The eighteenth post in The Education of a Writer (TEW) series.
Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you’re reading this, you are probably an entrepreneur–or want to be one.
No surprise there.
But let me go even further out on that limb and say you’re probably not sure if you’re a good entrepreneur…
…or how to actually even get your business off the ground in the first place.
Maybe your website isn’t getting nearly as many leads as you had hoped. Or you’ve yet to build that product you want to sell. Or you’ve been stuck at the starting line for the last several months–or even years.
To make matters worse, that voice in your head whispers: “You’ll never make it.”
You’ve got no shortage of excuses.
Your family ridicules the idea of you working for yourself. Your friends wonder how you’ll survive. Your not sure any one will even buy what you have to sell.
More importantly, you’re positive that if you quit your job you’ll run out of money in two weeks, default on your mortgage in three months and be out on the street in six.
Sound familiar? If so, I’m here to tell you: you’re not alone. Every single entrepreneur has felt that way at some point in their life.
But I’m also here to tell you that if you dream of working for yourself creating products people buy, then quitting your job is probably the best thing you could ever do.
Let me show you what I mean.
“I Think I’ve Lost My Mind.”
That was the subject line of an email I sent to a handful of friends. Friends who knew me well. Who knew me to be a stable guy.
I wasn’t known for doing crazy, spontaneous things [but this definitely put a bullet in the head of job-loss anxiety].
I woke up at the same time every day. I liked to eat at noon. And get back to work thirty minutes later.
I take a nap at 2 pm. Everyday.
To say I was methodical is a gross understatement.
So naturally when I announced I’d lost my mind, my friends were concerned. “What exactly is that leads you to believe you are losing your mind?” they said.
“I quit my job.”
But that wasn’t the crazy part. The crazy part was I didn’t have another job lined up. Nothing. No leads. No prospects.
Odd move for a guy whose hair stands up on the back of his neck when somebody interrupts his routine.
“What’s your plan?” a friend asked.
I laughed. “Good question, right?”
See, I’ve spent over ten years in the business world systematically climbing the corporate ladder. Not to boast, but I was a model employee.
Loyal and driven. Competitive and competent.
No surprise then that I was promoted multiple times over ten years of professional life.
I went from copy cub to senior writer to managing editor. I liked to work hard. Dominate. And conquer.
But it’s those very “virtues” that got me into big trouble.
“This Is Serious Stuff.”
It started on a typical Thursday afternoon meeting with my boss. She and I discussed a few issues at hand, looked over some copy and talked about the future of one of our writers.
Common place stuff.
Then, in one of the most startling segues I’ve ever been a part of, she announced I was being disciplined.
I batted my eyes. I wasn’t sure I heard her right. “Disciplined?” I said.
“Yeah. And this is serious. If it happens again, you will be terminated.”
At this point my jaw dropped.
What you have to understand is that I completely and utterly own up to what she thought was a problem.
However, the severity and suddenness of the discipline shocked me.
And woke me up.
In my boss’ defense, during that discipline process she encouraged me, said she wanted to see me succeed.
In fact, she knew I had what it takes to recover. And recover well.
But something didn’t sit right with me.
The deal is, I sincerely did not have the desire to succeed nor did I have the passion for the work. And I knew if I stayed any longer, I’m certain I would have figured out a way to get fired.
I didn’t want to get fired.
Neither did I really want to be out of work. But here’s what I knew: For the last year and half (maybe even longer) I was miserable in my job.
Ever Stay on the Bus Too Long?
At first I felt bad for being miserable. I should be grateful for even having a job in this economy, right?
So each day I’d drag my body out of bed and to work, clock in and clock out (as a salary employee, mind you), then dread the next day.
In the meantime, I gave half-baked efforts at work and made half-hearted gestures at getting a new job.
A resume here. A professional call there.
Naturally nothing ever came of my efforts. Which satisfied my flesh just fine.
