I have a confession to make.
I was lucky enough to be able to spend a day with Mr and Mrs Ermine from over at Simple Living in Suffolk this week. They were in Devon and were kind enough to invite me out for the day (a week day, probably while you were at work, if you were wondering ;-))
Anyway, when we inevitably got on to the subject of my transition to the ‘not having a job’ way of life, I just blurted out my confession:
Yeah – after I quit my job I was absolutely shitting myself!
I think that Mr and Mrs E were somewhat surprised by my admission, given that I spend a lot of my life enthusiastically offering other people assurances (sometimes for money) about just how sensible it is to quit your job and fend for yourself.
I obviously stand by my philosophy, but it struck me that fear is probably the most powerful limiting belief which prevents people from attempting to pursue a job-free life and so sharing my experience of ‘The Fear’ (TM) might help a few of you to get your heads round it.
So here it is.
I, Andy, sometimes-over-confident Yorkshireman, job-freedom coach and cheerleader for all things tiny business, was SCARED after I quit my job!
Allow me to elaborate.
The numbers are going down!
- We saved like mad for a couple of years and configured our assets appropriately to smooth out a potentially lumpy income
- I worked on increasing my income productivity by establishing a tiny side-business and looking for opportunities to apply my professional skills as a freelancer
I had 100% intentionally built a massive amount of liquidity because I knew that the days of getting money every month were soon going to be over.
I also waited until I had a good track record of producing income independently from an employer before taking the plunge.
We were absolutely financially ready to roll with the punches and see how my freelance career (and other entrepreneurial dabblings) shaped up. In fact, I didn’t even put a lot of effort into finding any freelance work straight away because I didn’t need to and there were other projects I wanted to play with.
I knew that, so long as I worked around 40% of the time on average, everything would work out as planned and our cash reserves would keep everything sweet.
Thinking rationally, all of this was true.
However, the one thing I hadn’t accounted for is how I would feel when the numbers (specifically our net worth) started going down instead of up for a few months in a row.
It was being faced with this numerical reality for a little while that made the path I had chosen seem all of a sudden very different to the norm (and scary to boot).
Let’s put things in context
Between autumn 2013 and May 2015, our net worth went up by something like £45,000, most of which was accumulated in cash.
On average then, during that accumulation period, our net worth graph was going up at a rate of something like £2000 per month.
When I turned the tap of a well-paid professional job off however, we were basically living on a combination of my wife’s income from her part-time job (which accounted for almost 60% of our average monthly expenditure) and drawing from reserves until I got the income started again.
By that point, I’d decided not to focus on my computer support business as I was far more interested in doing engineering projects and pursuing other entrepreneurial endeavours in the long run. Therefore my old side-business only really provided the odd bit of income here and there.
So we went from putting about £2000 per month in to our nest egg to pulling over £1000 per month out of it.
Even though that was all part of the plan, it just felt so wrong!
I can’t explain how I felt more clearly than that. I was doing something which made me feel irresponsible in some way and I was scared. We had a young child to feed. Had I gone crazy?
I have to be honest. Before I quit, I didn’t really expect to feel quite like that. I had thought over the plan a thousand times and I knew it would work.
But sometimes, there’s no accounting for gut feeling.
Whilst we were out on our pleasant stroll towards the summit of Haytor, I described myself to The Ermines as pathologically rational.
By that, I mean that compared to most people I meet on a day-to-day basis, I tend to be far too rational.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t celebrate their birthday because, well, why would you, logically? Why not count the number of laps the Moon has done round the Earth rather than how many times the Earth has gone round the Sun?
I habitually eschew gut feel in favour of reasoning from logical principles pretty much all the time.
So, if somebody like me felt The Fear, I’d say there’s a good chance that most other people who have been conditioned to only work as employees all their lives might feel very scared when faced with a seemingly uncertain* income future.
In fact, I can’t imagine that anybody could make the transition to a job-free life without experiencing fear.
*If you keep your job because you think it gives you a ‘guaranteed income’ you have been misled. That income can very easily get switched off all at once. I’m just saying…
Fear is normal
Our experience of life is vastly different from that of our (even not-so-distant) ancestors. Think about what your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s life might have been like compared to yours. Being ‘skint’ might actually have meant getting by on 500 calories per day rather than not being able to go to the pub on a Friday.
Going back further to the really olden-days, people were far more likely to face actual life-threatening danger very frequently. For example, ostracism from one’s tribe could mean starvation for our hunter-gatherer forebears. In that situation, being afraid of acting differently to everybody else could actually save your bacon.
