It’s a rainy Wednesday evening. The train is late, and you’re faced with the prospect of a damp commute stood with your head in the armpit of your fellow, miserable, traveller. The day has been long, your boss has been unforgiving, and the rest of the working week stretches before you like an infinitely repeating pattern of challenges and disappointment.
OK, perhaps I use a little artistic license. If you really feel like this then get penning your resignation letter immediately, and run for the hills. If, however, you do find yourself toying with the idea of quitting the rat race, here are some facts - and thoughts - to put into your reality check before you hand in your notice in a blaze of glory.
Number 1 - There will never be a perfect time
If you’re waiting for the perfect opportunity to quit, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. In your twenties you may well have fewer people relying on you for financial support - but you need to recover from student debt, and find your place in the world. Moving into your thirties or forties you may have a family depending on you, and the habit of corporate life feels comforting. And in your fifties and beyond, the inherent risks of quitting might feel too much in crucial years for planning and funding your retirement.
Instead of waiting for the circumstances to be perfect - if you really want to quit corporate life; have a time scale and targets that you can work around independently. If you have other interests you wish to pursue for example, decide to give yourself a chance aged 45, or when you’ve reached the highest role in your current industry that appeals, before quitting and going all out in pursuit of another dream.
Number 2- You need to have a vision you’re moving towards
One of the reasons that major life changes can go awry is because they are based on getting away from an imperfect situation, rather than moving towards something inspiring. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that ’anything’ must be better than the corporate life you’re leading - take control and design your dream life. Think about what drives your interest and ambition, who you would spend more time with, how you would achieve balance and remain stimulated, and start to see what alternative routes appear from your assessment. Create a powerful vision you’re moving toward, and this will propel you in the right direction far more consistently than running away from something.
Number 3 - Get the support of those who matter
It is highly unlikely that a step off the corporate band wagon will affect only you. Talk to your family, partner, friends or kids, and make sure they are behind you. Have a plan to keep your head above water, and make sure you’re able to openly debate with those around you, what you’re doing and why. If others disagree with your decision, don’t avoid the conversation, but use it as a way of testing out your own thought processes and affirming or refining your plans.
Number 4 - Be clear on the pros and cons
Nobody ever said it would be easy. Whether you’re quitting to travel, to start your own business, to spend more time with your family, or because of the pressures of a stressful role - it is not a simple or one sided decision. Whilst quitting does usually need a leap of faith at some level, it is not a time to act recklessly, and time spent weighing the pros and cons will be time well invested in your future. There are many sources on the internet, of personal essays and advice, with ideas about how to make your decision. Use them, and make your own list of positive and negative impacts.
Number 5 - Count your pennies
The practical impact of quitting is probably most felt in a financial sense. Make sure you have a sensible budget in mind, savings to get you through a pre-decided period of time, and a plan for survival if things don’t work out quite as quickly as you had expected. The bulk of this work needs to be done before you quit - make a budget, stick to it, squirrel away savings and invest wisely. Use online resources such as budgeting tools, blogs and personal finance sites to encourage you. And then you can make the jump to freedom with one less thing to worry about.
Number 6 - Think about the bridges you keep and those you burn
If your daydream exit from your corporate job involves a hilarious prank, telling your boss exactly what you think of them, or secreting a bag of fish heads behind a radiator to moulder and stink up the place in your absence - you might want to think again. As satisfying as any of these things may be, the world is too hyper connected to go out with too much of a bang. Think about which connections you choose to keep on a personal or professional level, nurture them, and use the connections as a basis for your network moving forward.
Number 7 - You need a plan to keep you on track
If you’re leaving to start your own business, or even to travel or spend more time with the kids, you need more than a vague plan to keep you moving forward. Whilst the freedom afforded by a step away from corporate life is initially great fun, too much time can ultimately turn from a blessing to a curse. Set milestones and goals, think through the things you wish to achieve in this new phase of your life, and measure your progress against them. The satisfaction gained from achievement is as real once you’re out of the rat race, as it was in your days on the corporate ladder.
Number 8 - Check in with yourself along the way
If you’ve got this far, it is important that you don’t risk the new life becoming a drain too. Put your plans in place, but be prepared to be flexible if things don’t turn out as anticipated. There is nothing wrong with changing your thoughts and moving in a different direction. This is especially important if you’re moving to set up your own business, where failures and challenges are inevitable. Keep checking in with yourself to make sure you’re not going to finish up in the same dissatisfied position you were in before.
Number 9 - Create your own structure that suits you
If you’ve worked all your adult life in a corporate environment, before moving to freelance or start a new business, the lack of structure can be daunting. You can work when you want, where you want, and whilst in theory it means you could be out enjoying a sunny day in the park, in practise, it probably means oftentimes you’re at your kitchen table in your nightclothes, burning the midnight oil. Create your own structure to ensure you don’t burn out.
Use the fact that you’re not tied to office rhythms to think about the times of day you work best, and arrange your day accordingly.
Number 10 - Nothing is forever
And finally, if you do make the leap into the unknown, remember - nothing is forever. If you find you hate the new lifestyle, you can always return to the corporate world - in many industries, entrepreneurial experience is highly valued - and some time out might be just what you need to go back to the office refreshed and ready to enjoy the perks of corporate life.