Escape Your Job: How I Actually Got Out
I’ve learned that doing something you love for a living is one of the greatest joys you can have. Being a WordPress theme developer has been a better fit for me and my family than I dreamed. But it wasn’t always that way.
Five years ago, I was “stuck” in a job that I hated. You know how busses and subway trains have the final destination on a marquee at the top? I could tell I was on the wrong one, the only thing was none of the stops on the route appeared safe enough to get out.
At that time we had a 23 month old and a seven month old to care for so it wasn’t just me or even me and my wife to think about. But something had to give. I had been slowly dying inside for a long time. If I didn’t get out soon, I began to wonder (and so did my wife) if I could ever get back to “normal” again.
So after a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided it was time to bite the bullet and make plans to move on. Everyone’s situation is unique, but here’s the approach we took to get out.
My first thought was to find another job. Even though I have a Master of Divinity degree, I had enough experience in general IT to get a help desk job at the University I graduated from. I wasn’t looking forward to either the pay cut or the long commute, but it was guaranteed income. I was really scared about not having a steady paycheck and having this job at least made me feel secure.
Nikki (my wife) really thought that going forward with this was not the right move for us. She encouraged me to focus on freelance graphic design instead of going with the IT job. To keep our heads above water, she picked up more shifts at work. We were nervous, but started to get hopeful.
Takeaway: develop a plan and start taking the first steps on it.
Save Vacation Days
To start, I began to save up my vacation time. Our paychecks were already a few weeks behind the period we actually worked. When the pay period closed on a Friday, you weren’t paid for that time until like three weeks later. So I knew I had those three weeks of continued income. I managed to save up another three weeks, giving me a total of six weeks of continued pay to work with.
We set things up to end the church job on New Year’s eve, so I set out over Christmas break to line up projects to get started on. The paid vacation time let me work on those projects while still collecting my old salary. It gave a buffer as I transitioned income streams.
Takeaway: save up to smooth the transition.
If you’re doing anything for yourself, you need to meet people who will be your customers. I had a few connections in other churches/ministries that needed everything from business cards to websites to brochures. If they needed it, I made it. If I didn’t know how to make what they needed, I learned.
As I did good work, my customers connected me to people they knew who needed help.
Facebook was not nearly as ubiquitous at that time, but I found several good projects from people I knew there too. I didn’t take out Facebook ads, but I did talk about what I was doing, just as part of life. People I hadn’t seen in years found me and hired me for work.
Takeaway: you have to promote yourself and find clients/customers.
Life is full of the unexpected. Whether it’s finding out you not eligible for COBRA health insurance (pastoral staff members are excluded from the program), to the shock of finding out your having another child (just a few months after leaving the stable, but hated job) things you don’t expect will happen.
Sometimes you have to improvise. Sometimes you need to educate yourself on a subject. Sometimes you just have to push through a really tough time.
About two years into our freelance journey, all five of us (Colin our youngest was a little over a year old at this point), came down with swine flu–at the same time. It was awful. Liam, our oldest, was the least sick. I was the most. I missed a deadline which caused my client (I was a sub-contractor) to lose his client.
Thankfully, everyone recovered. I still work with that client to this day (they’re actually the only one I do development for outside of my own WordPress themes).
Takeaway: you can’t anticipate everything, but that’s not a reason to fear the unknown.
My hope for you guys is that you’ll have the courage to break free from any bad jobs you’re stuck in. If you love your job, then pass this on to someone you know who hates theirs.
If you’re thinking about getting out or have already started that process, share your thoughts with us in the comments.