 5’; and
  • receiving a regular monthly salary and other benefits such as insurance and a pension.

So alternatives to this type of job could include working in a different type of company or organisation, with different motivations; working at home or in a different environment; working for yourself or for a number of different clients; working more flexible hours; and no longer receiving a regular salary and benefits. And, as you know by now, I believe the best alternative is to set up your very own business.

Of course, there’s no one alternative, no single schedule or set-up, that works for everyone – but that’s the whole point! You can create your own schedule, based on your own definition of success, your core personal values, and your individual situation.

Having said that, most of us – and, no, not just those Millennial ‘snowflakes! – want flexibility; we want to be able to manage work alongside our family priorities and hobbies; and we want to feel like we’re doing something meaningful, that’s making a difference in the world. Running your own business allows you to do all of those things (and more).

And the good news is that there are more opportunities than ever to work flexibly and remotely; there are more tools and resources available than ever before to allow you to start and grow a business without a massive investment; and there is more information and support available than ever too, in the form of online courses, business coaches and programmes to guide you through the process.

More to the point, the reasons that a lot of people will cite for staying in their corporate 9 to 5 – perceived job security in a large company, a comfortable retirement and generous pension, and so on – no longer really apply. There’s no such thing anymore as a job or even a career for life; even the most established companies have had to let people go; and the way in which our parents and grandparents structured their lives and careers just isn’t going to work anymore.

So, what’s next?

If all this resonates with you and you find the idea of all that freedom and flexibility alluring, you may well have been reading the post up to this point while thinking, “Yes, but…”

Yes, it sounds amazing, and, yes, you’d love to run your own business, BUT… you can’t afford to just quit and you wouldn’t have time to launch a business alongside your full-time job; you’re not an entrepreneurial person; you don’t know what business to start; you don’t even know where to begin; and what if you mess up and ruin your career prospects forever?!

Well, you’re in luck, as we’ll be exploring all these ‘buts’ – reasons or, dare I say it, excuses why you think all this can’t apply to you – over the coming weeks. We’ll look at the thorny question of money and how you can find the time to start a ‘side hustle’; how you can overcome your insecurities around being ‘good enough’; how you can work out what it is you want to do and then how you can get started… and much more!

Quitting your corporate job is no magical solution to your woes, and starting your own business will be hard work (not to mention working out what it is that you really want to do in the first place – that’s actually the hardest part!). However, this one decision has the potential to put you on a steeper learning curve; to reignite your passion for your work; and, ultimately, bring you everything you’ve ever truly wanted.

Now doesn’t that sound like it’s worth a shot?

Join us over in the Facebook group to meet like-minded people as we explore what it takes to reimagine success and leave the corporate 9 to 5 behind, with access to all the latest resources and free training sessions. Join the group here >>

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