In today’s episode, Anna revisits an article she originally wrote one year after leaving her corporate job back in 2013: How I quit my job with no back-up plan.
In September 2013, I walked out of my office and into the unknown. I had resigned from my job, the first after my studies, with no concrete plans as to what I would be doing next. It had started with a request to my boss to take a three-month sabbatical. Off I went to South America to travel from Quito, Ecuador, through to Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my travels, I devoured every personal development and career book I could find on Kindle, I chatted to people I met in hostels and listened to their very different stories about what they were doing and why, and I did a whole lot of soul searching. Then halfway through that trip, I called up HR and I officially gave my resignation. It has now been 7 years and I’ve been on one big rollercoaster journey! I had quit without any kind of clear plan, which led to quite a few detours and sharp turns along the way – but at no point have I ever regretted my decision.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
The One Step Outside Facebook group– Join us over in the Facebook group to meet like-minded people who are working on reimagining success in their life and business and to get access to direct support and free training sessions from Anna. www.facebook.com/groups/onestepoutside
I quit my job with no back-up plan
Hello, hello and welcome back to the Reimagining Success podcast. And today’s episode is going to be a little bit different. I’m going to more or less read an article that I published some years ago, but bear with me, it is going to be interesting, I promise.
Now this is an article that I wrote actually initially six months after I quit my job back in 2013. I’ve rewritten it a couple of times since then, but it’s quite meaningful to me for a number of reasons. And hopefully will be valuable to you as well.
First of all, because it was actually picked up by Business Insider inc court, as well as Arianna Huffington at the time. And it was my first foray into getting published, having an article that I’d written, which was very exciting. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. That was always an ambition of mine. And to have your name in print or be it online is pretty exciting,
But also more so, the fact that this article has brought so many people to me and still now, many years later people come and tell me whether on LinkedIn or in the Facebook group, or they apply for a consultation call, “Anna, I read this article and it meant so much to me, it’s really resonated, it’s exactly what I’m going through.” And/or, “It’s what I’m hoping to go through very soon.”
So the article is 10 things I’ve learned since quitting my job. Business Insider, and a couple of the other publications were probably more title savvy and SEO savvy and click bait savvy, I guess, than I was because they added, without a plan, which I guess is creating a bit of drama.
But nonetheless, that’s the article. And I’m going to apologise in advance to those of you watching the video, because I will be looking down of course, to read the article, but I would like to share some additional perspective as I go as well, because of course things have evolved since then.
Now, if you’ve been part of my community for a while, you’ll know the story, so apologies in advance, but hopefully, it’s interesting and valuable to those of you who are new to the community, but just a quick recap.
So, I left my job in September 2013. I had initially taken a sabbatical, travelled for three months across South America, by myself and halfway through that, I called up HR and I handed in my resignation.
And after that, there have been a lot of twists and turns, but I have to say I’ve never had any regrets. At the beginning I was still very much applying to jobs as many people do or getting a little bit panicky and thinking, Oh, maybe if I just changed something, if I just tried a different role, a different organisation, even a different industry, that would be enough for me.
It would make a big enough change to really grow my skill sets and make things more interesting, to challenge myself, meet new people and so on. However, throughout this time and things have certainly evolved since I wrote this article, again, as I said, I haven’t had any regrets. I’ve learned so much and the whole business has really evolved organically.
My lifestyle has changed as well. I’ve gone from being single and travelling the world, being nomadic, to settling down more or less in London, falling in love, having babies, all sorts of things. So, that has changed as well.
But now here we go. Let’s dive straight into it and talk about the rollercoaster journey, I guess. But hopefully this will be a positive article if you haven’t come across it before. Or, if you have, maybe it’s another little reminder for you as well.
So here goes. So it’s 10 reasons why I don’t have any regrets or 10 things I’ve learnt. Now, the first one is a life on the other side is not as scary as you think. Fear is really the biggest and this is me already speaking a little bit, ad-libbing, fear is one of the biggest barriers for so many of us when we want to make this change, get out of our comfort zone.
So hopefully this is reassuring to you, life on the other side is not as scary as you think. As I looked out at the world from the comfort of a steady job and a regular salary, the fear of leaving that security behind was almost paralysing. My whole life I’d follow the expected path, suffering from what I now call the good girl syndrome and breaking away from that path seemed incredibly rebellious and audacious at the time.
Once I’d made the decision to quit and I was committed to getting off that path, however, that fear all but disappeared. I felt empowered and excited by my ability to make things happen. And I armed myself with information by reading more books about freelancing and consulting, talking to people, who’d set up their own businesses, going to events where I met like minded people and eventually working with a number of coaches.
