The right way to quit your day job to pursue your passion

I left my high paying, very cool tech job to spend a year doing something else I love: music. Some found my decision inspiring, bold. Others were a bit befuddled but wished me well. Many expressed gratitude for my contributions and especially for the way I handled my exit. One manager said he has never seen such a smooth transition. I was surprised to find out that what I did isn’t the default. So, I thought I would share how I think you too can leave your day job gracefully and pursue your passion.

Spoiler alert: this is no shortcut scheme.

Save up some money

It took me about five years of full time work to be able to take one year off. I have to admit I am extremely lucky that my second passion (programming) is a rather lucrative one, but it doesn’t have to be one year. Depending on how much you can earn and save, you can take 3 months off, or 6, 12, or forever. Ideally, if you can make some money doing what you love during that time, it will help you last a little longer. But for that, you’ll need the next point.

Practice saying no to yourself

I don’t allow myself to impulse-buy much. When I buy clothes online, I preset a budget limit to how much I’m allowed to spend ($100), and can’t buy more clothes for at least 6 months. I’m not stingy at all. If I’m going out, I’ll go to a nice place, but I’ll go less often. Having to choose what to delete from the cart is an exercise in self-managing. When you have no boss, no rigid routine and accompanying paycheck, you need to be able to manage yourself to last as long as you can. If you can’t do that, it will be hard to resist the temptation of just having fun and not really advancing your goals.

Run towards your goal

“It’s better to run toward something than it is to run away from something” — from one of the many podcast interviews I’ve listened to in the last year.

In other words, don’t quit because you hate the job. Quit because you found something you’re so driven about that it keeps you up at night, gets you out of bed every morning and makes you feel alive. Quit because you know specifically what you want to do and you need time to do it. Quit because you believe in yourself. If you quit because of this inner passion, rather than because of outer grievances, you will have a much more graceful exit and it will feel great.

Plan your exit

How much money will you need for housing, healthcare, travel, whatever gear or other expenditure your passion project requires? Have your ducks in a row, know what the consequences will be, have your back up plans figured out. Do you have to move somewhere cheaper? Do you have to apply for new insurance? Check the prices, eligibility, availability of all of these. If your phone is paid for by the company, make sure to add that to your budget. Realistically, how long can you last on the money you’ve saved? Half that is a good goal. So if you’ve saved enough to theoretically last a year, give yourself six months, then re-evaluate whether you can last a full year or need to find a new job.

Give at least 2 weeks notice

I announced the big news right before the winter break, giving a desired end date of Jan 15. I offered to stay a few more days if they felt it was needed and they asked for 19th. People were a little surprised but understood and wished me well. They also thanked me for telling them in advance and giving them the opportunity to prepare for this change.

Find new homes for your projects

When I got back after the winter break, my immediate supervisor was away on vacation. After consulting with her boss and his boss, I started transitioning things over to whoever we agreed would be most appropriate for the task. Some were easy, some took weeks of negotiation, but overall, by the time my manager was back, everything had been transitioned with clear documentation on where the project was, what the outstanding items were (if any), and who the contact person would be moving forward. The goal for me was to make sure that my manager wouldn’t have to worry about the transition at all except for the paperwork and hiring someone else eventually.

Train your replacement

I wanted to train those taking over one of the more involved project and make sure they had the chance to ask me any questions before I leave. My plan was to walk them through the project step-by-step. However, since the negotiations took a few weeks, I was only able to briefly go over the process in an hour-long meeting. Still better than nothing I suppose. If you have the opportunity to do so, train your replacement before you leave.

Be gracious

Be thankful for the opportunity. After all, without this day job, you wouldn’t be able to afford your passion time off! The least you can do is be gracious, respectful and do your best to make your exit as smooth and pleasant as possible. Leaving on a high note never hurts. Multiple people have said they would love to hear from me if I ever want to go back into the field. Mission accomplished!

Keep in touch

It never hurts.

Be adaptable

You might need to move to a smaller place, sell some of your belongings, change your lifestyle. We did. Was it easy? Not exactly. But because we have a clear goal, we don’t let anything else distract us. We can and will adapt.

That’s all folks!

If you do decide to embark on this crazy voyage like me, please do say hello.

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