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How I Found the Courage to Quit My Job

Photo by Eduardo Izquierdo
Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway. ~John Wayne

I took a bold step last year: I quit my dead-end job to follow my dreams. I’m not going to lie to you and say it was easy. It wasn’t. But over time, it became easier than living through the torture my day-to-day life had become.

Many people would happily follow their passion if they only knew what it was. Others recognize their passion and long to follow it, but don’t have the necessary courage to take that path.

That was me.

By the age of 22, I already knew that an independent freelance lifestyle would suit me best, and I envisioned a future working with animals, and writing. But life led me down a very different path – one that was admittedly easier, but left me feeling like a square peg in a round hole. I took the safe, traditional route and spent years in a series of office jobs that made me desperately unhappy.

After 18 painful years and the inevitable bout of burn-out in the job I was in, I came face to face with myself. In that light bulb moment, I knew that moving to another job wasn’t going to solve the problem. I was going to be just as unhappy in the next job.

Something else had to change.

A lot of careful thought went into this, and when I made the decision I was realistic about it. I knew that I wouldn’t be making much money initially. But if other people could make money in the fields I longed to be in, why couldn’t I? It might not be easy, but I was coming up on my 40th birthday and realized I’d wasted half my life in jobs I hated.

I had hit my mid-life crisis.

As scary as this decision was, what scared me even more was the thought of waking up at 60 having wasted my entire working life being miserable. I already dreaded my 40th birthday – still sitting at the same desk, in the same company, doing the same job, being unhappy! The road ahead might not be easy, but it had to be easier than what I would be leaving behind.

Nothing is harder than living in misery.

The minute I handed in my resignation, I felt a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders. I slept for 12 hours straight that night and it was the most amazing sleep of my life – the sleep of a free woman. The next morning, the view out my apartment window looked sharper and the colors seemed brighter. The world looked more beautiful to me than ever.

I was finally free!

Like many people out there I am not cut out for the cubicle corporate life. Getting up every morning at the same time, driving the same route, sitting at the same desk… 9-5 clock-watching, office politics, submission to authority, performance appraisals, having to “earn” time off (or feign sickness) just to get a day of my own life back – I hated it all. It made me feel trapped! I cannot begin to express how soul-withering those 18 years of my life were. They sucked the life right out of me and almost totally destroyed my spirit.

So why did it take me 18 years to escape this torture?

1. Social Conditioning Is Powerful

We are taught from a very young age that we should study subjects both useful and lucrative in order to get a job at a company that will pay us well to do it.

Most of our parents did it, their parents did it, and generations before them did it. Therefore, naturally we believe that this is the way life works.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that if it works for you. But for years, I had wondered: “Isn’t there a better way to live?”

I felt strongly that I was not fulfilling either my real purpose or my true potential, but rather doing what I assumed society expected of me.

2. I Had Bills to Pay

When there’s a family to support, you can’t just give up a job no matter how unhappy it makes you. Even as a single person, I felt I couldn’t pursue working with animals or writing because I’d convinced myself that the pay was so much less that I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

But I had some control over my expenses. By simplifying life and downsizing your budget, you too may find you can live on a lot less than you think. You may not be able to quit your job today, but you can start saving and planning your new future right this minute.

You can slowly build up your business while still in your current job.

3. FEAR – It Can Be Paralyzing

Giving up a secure, stable job is scary. A 9-5 job means a guaranteed paycheck, medical insurance, retirement savings. It’s comfortable – and breaking out of your comfort zone is not easy.

The known is safe, and the unknown is frightening. Fear can keep us paralyzed if we let it. But nothing will change. Is it worth it to let the fear control you? It won’t be when your comfort zone gets to be uncomfortable enough.

~

Choosing a new path is both exciting and daunting. In the beginning it almost certainly won’t be easy. The path ahead is winding and bumpy and may be obscured by twists and turns. You cannot see where it leads. But everyone who chooses a new path has to decide to take the risk.

So how do you stay inspired? How do you keep going when the going gets tough?

1. Celebrate the Small Milestones

For me, it was landing a writing job with a new online news website. It was not initially a paid gig, but it gave me a chance to start building a portfolio. This was so exciting!

What was even more exciting (and completely unexpected) was that I received a small cash compensation for my first 3 articles because the editors liked them so much. This was a big deal – my first paycheck as a writer! I was over the moon! I framed a copy of that check and hung it over my desk. It is my constant reminder that living this dream is possible.

Savor the small or big accomplishments along the way and use the momentum they create to push you forward – one small step at a time

2. Visualize: Keep Your Eye on the Goal

This may seem difficult at first, but most teachers of positive thinking and goal-setting emphasize the importance of visualization. You might be surprised at how effective this technique is in helping you succeed at whatever you set out to do.

From running a marathon to traveling to foreign countries to buying your dream house – whatever it is – see yourself crossing that finish line, sitting in a gondola in Venice, holding the keys to the front door of that house.

Literally, see the picture in your mind and keep it there until it becomes reality.

3. Only Associate with Supportive Friends & Family

Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed, even if it means meeting new people. Join groups in your field, volunteer in the career you want to move into, read the blogs of people who did the same thing you are trying to do.

Avoid any and all negative people who discourage you. If necessary, cut them out of your life completely.

You need people who lift you up rather than bring you down…always.

4. Savor Your Progress

Look behind you occasionally. Do you really want to give up and go back? Probably not. You may be making headway very slowly, but at least you’re finally going in the right direction!

The only way to keep making life better is to keep moving forward.

~

Living your dreams probably isn’t going to be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. But when it all does come together and it works out for you, think about how worthwhile all your sacrifice and struggle will have been. Think of how amazing it will be!

