Planning to quit my job vs. giving up on my dream
February 20, 2015 12:53 PM   Subscribe

I would like to devote myself to full time freelance illustration. I currently have an ok job, but my husband and I are tentatively planning on me quitting in the future so I can follow my dream. I realize not everyone gets to follow their dream though, and I worry it may be a Bad Decision.

My job pays relatively well, at 1x the median US household income, but there's no real future with the company. It's a small department and no room for upward movement (not that I would ever want to hold any kind of management position anyway). But it's easy. I feel like if I don't at least try to devote myself to my dream, then when I'm on my deathbed I'll regret my life. I've had a few successes, but I really don't have time for art right now with a full time job and a marriage.

My husband makes 1.5 times as much as me at his new job though, and he loves it. We are planning on moving into a cheaper apartment soon because our neighborhood has become too trendy and our rent is going up to $1500/month. We might be able to find something closer to his job at $1200 or so. We have a lot of debt and two cars, but if I tough it out at my job (which causes me a lot of anxiety, and is boring) for another year, we could probably pay most of it off. The idea is that then his income would probably be enough to support us while I work on my art and trying to make it into a fulfilling way to make a living.

I have no illusions though that I will ever make as much as I am right now through freelance illustration, even if I were 100% confident in my viability as a professional artist. I feel like I should try at least.

However, I fell into my current job by accident; a recruiter called me, the same day I accepted a job at whole foods, after months of looking for work. I do not believe I'd ever be so lucky if it turned out I had to look for a corporate job again. I feel like maybe the universe dropped this in my lap, and it would be foolishness to give it up.

Like I said, this would be a year away if I decide to do it and we'd have some time to plan, but I don't really if I should even make these plans or just accept what I've been given. I'm constantly ruminating over this and whether I'll fuck up our lives.

Is it worth it to not have that regret later in life? Did you give up financial security for a dream? Was it worth it?
posted by polywomp to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see what the downside of Acting As If you will quit your job in a year. You will have paid off most or all of your debt; you will have lower living expenses; you will (presumably) have something of a portfolio and at least the start of some contacts and clients (because networking to build that list is also something you should start doing!). If in a year you decide you don't want to start as a freelancer, what have you lost?
posted by rtha at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

For the rest of this year, work on reducing your expenses. Pay off your debts, sell your car (you won't need one if you're working from home, right?), get serious about budgeting. If his income is enough to pay for your expenses, save for emergencies, and put something aside for retirement, you'll feel safer about quitting.

Remember also that although you are framing this as an either-or, it isn't. You could find another corporate job that you like better. You could find a part-time job somewhere and pursue your dream the rest of the time. You won't be giving up all hope of financial security by quitting one job.
posted by chaiminda at 1:02 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you can possibly manage it, start your business right now. Get a couple of clients, build your business, get yourself through the part where you undercharge because you can't believe people pay you for this shit.

It can take a long time to build a business, and in the beginning you probably won't have many clients, so you may as well do it while earning a living some other how. Plus if you discover that you really hate it, you still have a job!

At worst, this will really force you to think through who exactly your customers will be and how you will sell to them, and then try it out and see if your plan actually works. At best, when you quit your job you'll be self supporting already.

Disclaimer: I have done this, but not in your industry.
posted by emilyw at 1:08 PM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Additional info: I've worked with some game publishers already (I do fantasy art), but the commissions are few and far between. However, haven't really had any time in the last year or two to work on updating my portfolio and seek new clients. I have about 3 hours or less of usable time after work in the evenings and weekends I just want to veg out. I could extract some time there, I guess, but I've been trying for a while and am just pooped by the weekend.

Also, I know the business and networking part of doing freelance would be a challenge, as I just suck at promoting myself and am not a networker/social go-getter type personality. All my social skills are consciously emulated.

I currently do graphic design, sort of, but I suck at it enough where I doubt I could get a different job in the field.
posted by polywomp at 1:16 PM on February 20, 2015

I am you at 44 (except a writer) and I wish I had given it more a go before we had children/daycare/etc. etc. etc. I think your plan to pay off debt and then go full-steam after your goals is a fantastic one and I don't see the downside as long as you a) have an emergency fund b) are contributing some to retirement and c) can pay your bills.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:20 PM on February 20, 2015

I say follow your dream. If I could re-do my life that's what I would do.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:24 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've done this, but not in your industry. I'm about 4 months in, and I have just a couple clients. I knew it would be a while before I had more work, so I'm not panicking. Yet. I felt guilty for a long time for not loving my sorta-safe corporate job. But my anxiety was causing multiple health problems and diminishing my quality of life. It's hard when you have the thing that so many people want-- a decent job-- and it doesn't make you happy. But it doesn't, and that's okay, and you are now exploring your other options. Good for you!
posted by tuesdayschild at 1:27 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

My partner has always wanted to be an illustrator, and we have worked hard towards that goal. Last year, I made enough to (just barely) support the two of us, and at the age of 30 she was finally able to quit her day job. Like yours, her job made her anxious and tired and the pay was ok, but not great.

She quit about four months ago, and so far she's had more success already than in the ~6 years she spent trying to freelance with a full-time job. Having the time and energy to devote to promotions made all the difference. She is not making as much yet as she did at her day job, and we never know if money is going to come in the next month, but she is much happier and honestly, so am I. Sure we've had to stop going out, but I love knowing she's at home and happy all day. We both have high hopes for her future.

