It was an ordinary Friday afternoon in mid-July. I shut down my laptop, turned the key in my Ford Focus, and drove out of my employer’s parking garage. The leaving-the-office routine wasn’t different from any other work day, except I wouldn’t be coming back the Monday after.
I had a comfortable life. My job was stable, well-paid, and considered prestigious by many. But every morning I’d find myself dreading going to work. Looking into the bathroom mirror and asking myself, “What are you creating for the world today?”, I didn’t have a good answer.
I tried to create more meanings with side projects. For a while I ran a self-help youtube channel. I created a personal growth blog, which you’re reading. I’m a good mentor, so coached people as much as I could. When people told me how much I had helped them, I’d catch a glimpse of what this life was meant to be about—serving, creating, and adding values.
But I had the nagging feeling that I was setting the bar too low and not doing nearly enough. The feeling got so strong that two months ago, I decided to leave my job. At that point, I didn’t know what I was going to do. All I had was a vague desire to create something that makes the world a little better.
It’s been over a month since I left my paycheck on the table. An amazing month it is. If you’re considering/ in the process of doing the same, here’re some advices for you, from the practical to the metaphysical. Even if you’re not leaving your job, you’ll still benefit from most of this list.
1.If you feel miserable at work for no reason, there’s a good reason.
Consider misery as your higher self telling you “Change! It’s time!” We humans don’t want to change. For us to do so, the status quo has to feel bad enough, even if we can’t rationalize it. In the months before I left my job, I’d often sit in my office alone, feeling a deep despair I couldn’t logically explain to anyone. However I tried to shut it off, the sense remained that I was wasting my life in that office, while on the outside everything seemed fine. Even if you don’t know why you feel bad, take your feeling seriously. It’s only trying to push you towards the next stage of your destiny.
2. Be financially prepared.
I started saving half of my salaries two years ago, when I had the first inkling that some day I might go without an income for a while. Will I have enough coverage? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s ok. Because contrary to what you might believe, the benefit of financial buffer is largely psychological—it makes you feel safer when you’re just starting out. In practice, buffering for the unknown is game you’d probably lose, because…
3. Things never go as planned.
Before I left my job, I made a monthly budget. I thought I had covered everything. But soon after, a large expenditure came up that I hadn’t foreseen. If you’re going to start something on your own, chances are this new baby will cost you more than expected. Plan as much as you can. But know that no amount of planning will be sufficient and that’s ok. Your life is a tango between you and the Universe. The dance happens as you constantly adapt to each other. And luckily…
4. You need much less than you think.
I house-cleaned after I left my job, with the goal to sell/give away everything I didn’t need. It turned out to be 70% of the things I owed. The complexity of your life can increase exponentially with every new belonging. You didn’t need that vacuum cleaner until you got some nice carpets. And now you also need a brush to clean the vacuum and a dozen cleaner filters. How did that happen? Your physical stuff is less of an asset, but more a liability and energetic weight on your shoulders. Try clear your house of stuff at least once a year. You’d feel much lighter and have more cash.
5. You won’t end up on the streets, unless you really try.
Your worst fear about the things-not-working-out scenario is complete bogus. Even if you can’t support yourself with your dream project for a while, you have so many other options to carry you through in the short term, especially in this day and age of technological empowerment. If nothing else, you can always rent out your place on Airbnb, take care of a pup on dogvacay, drive a uber, sell your skills on fiverr, trade stuff on amazon and eBay…the list goes on. Seriously, it takes more effort to become broke than to make a living.
6. Let your fear run its course.
The fact that your fear is unfounded doesn’t mean it’s not real. I never considered myself a risk taker. And the day when I left my job, for two hours my heart raced and my stomach turned a cold block of concrete. Respect your fear. It’s merely trying to protect you. In fact, if you want to accomplish anything out of your comfort zone, learn to live with your fear. Because…
7. If you feel scared, you’re probably onto something.
When you are making a choice that requires you to step up and be all that you can be, guess what? You should feel afraid. It’s a sign that you’re growing and stretching yourself. If you are not scared at all, you probably should up your game.
8. Action is the best antidote to anxiety.
You only have so much energy a day. You could either focus on the very many unpredictable ways of how things may turn south. Or you could choose to focus on taking inspired actions, which leads to…
9. If you can’t see the next ten steps, focus on the next ONE.
I had no idea what my next project would be when I left my job. But partly from the failure of a previous project (see #20 below), I had the feeling that I’d be at a better place to start something new if I was more technologically prepared in things like web development. I started researching on the skills needed. That led me to discover Hack Reactor, a leading programming school that offers a 13-week training program for software engineers. I decided to apply, taught myself coding fundamentals, passed the interview, and now joining HR’s next cohort in September. All of it happened in the last two months. And none of it would have happened if I hadn’t chosen to focus my energy on the immediate next step.