I remind myself of this every day.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.

And Thomas Edison, who finally invented a working light bulb after about 10,000 unsuccessful attempts, pragmatically stated, “I did not fail 10,000 times, I found 10,000 ways that did not work.” I love his positive perspective!

Failures will knock us down along the way, but as long as we don’t give them the power to stop us, we can still win the race.

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About the author

Deevra Norling is passionate about writing and a huge animal lover. With a love for traveling and an adventurous spirit she also loves exploring new places. Deevra lives in Cape Town, South Africa and in April 2012 quit her job as a brand manager in marketing to embark on life as a freelance writer. Visit her website www.deevranorling.com or connect with her on Twitter @deevranorling.

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8 thoughts on How I Found the Courage to Quit My Job

  1. Ailora

    Deevra,

    This is one of those rare articles I have to comment on. You just explained my own situation perfectly. When I read the paragraph that starts “Like many people out there I am not cut out for the cubicle corporate life.” I was almost in tears. Yes! Me, me, me!!!

    What a fabulous article. I feel like printing it out and hanging it by my desk at home. All I really want is to write. Although outwardly I don’t feel or think this way, I believe somewhere rooted in my subconscious, I’m petrified with fear. Because even though I can rationally realize that I’m a good writer, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be doing it for a living, I still make excuses and find road blocks. I frustrate myself.

    Every day that I wake up early and trudge off to a job I ask myself what the heck am I doing? And the concept of having my own free time doled out to me seems inconceivable. It’s infuriating!

    I’m trying to stay inspired and motivated. Thanks for the help!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, Deevra! I think many people are in this position, and it’s great to see someone courageous enough to stand up to the fear and pursue a joyful life.

    I do believe, however, that making the choice to create a new career for yourself does not have to be an either-or decision. I think for those in this situation, it can be useful to think, “how can I get my feet wet in the area I’d like to start working in WHILE still working my current job and saving for the transition into freelancing/entrepreneurship.”

    It can make it a lot easier to make the jump when you have tested the new career path and have a plan to make a more smooth transition into a your new lifestyle.

    So happy to see you have found joy in your career decision!

  3. sonal

    Such an amazing true story made me think about my story how I quit full time job and switched to part time job keeping same comany ,with some benefits ,same job and it was my decision and it was fearless and right . I can recollect the days when I worked from 9 to 6 for 8 hours full of sress and no time was left for myself ,not enough sleep and no time to cook or clean left adding travel and lunch time as well ,really it had wiped out precious moments of smile ,family time and leisure . Thank u for sharing good thinking and right views how we can make our life simple and worth living just one single life .

  4. @Ailora – “Every day that I wake up early and trudge off to a job I ask myself what the heck am I doing?” – OH – I read that and can feel what you are feeling! I used to sit at my desk and on bad days with my head in my hands mutter to myself, “Is this it? Am I really meant to be this unhappy? Is there not another way to live?”

    I have to also say, that it is not easy to make this decision so I do understand someone’s fear and reluctance to take the plunge. I had to make some sacrifices and downsize quite considerably (which included moving in with my parents to save on rent) and knew that initially money would be tight. While I am not earning a fortune yet, I have made some progress and keep in mind that every new business starts out slowly with baby steps. Now it is a matter of remaining positive and to keep believing it will work out in the end. They say – do what you love and money will follow. I’m putting that to the test!

    As for your reticence with writing, you are not the first writer to feel that way and have that fear. Writers are notorious for being self-sabotaging! I wrote a blog post on that subject: http://deevranorling.com/the-fearful-writer-how-to-kick-the-fear/ You can start writing while still working in your current job.

    At the end of the day, to write, or to quit a job, or to follow a different path is about how much one really wants it. Because in most cases it won’t be easy, but those who succeed are those who were really hungry for it.

  5. @Meg and Sonal – I wholeheartedly agree. One can start a new venture on the side while still having the security of a job and once things the side business is starting to make some decent money, then quit and launch into it full-time. Many have gone this route. This is a hard road though because it will mean working an 8-hour day in your full-time job, plus probably working until late at night on the business. But it’s possible and those who want it bad enough, will make it happen.

    One could as Sonal has done, opt for a part-time job which frees up some time to work on something else.

    There are various ways to skin a cat! :)
    Thanks for your comments. :)

  6. Yay for you! I love stories like this. I also left the corporate world TWICE (this time it’s going to stick) for the same reason: why waste a perfectly good life? how can I live a soul-less existence during almost all my waking hours? Oddly enough, I also love writing and animals.

  7. Ash

    Hey Deevra,

    Very eloquently expressed article, which I think many of us who settled for an office job feel and live with every day.

    I toyed with the idea of quitting many, many times, but those two little words – ‘self doubt’ have always managed to raise their heads.

    Whilst I am on the journey of conquering that monster, there are a lot of other nuances to deal with. Bottom line is, we continue to receive an education based on redundant values of working for others in a factory, and society functions so that we are made to believe, the only way is the status quo.

    So yes, I’ll keep on pushing and working 9-5 and pursue my ‘secret’ aspirations on the side until the time is right to flee.

  8. Ash – you hit the nail on the head. We are educated in one train of thought – study, get a job and spend the rest of your live working for a boss. A couple of decades ago that was largely the only way to go. But these days, with the advent of the internet, advances in technology and the global village we live, a whole new world of possibilities has opened up. Online entrepreneurship, self-publishing, indie music, blogging, etc. One is able to carve out a career and live on your own terms more easily than in the past. Yet, traditional education still only promotes the old status quo which is sad.

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