I was comfortable. Complacent. And just enjoying myself WAY too much. The people where I worked were great. They laughed at my jokes. Asked me for advice. Begged for stories.
But I didn’t get paid to crack jokes, give advice or tell stories. I got paid for other things. Things, I could honestly tell you, I didn’t enjoy doing.
And here’s the deal: I honestly felt like I should have gotten off the bus a long, long time ago. But I fell asleep on the ride. Like we so often do.
And it wasn’t until someone slapped me in the face (read: “disciplined me”) that I realized I’d missed my stop.
Yet I didn’t have the courage to do anything about it. I was kind of at a lost. Like a deer in the headlights…
Or an autistic person afraid of automatic doors. Let me explain.
What an Autistic Woman Taught Me about Fear
In the movie Temple Grandin the main character–Temple–is an autistic woman who is horrified of automatic doors.
In one scene she manages to get inside a grocery store through the automatic doors. Unfortunately, she can’t get out.
Temple is stuck in the grocery store.
It isn’t until a stranger offers to hold the automatic doors open that Temple rushes through the doors.
Once outside, Temple celebrates. So does the stranger.
And then the stranger says, “Yes! You did it! And I held the doors open for you.”
This scene is a very powerful metaphor for what I was going through. See, for that last year and a half I was at my job, I’d been trapped inside the grocery store.
Terrified of the unknown. Terrified of automatic doors.
It took my near-termination to rattle me enough to say, “You need to get out of there. And get out now.”
More importantly, it took the help of someone holding the door for me.
One of the Most Surprising Pieces of Advice I Ever Got
On my way home that night I called up my wife and I said, “You’ll never believe what happened to me.”
“What?” she said.
“I got written up.”
Before I tell you her response, here’s what I thought she was going to say: “Doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been disciplining you for that behavior for the last 13 years.”
But that’s not what she said at all.
Instead my wife said, “Quit.”
That stunned me.
The person who loses sleep when an unexpected medical bill pops up…
Who frets every time I buy a pair of eighty-dollar running shoes…
And who gets sick in the gut when I tell her I think we need to replace my car’s transmission…
Just told me to quit.
I said: “Who are you? And what did you do with my wife?”
“It’s okay,” she said. “Leave without a job. I know you’ve been unhappy there. We will survive.”
I didn’t see it then, but in retrospect I saw what my wife was doing: she was holding the automatic door open for me.
What I Do Now That I Don’t Have a Job
It was my wife who also said that I don’t respond to small gestures. Neither do I fix problems unless I’m personally threatened…unless my back is against the wall.
So being without a job was exactly what I needed to make a change.
It was also my wife who said there is a place out there for me–and we need to find it. Hell or high water. We will find it.
And sure enough, we found it.
Now that I don’t have a job, I make my living helping website owners and bloggers conquer the two problems online content suffers from: obscurity and neglect.
I write copy that will not only attract attention and visibility (with people and search engines) but once they find the content they actually read it–and act.
And do you want to hear the really cool part? I set my own schedule.
See, that one act–quitting work–created a new world for me and my family. A world that is beautiful. Enticing. And exciting everyday.
It’s a world that we get to create, subdue and live as best as we can.
But I had to quit my job first.
So here’s my question for you: What one radical act can you take that will position you to achieve everything you’ve ever dreamed of and overcome anything standing in your way?
Could it be quitting your job? I have a strong hunch it is.
Or maybe you’re already living the dream as a successful entrepreneur. My question to you then: can you find someone you can hold the door open for?
Could be your spouse. A friend. Even a parent.
Whoever it is, they need your help.
Listen: quitting your job is not as scary as you might think. Besides, it will probably be the best thing you ever did for your life, your business and your future.
Just ask Temple Grandin. Heck, just ask me. I’d be happy to pencil you into my schedule and talk.
Next article in the series: “Writing Advice from a Rock Climber, Monk and Bonehead–Really?”