The most common response to our story so far is “Wow, you are so lucky!” quickly followed by an excuse as to why that person could never do what we are doing. For both of us, that meant leaving a good job. We’ve heard everything under the sun from friends and strangers alike. “My current position pays too well” or “I could never get rid of my big, comfy couch.” And of course, “I could never afford that.” In this guide, we hope to address these concerns and provide a road map to help you make your own dreams come true!
Before we dive into our seven step guide, let’s first address the glaringly obvious issue: Leaving any job is challenging. You might think I can’t sympathize considering I’ve had three different jobs in the five years since I graduated law school. None of them seemed to be the right fit.
So trust me when I say that I completely understand the struggle. Bills to pay, self worth tangled up in a professional title, all the time you invested in learning your trade. Those nagging hopes and dreams aren’t just going away though. So when you reach the point I reached last summer (and maybe this post is your catalyst), here is how to give those pests a voice.
Step One – Prepare yourself financially
I hate to lead things off with the financial aspect, but that’s really where you have to begin if you’re considering leaving your job. Anytime you want to make a big change in life, you need to have your ducks in a row. Emotionally, physically, logistically, financially, insert whatever adverb you want.
I wanted to quit my first job out of law school approximately two hours into the first day. Unfortunately, I had signed a year long lease on an apartment within walking distance of the office. I bought a car that required my fancy new job’s fancy salary to afford. I stuck it out for approximately ten months before applying to different jobs in other cities. Moving to a new state and switching specialties would surely lead me to find a type of lawyering I actually enjoyed, right?
Wrong. Things did go pretty well for a while, but the tables eventually turned. The kool-aid wore off after about two and a half years. A few key mentors left the firm and what was once fun competition turned into a high stress, stupidly competitive and at times, abusive work environment. I narrowly escaped a similar move when my dad got sick, a move fueled by desperation to leave that toxic place and my fear of not having a steady paycheck. After my father passed away, I decided it was time to finally do something different.
This time I got my financial situation in order first. I took a low-stress, but high paying job at a small start up to bide my time and rake in as much cash as possible. I created a budget, figured out how much we would need for the summer, and started smiling, instead of cringing, every time I looked at my bank account balances. After eight months of diligent saving and frugality, we were prepared to hit the road for the summer.
Until you are financially stable and have at least a few months of financial runway, you will never be able to mentally commit to leaving your job. Sure, you might have to sacrifice nights out on the town. Cut off your monthly clothes/workout/makeup subscriptions. But trust us, it will be worth it! If you want to step out and make a change, start by aligning your financial situation with your new goal. Get yourself prepared for whatever comes next.
Step Two – Do some soul searching
Preparing your finances for the change will certainly ease some of the perceived burden. You still have a ways to go though. Take a weekend and let your mind wander to the places you’re afraid to go. Spend some time by yourself to really think about where you should be channeling your energy. Take those silly internet quizzes to determine your driving values or your love language or your spirit animal. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to wander down the paths you otherwise try to keep your mind from going. Don’t be afraid to let your dreams grow into reality.
For me, that meant accepting that lawyering was not my bag. Accepting that I incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for nothing. It wouldn’t matter how big the paycheck grew because I am not motivated by money. I would never find satisfaction in handling other people’s problems, even if it meant a six figure salary.
While I was good at my job, and according to Becca, “jaw-droppingly handsome” in a suit and tie, the whole scene just did not jive with my personality. Job titles and material things provide very little satisfaction for me. It seemed that’s all I was working toward as an attorney.
I enjoyed meeting with clients and explaining legal concepts. But I loathed the entire purpose of the conversation – my employer’s scheme to overcharge mom and pops in order to help them save a few dollars from the tax man. Intentionally ignoring the fact that frequently, they were paying us more money than they were saving. I had to remove myself from frustrating daily interactions with con artists and bright eyed yuppies. Nature was calling.
Step Three – Identify what you want to do next
This step is crucial. It’s all talk until you can put together a game plan. When I worked 70 hour weeks in a miserable environment, all I wanted was to find a way out. But I didn’t have a plan for what I would do if I left my job. Unfortunately, hating your job isn’t enough to get off the hamster wheel.
You need to identify what you REALLY want to do with your life. If you don’t go through the personal assessment exercise and take an honest inventory of your wants and needs, you’re going to continue treading water. While at times you have to tread water to stay afloat, that’s not the long term goal. You need a shoreline to reach or a mountain to climb.
This is the hardest step because only you can answer this question of what you want to do next. If you are looking for a helpful starting point, try Pivot by Jenny Blake or The One Thing by Gary Keller. Both books are practical guides to help you figure out what’s really calling you.
