If you’ve been following along in our series on leaving the corporate 9 to 5 these past few months, you may now be convinced that this is what you want to do; you may be excited about the freedom, flexibility, and fulfilment that it will allow you to create in your life; and you may even be feeling more confident that, yes, you can make this work! You may also now feel capable of dealing with procrastination (and what lies beneath it) and finally taking action. So, let’s assume that you’re feeling motivated and excited to move ahead… now what? How are you going to make your corporate escape?
Quitting without a plan
The appeal of just declaring, “I quit!” and going full steam ahead towards your dreams is clear. And, for some, it might even be the right approach. There’s something to be said for going ‘all in’ and burning your bridges – no plan B, this has to work, and you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.
The problem with that approach, first of all, is that this option is really only available to you if you have a good amount of savings, no dependents (or else a partner who is able and willing to take on the full financial burden of caring for your family), and, ideally, the possibility to cut right back on your spending and live for free or at least cheaply with family or friends.
Even then, the truth is that when the initial euphoria has fizzled out and the immense sense of empowerment and freedom calms down, the panic begins to set in. There’s no structure to your day, no goal to work towards; you’re eating through your savings; and you have to constantly field questions and concerns from friends and family. As time passes, you feel more and more anxious about the whole thing and not at all free or fulfilled. You follow a scatter-gun approach with ideas and projects, hoping that something will eventually stick. In the meantime, you start blindly applying to jobs that you know that you don’t really want to do.
Planning your escape
If, instead of making a rash decision to pack it all in and take a leap of faith, you decide to take a breath and think it through rationally, the risk is that your fears take hold again, you retreat back into your comfort zone, and you keep dreaming of that corporate escape that you’re never actually going to make.
So, as unsexy as it sounds, and as much as you don’t want to hear this, taking the time to plan your escape is really important.
A plan provides you with an anchor when you feel yourself flying a little too free; it gives you a framework for taking action towards your goals so that you know exactly what you need to do, and it mitigates both your own fears and those of the people who care about you.
Now, when I say, “make a plan”, I don’t mean a 40-slide PowerPoint presentation of a detailed business strategy or an endless list of to-dos that you think might be important. You might not even know that you want to start a business – or what business to start – and mapping out the details of a theoretical business and creating a comprehensive action plan from behind your desk is simply impossible.
Instead, what I’m suggesting you do is map out a framework for what needs to happen in order to make your corporate escape work. This will involve developing an understanding of what it is that you’re trying to achieve and why; key action steps that are easy to follow but also flexible as you learn more about yourself and things inevitably evolve; and deadlines and milestones to make sure you’re progressing within your desired timeline.
Designing your Escape Plan
With that in mind, here’s what you’re going to need in your 9-to-5 escape plan:
- Your definition of success– if you’re not sure exactly why you want to leave and what you want to do instead, then finding that out needs to be part of your plan
- An understanding of what might get in the way– once you’ve identified your fears, money concerns, and skills gaps, you’ll be able to address those fears and obstacles upfront
- An outline of the steps you’re going to take– make sure you’re including time to explore and imagine what’s possible; evaluate and narrow down your options; decide on your business model and strategy (if that’s what you choose to do); and implement that strategy to start building your business and realising that corporate escape
- A clear deadline to work towards– having a set timeframe gives you a sense of urgency, a framework within which you have to do a certain number of things, and a clear point at which you can decide whether to continue or else change your plan.
There might be more questions than answers at this stage and that’s fine! This is just a plan, a framework, and your job will be to find the answers to these questions in the time that you’ve given yourself.
Once you reach the deadline that you’ve set, you can look at what you’ve achieved and make a decision as to whether you are comfortable now with quitting, or going full time with your business idea – bearing in mind that you’ll never be completely comfortable! – or if you need to come up with a new plan and a new deadline.
The goal is to get to your deadline and be able to say that you’ve done everything that you could to make things work – so that either you’ve been successful, and you can move onto the next stage, or you can choose to abandon your idea in the knowledge that you’ve given it your best shot.
You may be impatient to get out of your current situation, get unstuck and start creating your alternative future – but the last thing you want is to make an impulsive decision that creates panic and anxiety and, ultimately, will lead you back to where you were to begin with.