Tom: The following is a guest post by Sid, an e-commerce entrepreneur, currently running his businesses from somewhere in South-East Asia. He also teaches people how to start their own online stores at Open a Store Now.
Dreams. We all have them.
I’m not talking about the ones we get when we sleep. I’m talking about the ones we have when we’re wide awake. When we look at a picture of a Thai beach and think, “I wish I could go there.” When we drive by a large house and think, “I wish I could buy a home like that.” When we drag ourselves to work and think, “I wish I didn’t have to do this.”
Unfortunately, for most people, their dreams remain just that. Dreams. I was there too, and you’re probably there now, or you wouldn’t be reading a blog called ‘Leaving Work Behind’.
I used to work at a Big 5 consulting firm in sunny Canada. It’s the type of job most graduates would kill for. I had a large salary, a flexible schedule and a great relationship with the upper management and partners. It was glamorous and I loved wearing suits and meeting CEOs.
But after a while the sheen wore off. No matter how great the job was, how flexible it was and how many perks there were, I still couldn’t help but feel there was something missing. I had those same dreams, and I realized I wasn’t getting any closer to them. I wasn’t getting closer to defining my own life, taking control of my time and visiting Thailand.
What do you do in a situation like this? On one hand there are the things you want to do but you can’t, and on the other there are the things you don’t want to do but you must. You must get up every day and go to the job. You must stay back and work in the office if the project demands it. You must pick up the work phone on weekends. Because it pays the bills.
1. Create Perspective
There comes a time in life where we must make a choice, and that choice can define the rest of our lives. We can either live our lives the way they are and let dreams be dreams, or we can take a bold step and try to make our dreams come true.
You need to make this choice, and you need to make it sooner rather than later.
Consider your life as it currently is and ask yourself if you’re happy with it. Truly happy. Then consider your life as it might be if you were living your dreams and ask yourself if you’d be happier.
If you think you’d be happier – and most people do – you need to decide how much that extra happiness is worth.
2. Accept Reality
Let me be honest with you: no matter how glamorous some people try and make the entrepreneur life sound, it’s not easy.
In your dreams you might picture yourself sipping pina coladas on a beach, or driving a Porsche through NYC while the money comes flowing in. That might happen to you someday, but it’s not going to happen overnight, over the next month, or even over the next year.
In reality, if you quit your job and chase your dream, you should be ready to work harder. To start with, you’re going to find yourself with a lot of time on hand, and time is money so you’ll need to learn to use it wisely. Try and spend as much of it as you can on creating your new business.
When I was still at my job, I would come home and watch TV for a few hours or head to the bar with friends. Once I quit, I realized I needed to be smarter with my time and money. I cut out the TV and didn’t go out and get drunk as often.
Don’t get me wrong – you need to maintain a social life – but you also have to realize that it’s not all fun and games (at least not at the start). You might have to make a few sacrifices and take some risks, because success doesn’t come for free.
3. Assess Your Situation
Are the sacrifices and risks worth the chance of extra happiness? It’s tough to quantify happiness but, for lack of a more scientific method, let’s go ahead anyway.
Let’s assume that living the dream means your happiness is at 10/10. Clinical depression is 0/10. What’s your current happiness score?
If you’re currently at 8 or 9 then you’re taking on a lot of risk for an extra 1 or 2 points of happiness. Whereas if you’re at 2 or 3, you potentially have a lot to gain. Consider this though: the risk works both ways. You have a chance of going up to 10 and a chance of going down to 0. Granted, if you put in the work, your chances of getting to 10 are a lot higher than dropping to 0.
I can’t tell you what to decide. There’s no cut-off number below which you must chase your dreams or above which you should stick with your job. There are people who aren’t very happy with their lives and yet don’t want to change anything because they think their lives will get worse. On the other hand, there are those who are quite happy but still take the risk because they feel there’s something missing.
I belong to the latter. I was fairly happy but not at 10/10. Sure, I had fun with friends and colleagues, but I knew something was missing and I needed to find out what it was. So I decided to leave work behind and chase my dreams. The moment I did that, something clicked inside me. It was scary but for the first time in my life, I felt like I was on the verge of taking control of my life.
4. Overcome Fear
It took a lot of courage to quit, but I had made the decision and I wasn’t going back. How did I overcome my fear? Here’s a few things that helped me.
Being self-confident. I trusted in myself and my abilities. I believed that I could start a business that would make me money and allow me to live my dreams. And if it didn’t, I believed I’d always be able to find another job. It’s a mindset thing, but it’s important if you want success. Look at other successful people and the first thing you’ll notice is supreme self-confidence.
Looking at my worst-case scenario. The worst thing that could happen is your business won’t take off as you planned. You’ll be out of a job and you’ll have no business. But is it really that bad? Is it the end of your life? You can always pick yourself back up and try again, or you could get another job. Tenacity, resilience and the ability to bounce back from failure are other hallmarks of a successful entrepreneur.
Creating a plan. The biggest source of fear is uncertainty. The fear of the unknown. What are you going to do once you quit? It’s amazing how even a basic plan can ease our fear of the unknown. Jot down some ideas you have for what you can do and make a quick schedule for the next few weeks and months. Plotting down some outcomes and goals – no matter how inaccurate they may end up being – will help you feel like you know what the future holds. It’s all psychological.
Cutting out procrastination. Realise that there’s no better time to quit than right now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. Right now. Create a sense of urgency and stop procrastinating. You know that voice in your head telling you to wait? That’s fear talking to you. If you keep waiting, you’ll keep waiting. While you shouldn’t jump without looking first, you should be looking to jump as soon as you can.
5. Take the Plunge
You’ve made your decision, you’ve overcome your fears, and you’re not going to look back. It’s time to take the plunge.
I remember the day I quit. When I walked out of the office that day the world looked different to me; more vibrant and colorful. There was a bounce in my step, a smile on my face, an energy coursing through me, and I felt completely liberated.
It’s been almost two years since I quit. I spent a year running a startup in South America. I’m now in South-East Asia, running my own e-commerce store, a freelance business, and a blog that teaches people how to start their own online stores. I achieved my dreams of visiting Thailand, learning martial arts and leading a location-independent lifestyle.
I’ve got a long way to go, and more dreams to chase after, but I’m already on my path and I know one day I’ll get there.
You can do it too.
Photo Credit: James Willamor