One way or another, it’s gonna hurt

From the forum:

I just wish there was an obvious path… How do you know when you can make the break [from the day job]? Or is the smart thing just to burn the candle at both ends, doing the apparel thing on the side and after hours, until you can generate enough income to warrant walking away from the 8-5 job? Has anyone on this forum followed that path successfully?

Yes people have quit their jobs to do this full-time so now you want to know the secret to how how they’ve gone off to live their dream. Ha ha. The reality is that they’ve traded one set of problems for another. What you need to ask yourself is, what set of problems do you prefer? As glorious as the option looks, it’s gonna hurt one way or another. As long as you know that and welcome the burn, you should be okay.

Let’s say you think it’s a matter of getting over a hump or meeting some kind of benchmark that leads to steady cash flow or whatever and then everything will be great because you can relax. That doesn’t happen either because you end up with new sets of problems -and they all cost money. And that is what this really boils down to -can you handle problems and get less in return than you probably deserve?

The truth of running a business is that you get crumbs. Compared to what is coming in -oh my, doesn’t that look grand?- you have almost as much going out so you get whatever crumbs are left over. And you know what? Comparatively speaking, it never gets any better. As long as you know that you’re okay. The trick to making a better living is for your business to get a little bigger and a little better so that the crumbs you’re left with are also a little larger. Which reminds me, as an employer, you should drive a ratty car. People are afraid to ask for raises if yours is the worst car on the lot.

If you weather the phase of seemingly endless struggle, there are still more problems looming ahead -like success. Success has killed more companies than anything else so it’s not a situation where you can “arrive” somewhere and rest easy. So the question becomes, are you the kind of person who welcomes challenges all day, every day? For years? Upgrading from one set of problems to another? Some people aren’t cut out for that and thank goodness or we’d never find anyone to hire.

This is something that few people understand about this business because it looks so easy. Mom sat at the kitchen table and sewed up a dress -how hard could it be? But the apparel industry is like peeling an onion, there are layers upon layers of complexity the deeper you get into it. The learning never stops, there is no end to it. Again, is this something you welcome or will you tire of the constant cognitive demands? By comparison, your day job may not be so bad because you already know it or at least know what you don’t know and what course is in front of you. With apparel, you really don’t. A lot of it is uncharted territory. Does this dismay or excite you?

And insult to injury, in spite of the formidable learning challenges that never end, many people will think you’re stupid. The worst part of it is that by then you may secretly agree because you’ve started to get an inkling of what you don’t know. But this is a minor thing, feeling like an idiot should be the least of your problems as long as you realize you’re trading one set of problems for another. You have the choice of being the star performer at your day job versus being everyone else’s moron, the latter will spare no effort in telling you how wrong you are or why they know better than you do. And heaven forbid one actually might know more than you; after having kept your deflection shields up for so long, can you lower them long enough to listen?

Another thing is the money…no matter what you put in, you’re not going to be able to pull that back out again -not in the short term. It’s not as though you can put $50,000 into it your first season and turn right around to get it back even if everything sells because you need more money to do it again. It’s only over the long haul but there are no short term returns on your investment. I remember one rather famous designer sighing over lunch one day. She said that all she wanted was to own her house again, that the business owned it as collateral. These days she’s got a 600 acre horse ranch and it all looks so good, no? Not really, the business owns that too. Like I’m saying, you only trade one set of problems for another so if you’re willing to take it on, go for it.

The last thing is, I agree it can be stifling to a creative and entrepreneurial spirit to be underutilized at the day job. But again, you’re trading one set of problems for another because this business guarantees ongoing and constant change. There’s no such thing as coasting, it’s always something. Constant change can be tiring on its own because you can never relax. If you do get comfy, trouble is usually not far behind.

Knowing when to quit the day job is more than an issue of sacrificing and maybe going to one income so you can finally start something for yourself. As insurmountable as it seems, starting isn’t the problem. It’s staying the course on all those things I listed above. You know what I see that really pulls people along? It’s passion. In one way, shape or form it’s always passion. Which is why you can’t just do something you think has the greatest possible return versus something that you’re really excited about that might not be as profitable. You won’t be passionate about the former so where will the energy come from to keep going? It is one thing to be stuck in a job where you have no passion; it’s worse to be stuck in a passionless pit of your own making.

My point is, one way or another, it’s gonna hurt and quitting your day job could be the most painless part of it. It can also be the most joyful part of a new beginning…

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  1. Kristen says:

    It took me a long time to differentiate “career” and “job” – and I had lumped them together for a really long time. I tried, and wasn’t overly successful at, starting up as a DE while having a career. I found the demands of both to be way too much. I quit and now just work at a job to pay the bills and it has made all the difference. There are many days when I want to quit this one too, but much, much, less than before. Most importantly, I’m not stressed when it comes time to pay the bills and I have the clarity to focus most of my energy on what I’m passionate about.

  2. Ronke says:

    Everytime I read a post here I learn something new… your advices and suggestions are always practical, straightforward and downtoearth. You say it as it is without any frills. When I read fashion design how to books I think “that cant be right” why do I have to make patterns first – i want to buy the fabric first and make patterns around it – then you say just that!

    My lesson for today has been – if you are an employer – drive a ratty car! – I totally agree with this!

  3. Breeyn says:

    This is painfully true. I don’t think there is a right moment. There may be very wrong moments, but waiting for the right moment will take forever. For me, I did it when I lost my ‘day’ job (easy in this economy). And as is well described above, it’s feast or famine. Things never really get easier, but they do get better, and they change constantly – which for me, is necessary. I bore easily, and one can never be bored in this job.