If you do quit, one tip which you may already know: taxes are a pain in the ass. Find a good tax person, and make sure to mentally (and literally) subtract 30% from every job for taxes.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 1:34 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I could extract some time there, I guess, but I've been trying for a while and am just pooped by the weekend.

In addition to working on paying down debt, work on your health, such as eating healthier, getting regular exercise, and/or improving your sleep hygiene. If you have more physical energy and mental focus, you will be more able to work part-time on your craft and start laying the groundwork for turning it into an income while you still have a job. Also, once you are a freelancer, being healthy and having good mental focus help you get up and get at it instead of just sleeping the day away, watching TV and so on. It is much, much, much harder to be self-directed than it is to show up at work and do as you are told until it is time to go home.

Also, look over your life and see if there are some changes you could make that would give you more time and energy. If you do move, think about how the new place will impact things like driving to a grocery store or whatever. Arranging your home life so it takes care of you instead of you being a slave to chores can help give you back some precious time and energy for devoting to your dream.
posted by Michele in California at 1:58 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think it is completely worth it to do what you are contemplating.

I had a very good -- and very well compensated -- corporate career. There were some limits to how far I could advance at my company, but I was still getting promotions and probably had at least one big one ahead of me.

The problem was, I increasingly hated what I was doing for a living, and found my company totally toxic. For a while I actively pursued switching companies, but realized it was the career itself that was making me more miserable than anything.

I started pursuing a return to a creative field I worked in before I began my corporate career and came to the realization that if I didn't make that happen I was never going to be fully happy. My work misery was affecting my health and making my husband and kids unhappy too.

So last year, I gave notice and my family moved to another city where we have family and where my husband could pursue a business while I take time to be home with my kids and transition into the creative field. We're living on a lot less income, but we feel our lives have been so enriched by having more time together, keeping things more simple, and pursuing our dreams.

It definitely took careful planning to make sure we had adequate resources and a backup plan (or two) but I feel like I have a new lease on life because we took the leap. I wish you lots of luck.
posted by gateau at 2:10 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Did you give up financial security for a dream? Was it worth it?

So I wanted to go freelance, and not work for an employer.

I had the same anxieties and concerns before I quit, even until the last day of my job. In the end, it all worked out (5 years later, still self employed). Financially I am doing more than alright.

So I am sharing a few things that people told me that helped me view the situation in a different manner:

• One question that I asked another person who had made the jump was "Maybe I should do this part time first, or maybe I should save $XXXX first, add on an infinite number of things that I had to do first." The other person stated that by just quitting and trying to get money via freelancing would motivate me to work hard. Because as an employee, you are comfortable (well fed, roof over your head, coffee mug at your desk, little snack pellets so that you are a busy beaver working away), and there is no reason to actually seek and/or make the extra time for the other thing that you want to do. So he encouraged me to quit first and "chain the wolf to the door" (starvation staring you in the face). That was how I quit my job, no in between slowly build up the business, just jumped. In the end, this was the best solution for me, although not for everyone, of course.

• On the last day of work I was panicking. I did leave my job on very good terms and had enough money for a few months, plus a crazy plan to use credit cards if it didn't work to give me one year, just one year, to see if it worked. I told a coworker that this might be the end of my financial life and working life and the other person put it into perspective: "You have a plan, a client, some back up money, they like you here, so the worst come back here or somewhere else in a year." It is the same thing for you, OP. You still have the job skills that you have - assuming that your coworkers/place of business likes you. A recruiter found you before. At minimum, you gave your dream a go (and learn things toward this time, or another future trial). Worst case, you are back in a work place.

I know the business and networking part of doing freelance would be a challenge, as I just suck at promoting myself and am not a networker/social go-getter type personality.

I'm not a social person (a rock has better social skills than me), and if my life depended on networking, I would probably starve to death. There are many ways to find clients. Believe it or not, things like LinkedIn and emailing companies worked for me. Just keeping the same client and doing stuff over and over again for them worked. I suspect that there will be other ways that are available to you so that you can clients that fit your personality. Maybe this could be a future ask meta question, I bet someone or a few people can come up with a few ways for you to find clients that are not dependent on handshakes and networking and blah blah blah.

Is it worth it to not have that regret later in life?

If it helps, I'm likely to make a jump like this again (something entirely different) within the year. My thought is: If you are not happy doing what you are doing, what the hell is the point of the $? Give it a go, and please tell us how it turns out.
posted by Wolfster at 2:13 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

"But it's easy. I feel like if I don't at least try to devote myself to my dream, then when I'm on my deathbed I'll regret my life. "

You will. Take it from someone who has been on that deathbed and miraculously managed to cheat it.

It's true that many people don't get to do what they love in life. That's ok because that's a part of life and a lot of people know that. But that's the problem. It's so accepted that people think to themselves, "I'll be ok if I never do ___. A lot of people go through life not being able to do things. When I'm 55 I'll think it would've been nice to do ___, but it wasn't in the cards and oh well."

But it won't be like that. There comes a time in your life when what you thought wouldn't be a big deal to pass up on becomes a big regret. You often don't even see it coming, but eventually it does come. It's the regret of not trying. If you try and fail THEN you can say the above script to yourself without any fear of regret, because after trying you at least know that it wasn't in the cards for you. But if you don't try, there will come a time when you start to wonder - "Was it really not in the cards? Or was I just too scared to pick one up from the deck?" You don't want to wonder that in your old age. From your post it seems to me you're in a position where you can financially survive well enough by taking this risk, so I say go for it.
posted by rancher at 8:58 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

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