I also realised that the security I’d felt in my previous job was an illusion. People get fired. Departments are restructured. Companies fold. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you in a job that makes you unhappy.
So I think that last piece is really poignant, this idea of the illusion of security of having a full-time job. I think this year, 2020 with COVID, we really see it and that’s not the case, unfortunately. And I really am a strong believer in having, whether it’s a side hustle perhaps, certainly having different income streams, managing your own business really does give you a lot more security and ironically, stability once you get that off the ground, once you have a viable business. So that’s something to consider, but again, don’t let fear of the unknown keep you in a job that makes you fundamentally unhappy.
Number two, you have to stick to your guns. I thought I’d made The Big Decision, once and for all. And that was it, ta da. I was forging my own path. But the truth is that I’ve had to keep questioning myself. The call of the corporate world in the first months and years after I left remained loud and alluring.
Recruiters called with tempting job titles and six figure salaries. My parents worried about my pension and corporate clients wanted me to stay on in a full-time capacity. Each time I had to reaffirm my decision to leave that world behind. And each time I came out that bit stronger and more determined to continue to explore and create my own version of success.
In the past I’d always looked to other people for reassurance and confirmation that I was making the right decision. But I know now that I’m the only one who can ever know what’s right for me. So once you’ve made that decision run with it, trust your instincts and don’t look back.
Now, this is a big one and definitely something that still applies. I must say, I no longer get recruiters calling with tempting job titles and the six figure salaries. However, I still have those, I guess, doubts about what’s next. And in fact, no, I’m going to take that back. I don’t actually have any doubts as such. I know that I want to continue what I’m doing, and of course some things will evolve and I don’t know exactly how it’s going to evolve, but I know that I will find the courage and I will make it happen in some way or another.
I think what I meant to say rather than doubts is that I still get strange and unexpected and not quite right offers from people to collaborate, to work on projects or clients, and so on. More in a consulting capacity perhaps, or working with agencies or whatever it might. Be lots of people wanting to collaborate and partner and so on. So I still have to stick to my guns and make sure I’m working on my vision for my business. And that’s still very much the case.
Number three, there are more options than you ever thought possible. In my previous job, I was surrounded by people with the same academic background and with the same ambitions of salary increase and promotions. We were all comfortable within that world and unsure of what lay beyond. As soon as I’d left, though, I encountered people with diverse backgrounds, with much broader ambitions and with altogether different priorities.
Travelling in particular allows you to meet people with all kinds of plans, lack of plans and this is both reassuring and inspiring. It’s not about following someone else’s version of success. And that is something to watch out for as you meet people with exciting projects and ideas.
The point is for you to discover what your version of success would look like. Open your eyes and your hearts to the different ways of life that are out there. And you may be surprised at the possibilities that are open to you.
This is really key, the point about not really knowing what’s out there. I had no idea that podcasting or even almost coaching existed when I was looking out at the world back in 2013. So that’s why we sometimes need to take a bit of that leap of faith. We begin somewhere, we follow our curiosity, we take those first steps and then who knows where that will lead us.
The other part of this, which I love is this idea of meeting other people and getting out of your bubble, meeting people, doing all sorts of exciting things and helping you to see, hey, this is completely possible. There are people out there travelling with their business, doing TED talks, writing books and so on.
And that’s really empowering, to get away from perhaps your immediate circle who are a little more like-minded and stuck in their corporate jobs as well.
Number four, ooh, controversial. You can easily live on less money than you think. With a monthly salary flowing into my bank account, I was buying clothes I didn’t need, taking taxis and spending money with no thought of the future. Being unemployed I became more prudent. I bought less lattes. I walked more. I cancelled Spotify Premium and I didn’t feel at all sorry for myself.
As it turns out, it was quite painless to cut down on those little luxuries. In fact, I find that your spending adapts to your income, which means that you can reduce your spending when your income decreases without any significant impact on your wellbeing.
And you can also increase your spending as your income increases again, without any real impacts. So yes, you’ll need to make what may feel like sacrifices in the short term, but it won’t be as bad as you think. And in the end, it’s what will make your goals possible in the long term.
Creating a buffer of savings will give you the added security and confidence to pursue your plans. This is interesting. And I think again, I talked about fear being one of the biggest barriers, but money concerns of course is another.
And I should say very clearly that at the time, I rented a cheap flat, didn’t have a mortgage, I didn’t have a partner. I didn’t have a dog and children, no obligations and so on, right? So please bear with my naivety as I was very much without obligation, which may or may not be your case.