10. Take charge of your learning.
A natural outcome of choosing to focus on taking actions is that I learned more in the past month than in the last two years combined. I have a PhD in Economics and three bachelor’s degrees. But ironically, I never liked schooling. Most traditional schools, no matter how reputable they are, still operate on a 19th century learning model with horribly ineffective curriculums. They are able to get away with it—but hopefully not for much longer—by hiding behind their monopoly power of granting so-called “degrees”. But gone are the days when you can sit back and rest on your degrees. In a world where the renewal of knowledge is getting faster by the day, you can’t afford to stop learning, no matter what you do. Luckily, these days with the internet you can pretty much learn anything you want, from learning platforms like skillshare and Udacity, from the good old YouTube and Google, and from the innovative and result-oriented training organizations like Hack Reactor. The bottomline: if you want to strike out on your own, you’re bound to have to learn new things. So get on with it as soon as you can.
11. You’re more creative than you think.
Much more. If you want to be your own boss but are not clear about what you can do, start keeping notes of your ideas. Observe yourself. What excite you? Where can you add value to others? What causes do you care about? What problems around you need solutions? What are the solutions? Challenge yourself to write down 5 ideas a day, no matter how crazy they are. And evaluate them at the end of the week. Next week, repeat. As an example, for this article, I challenged myself to list 50 things I learned in the past month. And then I picked 30 better ones to give to you. The more you challenge yourself, the more creative you get.
12. Clarity will come.
It does’t mean you don’t need to look for it or do your research. It doesn’t mean it won’t take a while. But if you take clam and consistent actions to search for clarity, it will eventually find you. Note: I said it will find you, not the opposite. You do your part. The Universe does the rest. Compared to a month ago when I had no clue, now I know I want to work on something that improve the allocation of financial resources around the world. And I have some ideas to test (out of a hundred in my notebook).
13. Be disciplined about your time.
If you’re used to the going-to-work routine, the freedom of working from home and doing whatever the hell you want can be overwhelming initially. That’s why you want to set your own daily rituals. I use this app to help track my time and productivity. If you’re the artsy type and like writing things down on paper, check out this excellent planner by Danielle LaPorte.
14. You’ll doubt yourself and that’s ok.
There are days when I wake up and think I’m complete nuts for leaving my job. My inner critic would go “How can you be this stupid as to give up a life so nice and comfortable? There’re millions not half as lucky as you!” And I’d say to my inner mean voice, “Thanks for the opinion. I love you.” Your negative thoughts would always seem so real when you’re in the middle of them. That’s alright. Just don’t let them stop you from taking actions.
15. You’ll feel lonely and that’s ok, too.
Mind you, if you want to create a different life than most people are used to, you’re by definition different, and bound to feel alone more often than not. Respect your loneliness. Acknowledge it. Accept it. But again, don’t let it stop you from taking actions. Especially because…
16. You’ll lose the friends you don’t need.
It’s human nature to gravitate towards those who hold similar values. But values change over time. That’s how people grow apart. When I left my job, I expected to lose some people. Still, I was surprised how fast that happened. It’d probably happen to you, too. Are you allowed to feel sad? Yes. Is it a waste of time to second guess your own destiny because others’ are different? Yes. After you’re done with lamenting your loss, it’s time to…
17. Cultivate your own communities.
This is easier to do than ever, with online platforms such as meetup.com and eventbrite that help like-minded people gather together. If, say, your dream is to start a home-made kombucha project, it’s possible that there’s a local meetup group already on that topic (or at least on home-brew XYZ). Yes, you’re crazy. But you’d be surprised how many crazy people out there are just like you. If you can’t find any community online, perfect. Time to start your own.
18. Human connection is precious for its own sake.
Most of us tend to evaluate human interactions for the benefits they bring, i.e. “What’s in it for me?” That’s our survival instinct and there’s nothing wrong with it. But since I started working from home, it has made me rediscover the beauty of human connection. Without being surrounded and overwhelmed by people, it’s easier for me to see the light and divinity in them when I do meet them. Every interaction suddenly becomes more meaningful and delightful. So consider this: You will have better relationships if you spend more time by yourself.
19. Take care of your physical wellbeing.
Fun fact: ever since I left my job, which required me to work on a computer a lot, I’ve spent more, not less time, in front of my laptop. That’s what happens when you start to enjoy what you do. But the danger of having no set “working hours” is that every waking hour becomes a working hour. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Make sure you eat well, rest plenty, and exercise regularly. If the gym suddenly seems expensive, try an online workout subscription. I’m a pilates fan, and I use this.
20. Failure is part of your highest destiny.
Earlier this year, I created a side project called CrowdSage. It was an online platform for people to get advices on their life problems from experts. It failed and that sucked. But here’s the thing. Without that failure I wouldn’t have realized that I needed to do #9. Without that failure it wouldn’t have dawned on me that to create something bigger than myself, I needed to be fully committed. In other words, I wouldn’t have left my job at all. Things happen for a reason. But most of the time you can’t see the reason immediately. So make it your working assumption that however things appear to be, its ultimate purpose is to push you towards your highest destiny. I’m working on some other ideas now. Will it fly? We’ll find out. But one thing for sure is that no matter what happens, I’ll be led to new places and new journeys that serve my growth.
