I’ve been running the Fearless Fridays blog series for about 18 months now. A series of interviews consisting of five simple questions, it tells the personal stories of how these individuals have left their full-time jobs in order to pursue a passion, start up on their own, or simply do something different. Without exception, each one offers the same advice: Just do it. Follow your heart. Embrace the challenge. Go for it. Seems pretty clear to me – so why are so many of us still holding back?
The reasons given for holding back, the biggest challenge that most of these people faced in making the change, are equally consistent: Worrying about making enough money. Losing the security of a steady paycheck. Dealing with uncertainty. These were voices in their own heads but also the voices of other people, their parents, their colleagues, their friends. Somehow money and security weighed heavier than everything else in their life: happiness, meaning, personal growth and fulfilment, family, friendship, fun!
Now I don’t want to trivialise the importance of financial security. We need money for food and rent, and having a family with young children to support makes that responsibility even greater. I would make the reasonable assumption, though, that those of us reading this right now are not at risk of falling below the poverty line. We can find another job if we need to. We can quite easily cut down on our spending without making too great a sacrifice. We can move out of the city, downsize to a smaller flat, move in with family or friends. Within that context of relative financial security, of Maslow’s fundamental physiological and safety needs being fulfilled, what I’m suggesting is this: money is not what we value most in life.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I think most of us would be happy to give up a little bit of our salary if that meant also giving up 80-hour work weeks, suffering from migraines and heartburn, having to go boozing after work or sweating at the gym to take the edge off, checking our blackberries at the weekend and on holidays… and instead to have more time with our partners or to have a chance of meeting such a partner, to actually relax while on holiday, to read a book, to learn a language, to paint, to do whatever we feel like doing! Anything but adding slides to that PowerPoint presentation, writing one more email, having one more tense discussion with that annoying colleague.
So if money is not your most important value, then what is? Do you value creativity, the opportunity to express yourself freely and artistically? Do you thrive on learning new things, developing new skills and constantly moving on? Are you passionate about teaching, instructing other people so that they can grow and go on to do well?
If you’re not sure what your most important values are, then try asking yourself: What were you doing at the moments when you were happiest in your life? When you were most proud? Most fulfilled? Are there commonalities? What are the patterns? Why were these such important and memorable experiences for you?
Once you have a list of possible values, try to get them down to the three most important ones. Then you can look at how you’re living your life and ask yourself: is my life aligned to these values? Am I able to pursue them in my work, in my family life? Am I acting and making choices according to these values? If not, how can I begin to start making choices that better reflect those values? The irony is that you may even find that you earn more money once you bring your work in line with those values, and you come alive with energy and enthusiasm for the work you’re doing.
Of course, if you find that money is a fundamental value in your life, or perhaps you enjoy working in a large company where you’re part of a well-oiled machine with clearly defined frameworks, or you respect the authority that comes with a senior role in a prestigious firm… then that’s great! The point is never that we should all quit our jobs and leave behind the corporate world; the point is to develop a degree of self-awareness so that we know what we want and we can go after it with intention. What you want, and what you do about it, is completely up to you!