One of my most popular articles to date has been on the ‘10 lessons I learned since leaving my job‘. Initially written just six months after leaving my corporate role, it was first picked up by Business Insider and later shared on Inc. Magazine, Quartz and, most recently and in its updated form, by Arianna Huffington via her Thrive Global platform. When the article was first shared, Business Insider tweaked the title and added “…without a plan”. And I think that part of the message has been especially attractive. But while it’s completely true in my case, it’s not something that I necessarily recommend to my clients! And it has taken a long time and a lot of twists and turns to get to where I am today.
“I quit, wahoo!”
The appeal of not planning anything and just handing in your resignation is clear. You’re feeling completely fed up with your current job (see the ‘7 signs it’s time to re-think your career’) and even though you don’t know what to do next, the idea of quitting and things just working out provides a whole lot of relief and reassurance.
Now, first of all, the option of quitting without any kind of plan is really only available to you if you have a good amount of savings, no dependents, 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, when the initial euphoria has fizzled out and that immense sense of empowerment and freedom begins to settle as well, 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 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.
The power of a plan
So how can a plan help? Well, it 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 while removing the emotion that comes with it; and it mitigates both your own fears and those of the people around you.
When I talk about a plan, I don’t mean an Excel spreadsheet with a detailed picture of what you want to do and every single step and milestone you need to take to get there. Creating a complete roadmap like that from behind your desk is impossible, as you will learn things about yourself and the possibilities as you go, and things will inevitably evolve.
There are a few elements that you do want, however:
You absolutely need to set yourself a specific deadline to work towards. The nature of the deadline will vary according to the stage you’re at right now.
For example, you might give yourself:
- 6 months to create a savings buffer so that you can quit and work on your project without the pressure to having money coming in
- 6 months to validate your business idea and make sure it ‘has legs’ before you quit to pursue it full time
- 1 year to work on your business idea before you ‘pivot’ and try something else
Having that 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.
2. Your definition of success
I go on about this all the time, but unless you know what you’re aiming for, how can you possibly know whether or not you’ve been successful? Establishing parameters, criteria, will help you to assess the different possibilities that are appearing while metrics will allow you to make a more objective decision when you reach your deadline.
Your criteria might include:
- Able to work from home with flexible hours
- Intellectually challenging work that allows me to be creative
- Positive gut feel about the work and/or the client
Some examples of metrics:
- Saving 6 months’ worth of buffer, or £x
- Making at least 10 sales of your product or service
- Being hired by 3 different clients
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.
3. Steps you’re going to take
With a deadline and clear criteria and metrics, the final bit of your plan is taking action. Not just any action, the right action! The early part of the process will be about exploring and experiencing so don’t put pressure on yourself to make decisions early on, as you’ll just end up with something that isn’t meaningful or properly thought through. After a month or two, though, you’ll want to start narrowing down your options and get more focused, taking consistent action towards making your goal a reality.
Your action steps might include:
- Renting out your extra room and cutting down on unnecessary expenses to accelerate your saving
- Signing up for a course or a programme, or hire a coach to help you figure things out
- Setting up a simple website and blog
Each of these steps can (and should) be split into different steps, for example, the website will include (1) research your different options, (2) choose a platform, (3) buy a domain name, etc.
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.
If you’d like support in putting together an individual plan, my coaching programmes are six months precisely to allow us to work through from the exploration stage to taking concrete action and reaching that crucial decision point. Book your free consultation call to see how this could work for you >>