Five Things I’ve Learned Since Quitting My Full Time Job

It’s been five full years since I quit my full-time job to go after my long-time dream of traveling and writing books. It’s been a crazy, wild, totally unexpected, sometimes heartbreaking, other times completely exhilarating, ride.

I’ve learned more about myself and about what it takes to achieve success in the past five years than I have in the rest of my life combined.

People ask me, “do you ever regret quitting your job?” The short answer to that question is no.

The long answer goes something like this.

Quitting your job won’t solve your problems

There were a lot of things I hated about having a full time job and I was convinced getting rid of the job would solve them. I hated the scheduling conflicts, the office politics, the bureaucracy, the overwhelming wave of insecurity I would feel under observation.

I hated evaluations. 

I hated what felt like my boss “breathing down my neck”.

I hated not having the flexibility to take a day off when I needed—or spontaneously, because after long winter, it was finally sunny outside.

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of perks to working for yourself. The spontaneity thing, first of all. The freedom to make your own choices. That rocks. But quitting my job did not make me feel less insecure. It didn’t solve all my scheduling conflicts.

Nope, that’s just me—expecting too much of myself, thinking I could do more than I actually can.

Quitting your job does not solve all of your problems. Our problems have this strange habit of following us.

There’s no such thing as a “perfect” work environment

There are some good work environments and some bad ones. I quit a job once because my boss would yell at us—the entire team—on a daily basis. Pretty sure he thought it was motivating. I just thought it was unprofessional and unhelpful. So I quit.

But even the most wonderful work environments are not perfect.

Work environments reflect the people inside them—endearing and imperfect as they are; and truly great work environments are fought for and won. They’re built with hard work and honesty, over a long period of time.

Even when I have total control over my work environment, it’s still not perfect because I’m not perfect. It’s a little manic at times, like I am. And although it typically is conducive to creativity, it runs on stress and caffeine.

The workplace I create is a reflection of me and it’s amazing how even the people I invite into that space get wrapped up in the tornado of my gifts and problems.

No workplace is perfect.

If your workplace is awful, quit.

If it’s average or above average, ask yourself what you can do to contribute to the work environment and make it the kind of place you want to be.

We must abandon the mythology of “total freedom” in our work.

I couldn’t wait to quit my job so I would have “total freedom” to work when I wanted to work, to write whatever I wanted to write, to change plans at the last minute and to take a day off whenever I felt like I needed it.

Let me tell you, after five years of working for myself, there is no such thing as “total freedom” in your work. At least not as far as I’ve found.

[If you have discovered this secret, please email me. I pay cash money.]

The search for the elusive “total freedom” in my work has led me on more than one wild goose chase and has probably prevented me from making the progress I really desire. You’ve heard the old adage, “creativity needs boundaries”. I’d say that applies pretty well here.

The trick is finding the right boundaries so your creative energy can flow and you can thrive.

Someone has to be the boss.

I was so excited to quit my job so I could duck out form under the weight of my the dreaded “boss”. From my artistic position, even the best bosses were stifling my creative energy and preventing me from achieving my goals.

But here’s the deal. Someone has to be the boss.

Someone has to make sure the company is being productive, that money is coming in, that systems are in place to keep everyone on track, that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do based on those systems and that everyone is given permission to succeed and grow.

Someone has to be the boss.

The boss has to be concerned about wasted time and energy and about the bottom line because, ultimately, he or she is concerned about making sure everyone leaves at the end of the week with a paycheck.

Even when you work for yourself, there’s no escaping “the boss”.

The boss just might be you.

Every creative person wishes they didn’t have a boss. This is impossible. Instead, ask yourself who you want your boss to be.

I was an ungrateful and selfish employee.

I was such an ungrateful and selfish employee, taking things for granted that were huge blessings to me—like bonuses, paid days off, a 401k, a steady, regular, consistent paycheck, unending access to office supplies.

I took too many breaks and didn’t maximize my productivity like I know now I could have. I didn’t see how my actions (or inactions) impacted the company or organization as a whole.

Now that I run my own business I see it and feel it.

I feel the price of every box of pens, of every time I have to buy toner. I feel every hour I take off and every day I don’t work. If I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done.

So I see very clearly how my actions impact the organization’s bottom line, which in the end, impacts me.

So these days, I treasure every long lunch, every day off, every printed piece of paper, and every day I’m lucky enough to call this my job.

When You Find Your Voice, You Change the World

You know that feeling you get that you were made for something bigger than what you’re doing? It isn’t that what you’re doing—in your professional life, your family, your relationships—is totally unimportant.

It’s just that you sense a powerful potential inside of you that hasn’t quite been unlocked.

It might feel like something is getting in your way, or maybe that you’re getting in your own way. You may even wonder if you might be mistaken altogether.

“Maybe I’m wrong about having great potential,” you think to yourself. “Maybe that’s just selfish.”

If this is you, I want to say this: I get it. I’ve been there.

Heck—I’m still there at times in my life.

And I want to say, resolutely, you are not wrong about the powerful potential inside of you. You were made to do something great. The world needs to you to unlock and uncover that powerful potential you have.

This is the very power you have to change the world.

I call it finding your voice.

One of the biggest misconceptions about “finding your voice,” if you ask me is that is this frivolous or extraneous activity—that it is a nice thing to do, in your free time, if you’ve got some extra money on your hands.

