The first step to leaving anything behind is preparation — but not too much of it. If you want more from life than your draining day job, here’s one minimalist’s approach to taking an alternative path.
I left my job last August in order to launch my minimalist business and live and work from anywhere. If you’re in a situation like I was a year ago — the monotonous repetitive days, the future of my creativity rapidly dying — I imagine you want to do this too.
You want to be like Colin Wright and country hop every four months. Or like Karol Gajda, making a reasonable living online while crafting a handmade guitar in India. Maybe you want to be like Tammy Strobel and start a very small writing business to support your car-free lifestyle.
Maybe you want to be like you! That’s even better.
It doesn’t matter what ideal life you imagine, you just need to know that it’s possible.
Before I get started: whenever I write these types of things, I always get comments from two kinds of people who think I’m nuts.
The first is the people with kids, “oh it’s so hard, I could never do that” crowd.
I know, it’s so much easier to quit your job when you’re single and in your 20s, but it’s not impossible to change your life just because you decided to procreate. Leo Babauta started his own business and quit his job through minimalism, and he has six kids! You can too, no excuses!
The other group of people who comment are the ones who claim to love their job.
Great! I’m so happy for you, don’t change anything.
But, if you really love your job, why are you reading a blog post about leaving your job? Go read and comment on something else! …unless you actually secretly hate your job, in which case you need to ask yourself some hard questions. Don’t just deny everything until you wake up one day 15 years down the road and wonder where your life went.
Now then, let’s get to business…
The obstacles to leaving your job
Quitting your job is never easy. There are a number of obstacles to overcome in order to even think of going out on your own.
1. Overcome your fear of certain death.
Everyone told me that if I quit my job during the greatest recession, I’d end up living in a mud hut down on the other side of town swigging malt liquor out if a sipper cup.
This is the opposite of true. I’ve found that the biggest growth opportunities are here, right now. Everything about the way we’re doing business is diversifying immensely. The time to start your own very small business is now, as there have never been more opportunities to reach out and find the tribe that will support your goals.
So ignore every horror story that you hear. These people are trying desperately to keep you from making a change — and who can blame them? If you can do it, it looks badly on them if they’ve settled for mediocrity.
Don’t listen to their pleas to be realistic.
The worst possible thing that could happen to you, if you do this, is probably not nearly as bad as you think. It’s really hard to fail hard in our society, as long as you have some basic common sense about you.
2. Realise that you’re going to need new non-work friends.
I’ve lost touch with every single friend I had at my old job – except the ones who left too. The common bonds that create an instant social network at a job are shallow indeed. When you’re talking about entrepreneurship, and they’re talking about maintaining the status-quo, this creates an instant barrier to communications.
Automatically assume that anyone who you work with now is not going to go out of their way to support your quest for freedom. Find help elsewhere, meet other people who have made this journey — the internet is a great place to do this — these people are invaluable and will tell you not to settle when you’re thinking or giving up.
That being said, some people will support you! That’s great, don’t fire your friends if they’re helpful. Fire them if they’re holding you back by telling you that you can’t succeed.
3. Dare to dream unrealistically.
I wrote recently about the need to be completely unrealistic. You need to write down an unrealistic goal and start to live and breathe it every single day. This can be simple, or more complex. Make it crazy though! The sky is the limit, and trust me, people have been up there too.
Everything crazy has been done already, so you might as well do it again.
My goal was to become a minimalist in order to live and work from anywhere. It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. My primary income source is this blog, which I never thought would happen this quickly – the income potential to earn money online is enormous. You can reach almost anyone.
Your dream doesn’t have to be about making money online, but you do need to have some sort of goal.
4. Be confident when presenting your ideas to friends and strangers.
One of the biggest challenges, when deciding to leave a day job, is the opinions of others.
When you tell your best friend that you’re opting out of the rat race to pursue a career as a writer, they will look at you like you’re a nutcase. It’s okay that they have doubts, you’re making a change and it’s only natural for them to worry.
That’s why it’s important to present your plans with confidence. Don’t hesitate or shake uncontrollably in fear when you tell people of your plans. Just say in a firm voice, with confidence, that this is the path you intend to tread.
I shared my unrealistic dream of becoming a location independent writer with people, initially they thought I was crazy! Six months later, I’m making a full time living. I’m no longer crazy.
5. Don’t let others decide your fate.
Ultimately, your decision to make a change is up to you. No amount of deliberation with friends and family will make your decision easier. In fact, the more you talk the harder it will be to do something.
Don’t spend a year trying to decide to make a change, just do it.
Now that you’ve overcome some preliminary obstacles, it’s time to prepare for your departure.
Things to do before you jump
1. Figure out your cash flow.
You need to start figuring out ways to make a small amount of money outside your main job.
Unless you’re crazy, like me, it’s best to have at least your basic expenses covered before you make a jump.
Start by trying to make $US10 online doing something other than selling your stuff on eBay. It sounds like a small goal, but that’s the biggest hump. If you can sell one digital or even physical product or service, chances are you can scale that.
Once you’ve made your first $US10, try to make $US10 a day. Then scale up from there until it’s $US100 a day, then $US10,000 and so on.
It’s important to have the objective in sight when you’re thinking about new cash flow. If you want to make passive income on a digital product, like I do, make that your goal and go straight to working on the product.
Don’t mess around in other areas outside your focus, unless you realise that your product isn’t going to sell more than 5 copies.
There are of course many other ways to make money outside of the online world, that’s just where I make money, so I used it as an example. I also believe it’s a lot easier to make money online than it is in the real world in the current economic climate.
2. Save up enough to survive until you actually have cash flow.
If you don’t have time to get cash flow going, or just have no idea what you’re doing (I was in this boat when I left), at least save up enough to cover your expenses for a few months while you figure out what you’re doing.
Most small business gurus recommend a six-month cushion. Twelve months if you’re a rock star.
Start by getting your finances in order. If keeping track of your spending scares the crap out of you, I recommend reading Adam Baker’s brilliant ebook Unautomate Your Finances in order to get a handle on how much you’re actually spending every month.
If you spend a lot of money every month, you’re going to need to cut back.
My ideal living expenses are around $US1400 a month now — this isn’t to say I’m not making and spending a lot more than that, this is just what it costs for me to survive in Brooklyn.
When I was in Portland I spent around $US900 a month on living and eating.
When I left my job, I’d saved up $US3000 and lived on that for three months. You might need more or less depending on your living expenses.
The less you have to spend, the larger your chance of success.
Worrying about how little money you have to pay for stupid stuff will weigh on your mind and destroy your chances of striking out on your own.
When you work at a day job, you get used to having that steady stream of cash coming in every month. The more you make, the more you rely on. You need to break that cycle now, and start stashing away every last penny, or you’ll never be able to leave.
How can you cut down your expenses so that they’re reasonable?
3. Apply minimalism to your life.
Cut back on everything before you quit. Initially you’re going to be making a lot less than you did when you were employed. Go car-free. Rent your house to strangers. Sell all of your furniture. Cancel every single subscription – especially cable TV, then sell your TV. Call your phone company and reduce yourself to a basic plan.
Do this until your only expenses are eating and renting a small apartment.
Eventually you’ll be making enough from your new business to spend more, but it’s entirely unnecessary to scale back up after you downsize like this.
The stuff keeps you down, rooted to one place, and completely ineffective.
You can’t pursue your dreams if you’re surrounded by crap.
I’m not saying you should go all monk on us, but realistically consider living with your 100 best possessions, and nothing more. This will make you more flexible, so you can move whenever you want and focus entirely on your business when you need to.