All of the signs from my soul searching mission were pointing to something I had given up years before. Something engaging that allowed me to teach, inspire and most importantly, wear flip flops every day. Those signs were leading me back to fly fishing.
Having reached this conclusion on my own, I now had another difficult hurdle – telling Becca. While “telling family and friends” technically comes two steps later, making sure your counterpart (if you have one) is on board falls into this step. You can’t rightly concoct a new life plan without consulting the person you’ve been talking about sharing a life with.
I assumed she would have to go on her own soul searching mission when I disclosed the results of mine. The days leading up to that conversation were difficult. I certainly did not want to lose her and I wasn’t sure she would accept this enlightenment. What if she wanted the suburban life? Corporate hours, benefits and salaries, even if they came with a commute and two week vacation limit.
Unbeknownst to me, she had been suppressing doubts about the path set before her. Although you never need permission to question your circumstances, my enlightenment served as exactly that. If I could question the status quo, that meant she could too. That meant I would encourage Becca to truly evaluate her strengths and weaknesses. Likes and dislikes, drives and ambitions. That reaction became a significant factor leading to the creation of this blog. If I could inspire Becca to make such a huge admission and lifestyle change, maybe we could inspire others to do the same.
While Becca’s introspection did not lead her to fly fishing, it did lead her to embracing her desire to travel. And admitting she was in a rut. She wasn’t happy with her physique but had no motivation to do anything about it. While she enjoyed the time spent with her coworkers and how easy going the work environment was, she was uninspired by her repetitive corporate role in a concrete jungle. None of these factors were all that convincing in directing her to quit though. To make sure Becca would come along on this adventure, I asked her to marry me.
Step Four – Find a support network
After you put a financial plan in place and identify what you are going to do next, you need to find a support network. Not just a choir to preach to, but a legitimate support network. Your significant other should certainly be your first ally, but you also need people that can provide constructive feedback and positive encouragement from an outside perspective.
For me, this was a Catholic men’s group and friends that, in various ways, had figured out how to step away from the nine to five til sixty-five routine. Some of your support network might even take the form of folks you have never met in person. We found a lot of support from various Facebook and Instagram pages which helped prove what we wanted to do was actually possible and not just a pipe dream. Whatever network you find, make sure your network holds you accountable and keeps pushing you toward your goals.
Step Five – Talk things over with family and friends
Each of the four proceeding steps are absolutely essential to complete before moving on to Step 5. Once you start telling your family and friends that you’re going to do something different, you’re going to get a lot of push back. A lot of funny looks. Maybe even some snide remarks about how crazy you are. Or our personal favorite, that you are throwing your life away.
Knowing yourself and having your own support network becomes really important. The ability to show them you have the financial and logistical resources set aside and an actual plan to pursue helps immensely. People who don’t understand, who just want to poke holes in your conclusion, can and will pull all the wind out of your sails. Don’t let them. Be prepared for the barrage of negativity. Brush it off by knowing you’ve already considered all of their doomsday scenarios.
Step Six – Keep your bridges intact
After talking things over with your family and friends, your next step is to talk to your employer. Do this with as much grace as possible. Even if you never intend to return to your old line of work. Believe it or not, I’ve experienced a decent amount of crossover between the fly fishing world and the tax consulting world.
Plus, you don’t want that blood on your hands of leaving a work situation in dire straights. So do your best to put your employer in a good position to fill your role and try to maintain civility with your soon-to-be-former coworkers. You never know what the future holds and it’s best to leave friendly faces in the rearview mirror in the event that your paths cross again.
Step Seven – Do it!
Stop talking the talk and go out and do the damn thing! Once you’ve gone through all of these steps, you need to dive in headfirst. Nothing feels better than fully committing to something that truly matters to you. It could be a side project, a new job, a new city, a new anything. Don’t be scared. Sure things will change, but we guarantee it’s a lot less frightening once you get where you’re going. Before you know it, you’ll be starting new traditions – like Friday night dinner in the valley at the Knotty Pine.
Side bar from Becca
The look on Chris’s face that first night in Victor, Idaho as we settled in at the Knotty Pine was priceless. Here I was sitting across from a fully grown man, the only fitting description: childishly giddy. He was positively beaming. He made me trade him seats “so he could make sure to say hello to anyone he knew that came in.” You could just see in his demeanor that this is where he was meant to be. Thank goodness for that hippie soul searching mumbo jumbo that helped both of us finally acknowledge where we belonged… together, pursuing a better tomorrow (and incredible sunsets).