That we evolved with fear as a defence mechanism seems to have been almost inevitable when you think about the circumstances that shaped our species.
The problem is, the modern world is (for most of us) nothing like the savanna. In fact, it is very warm and fuzzy. It’s not completely risk free, but, compared to the ‘red in tooth and claw’ environment in which modern human beings emerged, it’s a pretty good approximation.
So, whereas being scared of doing things like
- speaking out loudly in front of the tribe (fear of public speaking anybody?) or;
- being a contrarian and pushing against everybody else’s opinions using your own logical reasoning
makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective, it’s really not very useful for us modern folks.
It’s actually worse than ‘not useful’, it is actively harmful. It makes our lives more difficult. It encourages us to shrink from the opportunities that the world has afforded us. It makes us less than what we could be.
And the worst thing is, fear is really difficult to shake off.
Here to stay
Here’s some truth for you.
Before I tell you the truth, I’ll just wait a minute and give you the opportunity to navigate away from this page so you can go and find another website run by a ‘guru’ who will sell you an ebook telling you that making job-free income is easy if you just use their simple method. No hard work required. No fear.
Finding one should be easy (just type ‘lifestyle design’ into Google and find the site with the most pop-ups)…
Still here? Great, let’s stick to reality.
If you decide to act differently to
- Everybody you know (in fact, most people in the developed world) and;
- The way you’ve been conditioned to act by your parents, school, university, the government, the media, advertisers and so on…
then you will be scared. Really scared. You are, to some extent, a herd animal. It’s not that you’re weak, it’s hard-wired into your brain.
But if you actually want to pull it off, rather than thinking
I really don’t want a job any more. I just wish I wasn’t so scared.
you need to actually take some action to solve the problem. That might look like:
I know that getting from where I am now to where I want to be is going to involve experiencing A LOT of fear.
I can’t avoid the fear.
I need to work out a strategy to stop the fear from paralysing me or driving me towards making decisions that my rational self does not want to make (like continuing to have a job because I’m scared).
That’s exactly what I did.
Building a strategy
I’ve been a personal development junkie for years. I also enjoy a bit of casual armchair psychology.
So, when I got scared, I could see what was happening. I could even explain it completely rationally to other people. I remember saying something along these lines to my dad:
We’ve got oodles of cash. I know that I could start working on Monday morning if I went to an agency and got some contract work but I just can’t concentrate on my other projects because of the feeling in my stomach.
I know that this is entirely irrational.
As time went on I felt myself getting an itchy trigger finger every time a recruiter email landed in my inbox. I knew that I needed a strategy to allow me to act according to my rational plan, rather than giving in to my fear.
So, as a regular exercise, I started trying to run through the worst-case scenarios in my head in as much detail as possible to build a ‘what if?’ strategy.
The ‘and then…’ game
What if I spent a solid 3 months trying to get some freelance work now, but failed to make any progress? What would happen next?
Well, we had enough cash to last for more than a year with no family income whatsoever, we had plenty of other liquid assets beyond that, and we had another income (which had persisted for several years) that accounted for 60% of our requirements .
We certainly weren’t going to starve quickly.
I would be pissed off. I might be embarrassed. But the consequences would be trivial.
So, if I was 3 months down the line and had generated no work whatsoever, I would go to a contractor agency. They would probably be able to land me a contract, commutable from our home, which would earn me a year’s living expenses in 6 months.
But what if there was no work in my field in the local area?
Well, then I might have to choose from one of four less attractive options:
- Agree to do a contract which required me to stay away from home during the week for a few months
- Look for another permanent job in our area (my old employer had not yet replaced me and we were still on excellent terms – not great, but a solid possibility)
- Carry on beating the independent freelancer drum and burning cash for a while
- Resurrect my computer support business (which I could have done quickly due to my client list)
But what if none of those yielded any income? What if I’d been at it for 6 months and still couldn’t earn a bean? What if my wife lost her job? What if there was a recession?
In this situation, one or both of us could just go out and look for any work at all, completely unrelated to our professions, perhaps for very low wages. I could use my entrepreneurial skills to look for low-paying independent work like gardening, washing cars or cleaning.
But what if there were no jobs and nobody in the world wanted to give me money for anything?