21. It will be harder than you think; it will be better than you think.
Striking your own path is not easy. However hard you imagine it to be, you’re probably underestimating it. I certainly did. But do know that this is not because of any lack of foresight on your part. It’s simply the elegant design of life— if you had known it were this hard, your former self wouldn’t have done it. However, your former self didn’t know about the freedom and joy from being in charge of your own work life, either. An easier life is not equal to a better life. However uncomfortable it is right now, I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything I’ve had before. The joy to start my day when I wake up Monday morning is worth all the gold in the world.
22. Practice emotional leadership.
Since the road ahead is probably bumpy, how far you can go in finding your own path is largely determined by how you handle negative emotions. I’ve found that most people’s emotional maturity goes through three stages of development: 1. Avoid, 2. Accept, 3. Lead. When you deny your negative emotions (stage 1), you avoid the pain now, but its energetic imprint will accumulate, fester, and eventually come back to bite you. When you acknowledge your emotions (stage 2), you observe and hold space for your negativity with love and sans judgment. This is a stronger and more sustainable place to be. At stage 3, you’ve grown bigger than your negative emotions. You realize that the negativity is just your inner child lashing out at whatever happens to you. Like a good parent, you don’t go in there to fix your child. Instead, you provide assurance and safe anchor to your inner child and lead yourself back to calmness with love, centeredness, and total devotion.
23. Even the sucky part of life is worth your gratitude.
We humans tend to complain about the things we have and appreciate those we no longer have, be it relationships, health, or jobs. It was only after I left my steady job that I truly appreciated the value of stability it brought. Although it wouldn’t have changed any of my decisions, if I had been more grateful, I’d have been happier in my old life. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t like right now, at least be thankful for what it does bring you—a paycheck, a roof on your head, a predictable work schedule. You may miss those things later.
24. The ultimate measure of your success is in how much value you create for the world around you.
This is true no matter whether you’re an employee, work for yourself, or run a billion dollar company. It is the fundamental ingredient of outer prosperity and inner fulfillment. Figure out how to do that and you’ll lead a happy life. Do it consistently and you’ll be a legend.
25. When you’re feeling down, thank and serve.
You always hear them say that the most successful people are resilient people. Want to know the recipe for resilience? Be grateful for whatever life serves you and wholeheartedly serve others. The former takes you out of the complaining mode. The latter takes you out of the ego. In the absence of those two, setbacks would no longer look like setbacks. It would just be a puzzle to crack so that you could serve better.
26. It’s not about being a high achiever.
Don’t get the impression from #25 that you should be against ego. You shouldn’t. Without ego you probably wouldn’t have lasted in this world for so long. Ego is behind your drive, ambition, and determination. It’s the initiator of your pride and your grit, your attention to details and your pursuit of excellence. Respect your ego because it has carried you this far and brought you closer to your higher destiny. But know that the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. If you want to make things happen that are bigger than yourself, striving and achieving from a place of ego will never get you there. What will? Read the previous four points.
27. Embrace emptiness.
That is, if you want to create something that hasn’t existed before. Most people confuse emptiness with depression or numbness, and can’t get away from it fast enough. The truth is that emptiness is the state before any new creation happens, no matter whether it’s the new growth you’re creating within yourself or the external creation you manifest in the world. Learn to make friends with it. You can read my other article on this topic here.
28. You’re already growing at the maximum rate you can.
Have some patience for yourself. The next stage of your life is unfolding right now at its perfect pace. The common frustration of “I’m not making enough progress” is your ego’s way of copping out of the present moment. Ignore the thought. Instead, do what you can, from where you are, take the next step. If you keep taking actions, you’d be surprised how far you’d come when you look back after a while.
29. Try a new challenge every day.
Be it learning new skills, reaching out to new people, testing new ideas, or running new experiments. You grow bigger through doing things you haven’t done before. It should feel difficult. If it doesn’t, you’re not growing. You should fail in at least half of the things you try. If you don’t fail, you’re not growing.
30. The ground will appear.
It can be nerve-wrecking to try to chart your own course in life. The decision can trigger every survival fear you inherited from your parents, grandparents, all the way up to your cavemen ancestors. What if nothing works out? What if you let your families down and become the new joke in town? (Though if the latter happens, make sure you make good use of the publicity.) I understand. You’re allowed to worry as much as you want. Just know that if you’re afraid you’d fall and nothing would catch you, here’s the reality: you’re sitting on a blue dot that hangs precariously in an infinite space with nothing supporting it right now. Any sense of “ground” you have is a grand illusion.
But here’s the funny thing. If you keep taking actions, after a while you’d find yourself care less and less about the outcomes or whether you’d “fall”. More and more, you start following your inspirations and forget the rest. You realize that you have nothing to lose. Because nothing you were afraid to lose turns out all that important. Your internal ground starts to emerge. Ok. It’s less of a ground, but more a realization that you’re already safe and have nowhere to fall. Know that the law of “as within, so without” is as foolproof as gravity. Once your internal ground is solid enough, that’s when t the external world comes together to catch you.
This article is my service to you. Thanks for allowing me to serve. If you think it would serve others as well, please share. And if you have recently left your job, or are in the process of doing so, I would love to hear about your experience in the comment section below.