But I don’t see it this way at all.

Finding your voice is the most important thing you can do for yourself and for the world.

Let me give you an example.

I just got home from a week-long trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Some of you may be familiar with the conflict and devastation that is happening in that part of the world but if you aren’t familiar, just know this: it’s truly heartbreaking and painful and there are many convincing sides to this one, long, painful story.

I wish I could flesh it out more for you here, but that will have to wait for a later time.

For now, just trust me on this one: on both side of the conflict, you’ll meet people who, for all intents and purposes, don’t have a voice.

I met two women while I was there who each fall on different sides of the conflict. One was an Israeli. The other was a Palestinian. And although they disagree about many things in life, they agreed on this one thing: it was time to start speaking up.

It was time to find their voice.

So they started a blog.

They began sharing stories from their own lives and the lives of their friends who were a part of the conflict, so that those who hadn’t experienced it firsthand could see what it would be like to live on either side.

Their goal wasn’t to broker some kind of political deal. It wasn’t to take sides. It was to show their humanity by simply sharing their voices.

We talked about the changes they were seeing, the confidence they had, the passion, the drive, the friendship, the community, the healing that was coming from this simple but powerful commitment to put words on paper.

And as we sat around a table—a group of bloggers and writers from the United States and these diverse women from across the world—something occurred to me:

One of the most powerful things in the world is voice.

Your voice. Their voice. Our voice.

I can attest to this. I’ve also seen dramatic changes in my life since I set out to discover my unique voice.

I’ve watched my anxiety dissipate, my income grow, my passion unfold, my friendships deepen, my marriage become more fun and fulfilling, the number of days I spend depressed in bed lessen and my career path become more clear.

I have more energy to give generously to those who need it.

I have more clarity, more compassion, more integrity, more power over my own circumstances.

When we learn to speak up about what matters most to us, things change.

People change. We change. The world changes.

You may not feel like you have anything to write about. You may wonder if your words really matter. You may assume someone else is doing it better than you. But let me urge you against this destructive way of thinking.

If you don’t find your voice—no one will.

No one can do it “better” than you. There is only one you.

Your voice will not be easy to find. It will not happen overnight. But it does matter. It matters more than just about anything else.

Your voice can change the world.

And I want to help you find it.

Stop Procrastinating and Make More Progress

Well hello there fellow procrastinator. It’s nice to see you here. I’m not sure what it is your procrastinating from—dishes piling up in your sink, reports you were supposed to have filed by the end of the day, bills you’ve been putting off all week—but whatever it is, welcome.

As for me, I’m supposed to be editing, and instead I’m writing this blog post.

I’m so glad we could meet under these conditions. We understand each other, you and me.

Someone told me once: procrastination is about fear.

At first, that didn’t really ring true to me. In fact, I thought, “nah, for me, it’s really just about being lazy.” When I’m supposed to be doing something hard—like writing a book or cleaning my bathroom (okay, that’s not hard, just disgusting) or finishing an editing assignment—I want to do something easier.

Suddenly I realize I’m ravenously hungry, or I need some “inspiration” from Twitter, or shoot, my headphones are in the car and, oh yeah, I was going to order that one book…

But then, more recently, I started wondering:

What is it we don’t like about hard tasks?

We like the completion of them. We like the finishing point. We love the feeling of finishing a long run or losing 10 pounds or writing a book. We just don’t like the process, necessarily—the feeling of being hungry, or logging the miles, or getting the words down on paper.

Is it possible there’s a little fear of that process?

I was thinking about this the other day when I went for a jog for the first time in months. Well, actually, “went for a jog” is a tiny bit generous. What I basically mean is I put the stretchy clothes on, as if I was going to go for a jog, but then I piddled around my house for 30 minutes, finding a dozen other things to do.

I asked myself, on several occasions, “Why am I not walking out the door right now?” and I could think of a dozen perfectly logical excuses.

“Well, these dishes aren’t going to do themselves!” or “I’ll go after the laundry is done,” or “I really shouldn’t run on an empty stomach,” or “I’ll just wait until it warms up a little.” But the longer I procrastinated, the more I realized, I wasn’t avoiding the task itself so much as I was avoiding the pain or sacrifice it was going to take to complete it.

And I wonder if this is really what we’re doing when we’re procrastinating

Perhaps, for example, there is a task you’re supposed to be doing right now (no pressure).

Maybe it’s going on a run, or making a phone call, or writing a college paper. Chances are, the task feels difficult for you. My guess is you’re putting it off not because you’re lazy, but because you’re a little afraid of the pain associated with it.

But it wasn’t until I avoided my run all day the other day that I realized: You can’t avoid the pain by putting it off.

In fact, we actually prolong the pain when we don’t stop procrastinating. We take a task that should have taken 30 minutes (like a quick run), and spread it out over the course of an entire day. A task that should have taken 10 minutes (having a hard conversation with a friend) suddenly takes weeks to address.

Procrastinating a task doesn’t protect us from any pain. It doesn’t save us at all. It’s completely illogical and nonsensical.

Maybe—just maybe—if we think of it this way, we can stop doing it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go order something on Amazon I’ll never use, pin some recipes on Pinterest I’ll never make, spend 10 minutes considering a Tweet I’ll never send, and then get back to my editing project.

I’m pretty sure you have some procrastinating to do as well.