“Fire your boss. Quit your 9-5. Follow your dreams.”
That’s what I see almost every day when I’m on X (formerly Twitter). You’re often bombarded with these messages telling you that quitting your 9–5 is the key to achieving your dreams.
I’ll tell you what I think about this but first, let me tell you a story.
A Nobel story
John couldn’t take a job longer than a year. He was a lousy employee and he knew it.
John wanted to be a writer ever since he was in high school. So after studying intermittently at Stanford, he went out to the real world trying to be a writer. But life is hard in the real world. So to make ends meet he did various jobs he could get his hands on. From construction work, writing for a paper, property maintenance, fruit picking, you name it, he did all those odd jobs to survive.
But since he couldn’t write and keep a job at the same time (manual labor is too exhausting to the mind), his father had to support him for years with a monthly allowance. And at times he had to stay at his father’s vacation house to save on house rent. He charged on living like this for years until he published his third novel, Tortilla Flat, which was his first financially successful novel.
John Steinbeck became one of the greatest novelists in the world winning himself a Nobel Prize in literature in 1962.
This short anecdote might seem to support the “quit your 9–5” narrative, but actually, it does not. You see, John Steinbeck’s story is about surviving to be a writer. You need to survive long enough until you get better at what it is that you want to do with your life. And that’s taking on jobs that you’d rather not do.
John didn’t have kids in those first few years when he struggled to be a writer. He had a wife, Carol, who did more for him than he did for her during his early years as a struggling writer.
What’s the lesson here?
- Know what you want to do early in life
- Pursue it with tenacity while you’re still young and don’t have much responsibility yet
- Surround yourself with people who would support your dreams
Oh, and don’t forget to be born into a wealthy family.
Why do people come to hate their jobs?
You see, John Steinbeck couldn’t keep a job longer than a year or two, but that’s because his father bailed him up and supported him while he struggled for years. If his parents were not around to support him, the outcome might have been quite different.
If you have such parents who could finance your projects, you can do whatever you want. But not a lot of people are lucky to have such parents.
After graduating college, you’re expected to stand on your own feet. Sometimes you’re even expected to support not only yourself but your parents as well.
So if you figured early in life that you want to be a writer, you’d want to find a job that’s as close to what it is you want to do, like being a journalist or joining a marketing team in a company where you can practice writing.
Still, a lot of young people don’t know what they want to do in life, so they ‘settle’ to work on any job they can find. Years pass by, they get better at their jobs. Some even become relatively successful as company employees.
And then something happens. They ‘realize’ that they don’t really like their jobs. Their jobs are not ‘fulfilling’ them — so they say. So they begin to look elsewhere.
This being the internet age, it’s easy to find ads out there enticing you to become almost anything you want — a freelancer, an entrepreneur, an online writer, a web designer, anything really, if you searched for it, the net would give you tons of ads on it.
Time passes by, and as you get bombarded with ads and the idea that the grass is greener elsewhere, you begin to ‘hate’ your job.
So now, you’re in a conundrum. Now the question that often hangs in your head is, “Should I quit my 9–5 or not?”
Are you really miserable with your 9-5 or is it just your mind?
Let’s think about this carefully.
Maybe you’re not really miserable with your job, you just think you do. Let me explain.
If you resolve to hate your job your mind will find many things to hate it for. That’s how the mind works.
For example, if a woman resolves to separate from her spouse, she’ll find all sorts of ways to hate her husband. Before she made up her mind, she could put up with his snoring, but when she decided (in her mind) that she wanted to leave him, even the way he spoke became unbearable for her.
It is the workings of the mind. You’ll get what you feed it.
It’s the same with solving a problem. You’re given a math problem that you need to solve. Your mind will then come up with all sorts of ways to solve the problem.
Remember this Cherokee fable? Two wolves, one good and one evil, are always fighting inside your head. Which one wins depends on which wolf you feed.
One question: Have you tried liking your 9–5 job?
What’s a toxic workplace?
Okay, you may be protesting, “This is not just in your head, I’ve got good reasons why I want to quit my job.”
Of course, there are valid reasons why you need to quit your job, let’s explore some of these.
- You’re being bullied
- You’re not being paid fairly
- Your boss is an unreasonable arse
- You’re being asked to do unethical work
- Poor working standards, and a toxic work culture
- Your values don’t align with the values of your company
Now, even with these reasons, you’ll have to think about things objectively. Do you have concrete evidence that someone is bullying you, or is it just your imagination?
Check the income level of people who are doing similar work to you. Is your company struggling and doing its best to keep its employees on the payroll?
Put yourself in your boss’ shoes. He also has a boss. He also needs to deliver. And often times he has a lot more pressure on his shoulder than you. Is he really being an arse, or you just can’t see things from his perspective?
Are you being asked to mislead or harm other people? Or are you forced to work longer hours without pay? Are you being pressured to stay and work without your consent?
If you answered affirmative to these last few questions, you may need to consider changing jobs. It’s best to find the next job first before you quit, but if you have some savings and your current job is really messing up with your health and peace of mind, go ahead and fire your company.
You say your values don’t align, what are those values?
You say you want freedom and your company won’t give it to you. Of course, everybody wants ‘freedom’. But think about it, what kind of freedom do you want?
You were reprimanded for the work you did, and your ego got hurt. You don’t want to hear from other people that you’re not good enough so decided you’d rather work for yourself. If that’s what freedom is for you then I’ve got bad news for you, my friend.
Even if you quit your job and start to work for yourself, you still need to work with people. You still need to cooperate with partners and you still need to do great work for your customers.
Sure you can choose not to work with people you don’t like, but let’s be realistic here. You’ll have to turn down your ego a whole lot more when you’re dealing with partners and customers. They’re your bosses now. These people are now the keys to your livelihood. Now you don’t only need to deal with one boss, you have to deal with multitudes of them. That’s freedom for you.
Making small bets while with your 9-5
I know your longing. You want to do whatever you want to do. You want to go out there, try your strength, and make your dreams come true. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s actually a noble thing to do. We all had to do it somehow sometime in our lifetime.
But first, we also need to survive. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the ones below the pyramid: food, shelter, and security.
Before you can run around chasing your dreams, you must secure those three first, or else you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Imagine a scenario: the funds run low, you’re getting nervous, your wife is unhappy, and you start thinking about where you’d get the money to feed your kids next month.
If I’m in that place, everything else goes down to the dumpster. Who cares about my dreams if my kids can’t eat or go to school properly? I’ll go get a job and suck it all up until they do.
After some time when everything goes back to normal, I’d be free again to do side bets, some small bets to get things rolling. I have a job — it’s not my dream job but it puts food on the table and heating to keep the family warm in winter. It can be exhausting but I can squeeze an hour or two to work on my dreams on the side. That’s what I’m doing now.
Of course, your situation may be different. Maybe you came from a wealthy family like John up there, or you may have substantial savings you can use to finance your entrepreneurial endeavor while it’s still in its infant stage. I’m all for you and I wish you the best of luck.
But for the rest of us, making small bets on the side while doing our 9–5 is the best way towards our dreams without taking on too much risks.
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