  4. Susan Wright says:

    In spite of trading one set of problems for another when you quit your day job to become your own boss, no matter what the field, neuroscience can weigh in. David Rock’s SCARF model talks about the human social experience. The A stands for Autonomy. A lack of autonomy means that you don’t feel you have control over what happens to you. This triggers a threat response in the amygdala of the brain which is a warning sign that whatever is causing this feeling is something to be avoided. Over time, this can be very stressful. (Experiments show that we can tolerate more pain if we feel we have control over when it will stop.)

    Working for yourself inherently gives you a feeling of autonomy. You may be beholden to the bank, to your suppliers, and to your customers and you may be working longer hours than just 8-5 and you may earn squat but you are in charge and these were your own choices. That feeling of control is very rewarding and people are able to endure much more stress when they feel it. Working at a day job at a company with the typical heirarchical structure means having a boss. It can be easy to feel you are not in control and your boss is.

    The reward that comes from being your own boss is the allure of working for yourself.

  5. I am taking in all this information and responses. After 9 years, day job turnovers, eviction, relocation, and passionate decisions.. my result is resilience, endurance, and belief in love of life. Thank you for writing this blatantly true article and many thank yous to the honesty and candid responses.

  6. Christina Weber says:

    Absolutely true, you pretty much pick your poison.
    Before we moved to LA in summer 2011, my husband and I used to live in London, UK where we used to be employed full-time. While we didn’t have big financial worries (not that we were rich, but we were able to live comfortably and still on budget), our day jobs would leave us drained and with the feeling that we weren’t growing or going anywhere with it, let alone all the restrictions that come with a day job.

    So we made the decision to move back to LA and start our own business- an apparel business in this case – using a good chunk of what we’d saved up. It hasn’t been long since we started, but I can honestly say that it’s been the most financially painful decision we’ve made. But on the other hand, the flexibility, the autonomy (I agree with Susan on this one) and the knowledge that you are able to make your own decisions without relying on anyone’s approval, are hard to beat. Even when I feel stressed, exasperated, worried about money, I still ask myself if I would trade all that with a cushion-y day job. The answer is no, and that reminds me of why I am where I am doing what I am doing. Hope I still feel the same way in the future and that I’m not too financially strained to be forced to seek a day job :-D

    While still in London, I once met a Canadian lady who was working for an international firm as a business consultant. She’d been doing that for 12 years and was obviously very tired of it. She told me she was getting paid a lot, but the trade off for that was that she had to be on call 24/7, and that she was practically living off her suitcase because she traveled for work all the time, all over the world. She also told me she was living with her boyfriend, but they wouldn’t see each other for days because of their work schedules. She was sick of this lifestyle and all she longed for was spend more time with her boyfriend and have a more normal life. She was dreaming of moving back to Canada and starting a teaching career or similar. No idea if she ended up doing what she wanted.

    But lots of times I remember my discussion with that lady and my feeling is always the same: if I’m always going to be on call, if I’m always going to be thinking about work even in my sleep, if I’m always going to be stressed, then I might as well do it for my own business where I get to set the rules and I get to choose my lifestyle. Point being, there is no guarantee that a day job (usually a well-paid one, of course) would not force you to live a demanding lifestyle, and you wouldn’t even have the autonomy, flexibility and freedom of choice that your own business would offer :-)

  7. Suzanne says:

    Absolutely true. Every word.

    I don’t think I could ever work for someone else again. Though sometimes it sounds so restful.

  8. JoAnne Hopkins says:

    I greatly appreciate this post and all those who have commented on it. I’m googling David Rock, btw :)

    My father was self employed. When he was alive (he passed at the young age of 54) he loved 2 things, music and cars. And he did both, unabashedly.. He barreled through, paved his own path and made it work. He owned 3 businesses: a muffler shop, a full service gas station, and he was a weekend musician (his band was booked 3 weekends out of the month for as long as I can remember). I’m not saying that by being my fathers daughter I’m genetically predisposed to wanting to be self employed, however… working a “day job” has always been troublesome for me. The stress that most people feel around the choas of being self employed is the same stress I feel while working for someone else. Since I got out of school, I’ve always done a little here and there on the side, design wise.. And while I worked in the “cororpate” fashion world, last year I pulled the trigger.. Working with a passive aggressive management team and having my empolyees (that I didn’t get to hire, I acquired them when I was hired) fearlessly deem me the “antichrist” because we have different value systems was enough for me to quit and really KNOW that I can handle anything as long as I GET TO MAKE THE CHOICE.

    This post is so full of truth (as previously mentioned) no frills… and that is what I love about this blog, this site and this community. It’s really fantastic.

  9. Laura says:

    Beware of the 5 year burn out. It is very real. Time your business plan to give yourself some kind of “boost” that will encourage you to keep it up right about then…

  10. Jane says:

    I find this post pretty depressing. The focus is on the problems of life. Well, of course there are problems – it’s life! I have worked for myself for 19 years and I can say that about 16 out of 19 of them have been a blast.

    I absolutely agree with Susan Wright about the autonomy – and I have worked for people who I thought weren’t very smart and it was a big drag, admittedly. But even then what I got were more than crumbs. I learned something every step of the way, like how to be a better boss (and drive a ratty car, good advice). I think it really just depends on your outlook – problems for problems is one way to look at it, but not the way I choose.

    Also, to Laura’s comment about the 5 year mark. I absolutely agree that if you’re not continually learning new things, evolving your skills and your business, you’ll get bored, tired, and cranky. And it’s a choice, really. Keep moving forward to keep yourself engaged in your work, push yourself to take risks, or get sick of it and negative about things.

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