One early morning, while it was still dark outside, a friend of mine bolted awake in a cold sweat.
Even though he lived under a roof with his wife and five children, he felt completely alone. Because, instead of providing for them, he was leading the entire family into a death spiral of debt.
Just a few months earlier, he’d quit his secure job to start his own consulting business. His savings evaporated. He burned over $90,000 in expenses, while earning only a few grand in return.
Financially, he was steering himself right off the cliff, and taking his family with him.
Years later, we had dinner together.
He told me he chose the right path. According to my friend, the shock of losing that illusory safety net, was exactly what he needed to get his ass in gear.
I struggled to believe he was right
Hindsight is – supposedly – 20/20. It’s usually sharper than your vision in the moment, at least. And who knows what could have happened, from taking a different path?
Nevertheless, I thought my friend was nuts. Because I jumped straight into being an entrepreneur, without a full-time job as a safety net. It kicked my ass.
So is it always a bad idea to leave your career cold-turkey to start your own business? Should you moonlight instead? Or… perhaps… is breaking your handcuffs as an employee, your only hope?
Rather than declare one as “the” truth, here are five reasons to stay at your job, and five reasons to quit.
Five reasons why it’s insane to quit your job
- If you tear apart your safety net – as phony as it might have been – you might stress about it, which limits your creativity and turns your business vision myopic.
Despite what some motivational gurus might say, putting your back to the wall in a situation of near-panic, rarely inspires genuine and healthy creativity. Especially for making money. Instead, it spurs you to take irrational risks and blinds you to opportunities.
- You limit your cash reserve – and choke off its growth.
As old acquaintance once told me over a decade ago, about business, “Things like this always take longer than you think.”
I replied, “Yeah and sometimes they happen faster!”
I was much younger then.
He shrugged and nodded…
… and he probably continued to make millions of dollars while I went bankrupt a few years later.
Things take longer than you think. They’re more expensive. This can be a problem when you have limited seed capital. Especially when you’re also using it to buy food and shelter.
- You risk burning a bridge that could come in handy later.
When I worked for a gold-buying business five years ago, a fellow employee gave two weeks’ notice. She asked the owner if she could ever come back, if things didn’t work out at her new job. He said yes. She said something to the effect of, “Oh good so I can have you as a back-up!” He almost fired her on the spot. She meant no harm or disrespect. But any time you transition, there’s no guaranteed you can push the factory reset button.
- Your motivation might mutate into malaise.
Think you’ll be fired up to take action, because you got rid of your safety net and claimed all this free time? Ha! Don’t be surprised if you park your butt in front of your television instead. Your brain will come up with all kinds of soothing excuses for sitting on your duff.
You need a bit of relaxation…
You’re letting the creative juices stew…
You’ll work later in the day (and you never do)…
You’ve got other responsibilities, like cleaning your fridge for the third time…
You’re hiding from fear.
You’re avoiding the discomfort of doing something new.
You’re fortifying yourself well within your comfort zone.
In this case, your free time works against you. It convinces you that you can relax your pace. You’ll lose your sense of urgency. You’ll be like the hare, taking a nap as the gainfully-employed tortoise slowly catches up…
- You lose out on valuable lessons a workplace can offer.
If you’re an employee at a functional company, then you’re getting paid to attend a magical business school. Every meeting, project, criticism, test result, and interaction is a chance to learn how to grow a company. And you’re getting paid to learn it all!
Same deal if you’re working at a dysfunctional company. You get to see what causes meetings, projects, criticisms, test results, and interactions to fail. Take careful mental notes (or even written notes and turn it into a book!) of what goes wrong and why.
But if you quit to start your own gig, you miss out on these lessons.
Now the flipside. Here are…
Five reasons to leave your soul-sucking job
- Your co-workers are keeping you in the bucket.
Building a business is tough enough, without a bunch of crabs reaching out with their claws and clasping your legs, dragging you back into your shared dungeon. This is where making a clean break could be a life-saver. It’s hard for “friends” to make snide comments or lead you astray, when they can’t get ahold of you. Or, more realistically, it’s just a tad too difficult to get ahold of you, for them to overcome their laziness.
- Your job might not be so soul-sucking, leaving you in a “golden handcuffs” situation.
Do you have it so good that the big, scary world of entrepreneurship is just a little too foreboding for you to make the leap? Then you might have golden handcuffs syndrome! The cure may be to focus on your level of personal fulfillment, and recognize no amount of security or income can fill that bucket.
Or the cure could be just ripping off the band-aid.
- You don’t have enough bandwidth to give your business a solid go.
If you stumble home mentally exhausted every night at 10PM, then you don’t have the momentum you need to start something new. This was why my old sign-spinning job was so perfect for me. I’d stand on my feet all day outside. Very little mental effort. Then, I’d come home and engage my brain at night.
- Cutting your safety net really does motivate you.
Sometimes, having your back to the wall actually does work. More to the point, it’s the only situation that works for you. If so, start some fires and let them push you towards that wall!
- Your job really is soul-sucking… and it prevents you from growing out of it.
Sometimes, a shitty job can inspire you to climb out of it. Other times, it strikes just the right balance of shitty-ness, easiness, and mindless routine to destroy your oomph. In this case, consider simply changing your job, rather than diving off the entrepreneurial cliff to see if you’ll fly.
And here’s a bonus #6 for both options:
Consider how valuable your networking opportunities are right now. Huh, I get a little “blech!” reaction every time I type the word “networking” but, well, shit… it’ll do. Anyway, your current job might be giving you valuable opportunities to meet potential partners. Without as much time pressure. And you’re getting paid to do it. That’s a very good reason to stay at your job.
On the other hand, maybe your job is occupying your time and mental space in an industry completely different from what you want to dive into. So it’s actually barring you from the networking (heh, I’m starting to like that word again) that’ll help you.
So which route to take? We’re back to the age-old question asked by frustrated employees yearning for more:
“Should I quit my job and jump into building a business full-time? Or build my business in my off-hours, while keeping my job?”
What’s the true answer? Because I listed reasons going both ways, I bet you can guess…
As the perpetually-chilled-out denizens of Thailand like to say, “Up to you.”
People hate that answer. Especially non-entrepreneurs (take note of that). You need to diagnose your situation and identify which choice will work best for you.
Me? After diving into the deep end – and hitting my head on the bottom – I eventually got a job… and back on my feet. Then I seamlessly transitioned to self-employment. And now I’m also building a business.
My friend? After getting beaten up enough, he figured out how to grow his consulting business. Now it runs on word-of-mouth. All his children have moved out. I think he’s a grandpa now. And he doesn’t spend even a microsecond worrying about money.
Which is right for you?
“Up to you.”