Early Reflections on a Career Change

Friday, March 14 was my final day at my old job. I packed up my desk, said my goodbyes, and walked out the door into a brave new world.

As most of you know, I quit that job, not because I disliked it (in fact, I liked it quite a bit), but because I made a very difficult decision. I basically chose to pursue my dream of being a writer, largely because it offered me enough flexibilty to fold around the time I wanted to dedicate to my family, particularly my children. Over the last two years, I’ve felt as though my time was being stretched far too thin and the part that was losing out was my family, so they provided the impetus I needed to make this change. This choice meant walking away from a steady job and a steady salary. That’s scary, particularly when you have two small children at home.

Since then, I’ve had two weeks to reflect on this change, get adjusted to my new life as a more dedicated parent and a writer, settle into writing in my office, and get used to new routines.

Lessons I’ve Learned

Do it

If you’re tossing the idea around in your head of abandoning safety and following your dreams, do it. Start planning right now for that change. The amount of fulfillment and peace that I feel already after making this change was worth every minute of worry and consternation about what I was giving up. Start planning right now for making that leap – you won’t regret it.

Right now, as I sit here writing this, I feel absolutely no regret whatsoever about my choice, and I feel nothing but ecstatic about where the future is headed. I get to spend tons of time with my kids, have more time than I ever had for writing, and feel less stress than I have since I was in college. These factors add up to a net benefit that far exceeds the income that I’m losing.

Plan for it first

Still, it’s hard to deny the loss of income and other benefits due to the job change. The only way that this is survivable is due to some advance planning. I left my job with more than a year’s worth of living expenses in a savings account. Even if all of my writing activities were to dry up immediately (and from what I can tell, they’re just getting warmed up), we’d be fine for at least a year, if not more.

Without that kind of cushion, making this leap would have been incredibly scary and I wouldn’t have been able to do it with the level of security that I feel right now. In effect, biding my time and waiting to do it right made the transition much, much easier.

Family matters

The biggest memory I’ll have of this first little taste of my new life isn’t about writing or about settling into my new office. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the work itself.

The memory I’ll have is of spending the days before Easter with my kids, particularly the Friday before Easter. I spent that morning coloring Easter eggs with my son, and I taught him how to use a small dipper to dip the eggs into the dye and then pull them out. We made a big mess, but he learned something and had a lot of fun. Afterwards, we had a nice lunch together and I put him down for an afternoon nap. Just before I laid him down, he gave me a spontaneous big hug. He has never done that before his nap, ever.

That’s what I’ll remember, and that’s why I made the change. No dollar amount can really replace that.

Adjust time management

A lot of people have wondered what will change about my time management now that my primary professional goals relate to writing and it is wrapped around my everyday life instead of having my everyday life wrap around my job. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far.

At the end of each day, I’ve basically made a pile of tasks for the next one: stuff that has to be done, like a day’s worth of posts and an email session and doing the dishes; stuff that should get done, like working on other writing projects or writing a guest post for another site or getting ahead on posts or developing my food blog or cleaning the kids’ bathroom; and stuff that I’d like to get done, like researching a truly great article idea I’ve had. I go through the piles in a sensible order during the periods I have to devote to work, which have become much more flexible, and I just keep processing them. These “processing sessions” now fill in the gaps in my day when I’m not spending time with my children or doing things like that.

Ideally, I’ll reach a point where the “has to be done” pile is very tiny – I can see it coming in the future, where I have my short-term writing needs already covered and I have more freedom to follow my muse.

I put everything into these piles: notes, mail, magazines, books with bookmarks in them, etc. Whatever I need to accomplish that task goes into these piles. I also keep them electronically, too, in folders on my desktop – a mix of saved links, text files, and other stuff.

Some of you might recognize this as being quite similar to Getting Things Done, but with the freedom of choice in my current life, I can easily mix things that would be considered work with things that could be considered everyday life – and it all works out quite well in the end.

My income and spending have both changed in a number of interesting ways.

My New Income and Spending Habits

1. My income is now much less regular

I still receive income rather regularly, but the amount varies quite a bit. This is the nature of freelance and independent work, but it’s something I’ve never had to fully rely on before. It means being very careful with my actual spending – no splurging, and if I am thinking of a large purchase, setting the money aside a bit at a time and buying that item whole. In other words, I’m going to have to be much more careful with what I spend.

2. I’m now paying for my own life insurance and figuring out my own retirement plan

Previously, both of these were handled through my job; now, I’m handling both of these on my own. I’ve already filed the paperwork for my life insurance plan, but the retirement savings is trickier as I’m evaluating several plans. I’m looking to set up an SEP-IRA, likely through Vanguard, but I’m mostly making sure I’m not stumbling in any legal or financial potholes along the way. I’ve also had to hire an accountant to help me figure out my exact plans when it comes to taxes – what do I need to do to get things in good shape?

3. My spending is now much more regular

There’s no more going out to eat on a completely irregular basis with coworkers. There’s a steep reduction in gas expenditures. There’s no trips where I have to pay for expenses out of pocket and fight for reimbursements. There’s no daily temptation to stop into a bookstore for a bit of a splurge. Instead, there’s lunch at home and afternoon at the park – these irregular expenses have all vanished. It certainly makes planning quite a bit easier.

5. I feel like the sky is now the limit when it comes to earnings potential

The only cap on earnings potential now is me and my own choices. Do I choose to work hard, write compelling stuff, and pursue challenging and rewarding projects? It’s really up to me and how I proportion my time to write … but the options feel very good.

Conclusion

this is the best move I’ve ever made. If you’re toying around with a dream in your head, get started immediately. Don’t wait another day – give it your all to get that dream started. When you finally get ready to make that leap, the leap is scary as can be … but you’ll never regret it.

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