However, nonetheless, I do think we arbitrarily cling to a salary and of course we’ve built a lifestyle around a particular salary and it may be that we would be happier on much less. Now, maybe you’ll be happier on much more as well and that’s okay. You can work towards that six, seven, eight figure business, whatever it is you want.
But in the meantime, it’s good to know that, hey, there are some things actually, and certainly this year again with COVID, I think we’ve all seen that we’ve managed without travelling and restaurants and parties and drinking and all sorts.
Number six, it doesn’t have to be perfect from day one. This is an important one. I was always looking for the right job in the right location and the right industry. But the reality is that there is no right answer. I wanted to work at the United Nations, but ended up in consumer goods marketing, something that was far from what I was aiming for, but that allowed me to develop valuable skills and knowledge while making lifelong friends among my colleagues.
I hadn’t planned to move back to London, but I found great opportunities there as I was first starting out. I then spent several years as a nomad, exploring ways to build my business on the road. And today I’m working on taking my business to the next level, once again, back in London and making a base for myself here.
Many of the seeds that I started sowing more than a year ago, which at the time didn’t grow into anything concrete are bearing fruit. I realised quickly that I can’t expect to be a world thought leader and bestselling author, living in my dream home from day one.
But with each client, each project, each article, I’m shaping the life that I want. As long as you’re progressing in the right direction, taking one step towards where you want to be, then consider it a good move. And this is so important on so many levels, but your definition of success can and will evolve over time.
And this idea of course, one step outside, but one step in the direction. That seems exciting, again, following your curiosity, that is how we eventually make big transformations. And certainly it’s not going to be perfect from day one. So embracing a bit of imperfection, swallowing our ego, recognising that yes, we can and will make mistakes and that’s okay. Be in it for the long haul.
Number seven, nothing lasts forever. It was a huge decision for me to leave my job. It was probably the biggest, intentional and proactive change I’d ever made. I told myself, however, that the worst thing that could happen in the event of not being able to create what I was trying to create was that I’d have to go back to a full-time job.
I know people who have decided to go back to a permanent role after a period of running their own business, happy in the knowledge that it is the right move for them. If my business isn’t doing as well in a few years time, if it’s no longer bringing me what I want and need, and if I decide I want to do something else, then I can always shut it down and move on to the next thing.
If I don’t want to stay in London anymore, then I can always move. Nothing is set in stone. Everything can be changed more or less, I’d say, if not immediately, then over time. So give it a try and see how it goes.
So this is really important too. Nothing lasts forever. That goes for your business and again, it can and will evolve. But also really thinking about the fact, you know what, if it doesn’t work out, you can come back to a full-time job or part-time job or a different job, the same job. Hopefully with your background, your experience that’s possible.
And I see this again and again, I’ve seen several people who are in my book, for example, who did choose to go back to a job. And a couple of them said, “You know what? In the interviews, the employer was so much more interested in that one year I took off in my business and my nonprofit that I was building than any of my formal qualifications and nobody ever really questioned, why did you take that time off?”
I think it’s really becoming a lot more acceptable and if not acceptable, even more so admirable and appreciated that you’ve done something a little bit different. More recently, I have a couple of very good friends who have also chosen to go back to a full-time job and, no judgement , if that’s what feels right for you, as long as you feel that is the right decision for you, you’re making it intentionally that decision and it’s not just that you’re giving up because you haven’t given it a proper go, then you know, all power to you. And that’s always an option for you. So nothing lasts forever.
Eight, you are not alone. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one with doubts. The only one not feeling fulfilled, but it’s just not true. In my Fearless Friday’s interview series, my blog, getting in my book, of course, and in my real world interactions in all sorts of different settings, I’ve been talking to countless other people who’ve left the corporate world behind to do something less conventional.
Whether it was to move into a different sector, to start their own business or to do something more creative. They all face their own fears and challenges and some have even returned to the corporate world in one way or another, but not one of them regrets their move.
So pull up a chair in a hostel, or even in your local pub, COVID notwithstanding and you’re bound to meet someone on his or her own journey of self discovery. It’s up to you to find your own way, but there are millions out there who are with you in spirit.
Hopefully that’s clear from the book, from my podcast and from being part of my Facebook community as well, finding lots of like minded people who are also thinking of leaving or working on leaving the nine to five. Getting to the end now.
So number nine, you’ll never have all the answers. I’ve been on a steep learning curve ever since I quit. As a new business owner has to learn about limited companies, corporation tax, VAT, PAYE, national insurance. I was creating proposals, contracts, invoices. I was editing the CSS of my website and I had to take responsibility for my own personal and professional development with no boss or company to provide me with any standard training or coaching.