Well, then we would hunker down, drop our expenditure as low as possible (only run one car, go 75% vegetarian, only spend on essentials etc). That would stretch our existing reserves out to the point where we could live for more than 2 years without any income.
But what if we were without income for so long that the money ran out?
I’ve spent my adult life collecting credit cards with very big credit limits to provide emergency liquidity in just such a situation. But what if all of the card providers revoked our limits at the same time?
What would we do then?
Well, we have families who love us and wouldn’t want to see us starve. Perhaps we could come to some arrangement to stay with our parents for a while.
But what if everybody who cares about us in the world was dead, we inherited nothing, we both became physically unable to work and the local warlord stole everything of value we had left?
OK. Now you’re being silly.
You may have noticed that, in order for me to ever need an answer to this question, the world would have to have experienced some sort of catastrophic economic crisis, war or climate event.
If any of these things did happen, there’s not really much I could do to change them anyway, so it was sensible to omit any contingency planning for such outcomes from my strategy.
What is the worst than can happen?
Admittedly, I was taking the piss to some extent with the last bit of my little ‘and then…’ game above. However, it’s a really useful exercise to go through to turn your general undirected sense of unease into a list of real, specific bad outcomes that you want to avoid.
What I found was that my fear was always and without exception that ‘undirected sense of unease’ rather than a fear of a specific consequence which was even remotely likely.
Playing the ‘and then…’ game frequently can help to stop you from doing something stupid like
- Sticking with what you’ve got because you’re scared of uncertainty or;
- Quickly jumping back into the ‘normal’ (9-5) way of doing things because you’re scared you’ll never be able to make enough income
If you start from the position of having a nice middle-class job in a first world country and approach the problem of getting rid of your job in a similar way to me, the ‘bad outcome’ is unlikely to be bad by anybody else’s standards. It’s might be something like
I started with a huge pile of cash and a tiny business but the business went south and I spent half of the cash. Then I saw the writing on the wall and went to get another job (for a while).
Experiencing this would piss most people off, but really, it’s no big deal. In fact, it would be sensible to just consider it an expensive learning experience.
I make no guarantees that you will succeed on the first attempt to get out of the rat race. I have failed miserably (more than once) and ended up in a far worse position than I would have done if I’d have just got some resources behind me and made sure that the business was performing well before I turned off the job tap.
But, I survived. I paid off the debts. I learned from the mistakes. I know (and, if you like, I can help you to learn) what I’d have done differently to improve the outcome.
The trick is to find some way to stop yourself from acting on the inevitable fear that you will feel when you try something different. Stepping outside yourself and playing my ‘and then…’ game is a really good way to do that.
The last thing I want to say about The Fear is that it doesn’t stick around forever.
Although ‘face your fears’ is a bit of a cliche in self-improvement circles, it’s a concept which is rooted in the way our psychology actually works. It’s actually the basis of techniques like exposure therapy for overcoming anxiety and fear. [As an aside, I had some exposure therapy for my dental phobia several years ago.]
But in the context of living without a job, I’ve noticed that, the longer I’ve spent without having an employer, the less scared I feel. Pushing myself through the intial really scary stages was worth it in the end as now the anxiety I experience is barely even noticeable.
I still get the occasional twinge of
Ooh – this is all getting a bit uncertain
but those voices get quieter with every day of living without a job.
Anyway, I’m afraid that’s your lot for this week.
In summary, if you do something out of the ordinary, you’re going to be very scared. The trick is to learn how to not let that fact make you do something you’re going to regret in the long run like wasting the best years of your adult life in some Dilbertesque hell.
I feel like finishing with a Thoreau quote:
Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.
Henry David Thoreau
Here are a few links you might find useful when you’re thinking about strategies to manage your fear so you can get on with the task of building a job-free life.
Rolling a boulder over a hill – learning to overcome fear is an excellent example of one of the early challenges you’re likely to experience as you start building a job-free life
The Tank and the Taps – put yourself in a position where there’s really nothing to be scared of
The 5 enemies of an independent life – always think critically, don’t let fear, consensus or assumptions run the show
I’d be really interested to hear what you think about overcoming fear in general.
Are you sticking with your job because you’re scared to do something different?
Have you got any stories about being scared but acting in spite of the fear?
Just jump into the comments share your thoughts and experiences.
I’d like to give you access to my FREE comprehensive 6-part email course which will show you the exact steps I took to quit the rat race in 18 months. Just enter your email address below.
[Image “Cartoon Character Hamster Exercise” courtesy of saphatthachat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]