Possibly the biggest challenge which persists til today has been finding the best way to balance work and income, on the one side with freedom and personal life on the other. I’m still experimenting and very much still learning.
Don’t wait for the point when you have the perfect plan and you’ve answered every possible question, as you’re never going to have 100% certainty. There’ll always be some risk, but maybe that’s okay? You’ll never have all the answers.
You can’t know, again, from that theoretical perspective of sitting in the comfort of your office, home office at the moment, perhaps sitting behind the computer and you do need to take those steps and be open to learning. And that’s what we want to do as well. We want it to be on that steeper learning curve and that’s exciting.
So embrace the fact that you won’t know exactly what’s going on and I’m all for having a vision and the plan and so on but there’ll always be some risk and that’s okay.
Finally, let’s be inspired by Lord of the Rings here. Not all who wander are lost. Number 10, not all who wander are lost. Life doesn’t have to be about having a prestigious job title, meeting the one, getting a mortgage, having two children, a dog, and a Volvo.
It can be hard to watch everyone around you settling down, but if you don’t want to follow that path now, or maybe ever, then there’s nothing wrong with continuing to explore different paths, meeting new people, living in different cities, travelling the world. Life doesn’t have an end point, well death, but I don’t think you should be working towards that as a goal. So why not let it be an endless journey of discovery and continuous learning.
I say Bon Voyage and if you happen to see me in that bar, somewhere in the world, then come and join me for a drink and we’ll share our stories, a re Pisco sour. Maybe that little last piece has changed a little bit for me, with the children, with the not so much drinking the Pisco sour, with not so much hanging out in hostels. However, I hope that’s still a possibility in the near future.
Right now in my life, it’s not quite what I’m doing, but that is the whole point. The point is that the fact that you’re not necessarily doing what other people are doing and so on doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. If you want children, if you don’t want children, if the people around you have a job, have a business.
The last thing I want to do is latch onto someone else’s definition of success. And a very difficult thing I think is when people around us, well-intentioned family and friends are questioning what we’re doing, when we ourselves have those doubts as well, that just reinforces our doubts.
So it’s really important, as I say, to sort of incubate yourself, protect yourself from those doubters, especially at the beginning of the process. To find like-minded community, so again, a plug for the One Step Outside Facebook group, offline, online, wherever you can meet people who are working on similar or very different ideas as well, but really embracing the idea that you can or will create your own future.
So, those are the 10 things I learned since quitting my job. And let’s go through them one more time. Why not? So number one, life on the other side is not as scary as you think. Two, you have to stick to your guns. Three, there are more options than you ever thought possible. Four, you can easily live on less money than you think. Five, new opportunities will appear from nowhere. Six, it doesn’t have to be perfect from day one. Seven, nothing lasts forever. Eight, you are not alone. Nine, you’ll never have all the answers and 10, not all who wander are lost.
So again, a little bit of a different episode there, but I thought it would be interesting to revisit this article, add a little bit of extra perspective. Again, I wrote this initially, I think, 2014 or so. I rewrote it a couple of times. This particular version is from 2017, but it’s one that, as I said, was meaningful to me, giving me a bit of a glimpse into the world of being published online.
And also the fact that so many of you have come to me and appreciated this article. So, if this is new to you, then I hope this can play a role in your escape as well, in your career transition. And I look forward to hearing your thoughts. So thank you so much for listening and I will see you back here next week. Bye for now.
If you’re ready to start to reimagine what success could look like for you, here are some of the ways in which Anna can support you:
Get private mentoring for your business – Partnering with a business coach can help you see those blind spots and get both external accountability and expert guidance to take your business to where you want it to be. www.onestepoutside.com/freeconsultation
Get private career coaching – Individual coaching is fully tailored to your specific goals and desires so we can create the programme that works best for you, with the support that you need to move forwards. www.onestepoutside.com/claritycall
Grab a copy of Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5 – After interviewing 50 people who have left the corporate 9 to 5 to forge their own path, Anna has collected their stories in a book that will inspire you with the possibilities that are out there and reassure you that you’re not alone in looking for an alternative. www.leavingthecorporate9to5.com
Join the One Step Outside the 9 to 5 Business Incubator – This is your roadmap to transitioning from a corporate job into setting up a meaningful business that will bring you more freedom, flexibility and fulfilment outside of the corporate 9 to 5. www.onestepoutside.com/9to5
Up-level with The Outsiders Business Accelerator – This is a mastermind for entrepreneurs, freelancers and small business owners who want to create a long-term sustainable brand and business. www.onestepoutside.com/accelerate