Life experiments: Living the dream(?)

leaping

Image by rAmmoRRison, via Flickr

What does your dream life look like? If money was no object, and you could live where you want, do what you want, and be what you want, what would that be? If you don’t know yet, set aside some time to think about it. Knowing what you want doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it, but it makes it a lot more likely.

For most people, living the dream does not involve sitting in a cubicle all day making money for someone else—quitting your job is probably a prerequisite. I like my job pretty well lately, and I was thinking “oh, I like my life just fine, I can keep it cushy like it is and be happy.”

But then I read a post by Everett Bogue where he described his day: he gets up, eats breakfast, writes, walks around town, has a little lunch, talks to people, writes some more, does yoga, hangs out.

Would I rather do that than cram writing into an hour or two in the morning before I rush off to work to sit in a beige box all day? Why yes, I would. I would rather work on my own projects, the stuff I find awesome enough to get really into, than work on somebody else’s stuff that is all right sometimes, pointless others, and occasionally maddening.

A lot of people feel this way; that’s why Tim Ferris, Everett Bogue, Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau, Ash Ambirge, Nina Yau, Tyler Tervooren, and so many others are so popular. They’ve taken control of their own lives, made their freedom, and are living on their own terms, doing what they feel passionate about. And they’re telling us we can do it, too.

In fact, Tyler Tervooren has a free e-book on this subject on his blog, Advanced Riskology: Take this job and shove it. It’s worth checking out. The funny thing about this is with all the Riskology stuff, I was expecting it to be all about taking the leap—forget “what color is your parachute,” ditch the parachute altogether and just fly! But actually, it’s very concrete advice about figuring out the minimum you need to live, cutting your expenses now, and saving up.

That’s it! I guess there’s no magic after all.

If you want to quit your job and take charge of your own life, the first thing I recommend doing is making a plan. Run the numbers. What are you monthly expenses now? What could you cut or eliminate? Imagine you lost your job and had to live on unemployment for the next year—you’d make it work, because you had to, right? Well, how? Figure it out and start living that way now; pay off any debts you have and put the rest in a savings account. This is your freedom fund. Get money diverted there automatically every pay check, and don’t touch it until you make the leap.

But wait, is this a good idea?

Breaking away from the 9-to-5 is scary. It feels very safe doing what everyone else is doing and having someone else responsible for making the money come in. I haven’t made the leap yet myself, but I’m working on it. Here are a few questions I’m asking myself.

  • Do I really want to be responsible for myself? At a regular job, your work generally makes more money for the company than it does you, but then again, you don’t have to be the one to come up with the money. Working for yourself is a lot less structured, and you’re it! If there’s no money coming in, you’re going to have to figure out how to fix that. You won’t have a bunch of stupid meetings to go to, but you won’t be able to coast, either.
  • Can I structure my time effectively? With a regular job, someone else usually determines what you do and tells you when to do it. They don’t care if you want to bake a pie right now instead of programming or if this is the last sunny day to wash your car—you sit where they tell you and do what they tell you when they tell you.

    This is what I like least about having a regular job, but some people want, maybe even need, someone to tell them what to do and when. If you’re one of those people, self-employment is probably not for you. For myself, I’ve had some less structured jobs (notably being a college professor), so I know I work well with the ability to govern myself and set my own priorities.

    Having total freedom of schedule is a little scary—I’m still afraid I might just goof off all the time and never get anything done. Setting my own goals, deadlines, and daily tasks seems to solve that, though.

  • Do I have something I want to work on that much? If you want to quit your job to do nothing, or even just work less, that’s probably not going to work out. Frankly, it’s much more feasible to be part of the fat of a big company than to be self-employed and goof off. Make sure you’re leaping to something you want, not just running from a job you hate.
  • Do I have a plan for making money? For me, this is the hardest and scariest part, but it is crucial. If you can’t make money on your own, at some point, you’ll have to go back to working for the man, so you’ve got to get this figured out. Ideally, you’ll want to start doing it before you make the leap to see if it will really work.

What to do next?

Well, Everett Bogue would probably tell you to throw your tv out the window and just do it already, but I’m a lot more cautious than Everett Bogue. I recommend trying it first.

If you have a big project you really want to work on, it could probably use a good push of uninterrupted time to get started. Take a week or two off work and work on it. Pretend you’re self-employed and start living the life you envision for yourself.

I think this is important for two reasons.

We’ve all heard about the power of visualization, how visualizing yourself doing something helps you nail it when you do it in real life. Well, if doing it in your head is powerful, imagine how powerful it must be to do it in real life!

Also, really living it for a week or two will allow you to find out if your vision of your new life is unrealistic, or if your plan has small flaws that need to be corrected before you put it into action. Better to learn those things now and handle them from safer ground than to be surprised after you’ve made the leap.

I’m actually doing this right now: I took a week and a half of vacation in addition to the Thanksgiving holiday to give myself a full two weeks away from work. I’m working on Affiliate Marketing for Beginners, as I mentioned before, but the one thing I can’t keep my hands off is an e-book that I’m writing. I’m super excited about it, I’m making great progress, and it’s going to be free, so watch for it! My goal is to release it around the middle of next month.

So what have I learned so far during my week as a pretend self-employed person?

  • First of all, I love this job! I love writing, I love having tons of time to write, and I love having time to research other things that support my goals. I love not having to look at the clock or be on a schedule. I love being my own boss.
  • There are a few things that would have to change for this to work long-term, though. Normally, I write on my teeny laptop on the couch in my pajamas. This is fine for an hour or two a day, but not so good for my back and shoulder in longer stretches. I do have a desk, but usually I goof off there—I guess I need to find a way to switch roles so that the desk is where I do work and the couch is where I goof off.
  • Also, I will really need a routine that gets me out of the house and moving every day if I do this long-term. I’ve been surprised to find myself staying inside in pajamas all the time. That’s good for getting a lot of writing done, but really not a healthy way to live.
  • Time still gets away from me, just like in my regular life, but I feel a lot more satisfied because almost everything I’m doing is something I really care about and value. I am surprised that the time change is still bothering me at home—I thought that driving home in the dark was what I hated about it, but actually, getting dark at 4:30 stills sucks even when I’m not at the office.

All in all, it’s been very interesting and awesome, and I urge you to try it, too. Figure out what you really want to do, make a plan, start saving up, and do a trial run. At the very least, getting out of the office for that long at a stretch will be a good change of scenery. But more importantly, it’s your life. If you can find what you’re passionate about and would really love to be doing, you’d be crazy to choose the cubicle farm instead. Find a way to make it work, and do it! The world needs all the awesome it can get.

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5 Responses to Life experiments: Living the dream(?)

  1. Hi Cara. Thanks so much for the kind words about the guide and sharing it with your readers. Really appreciate that.

    Your self-employment “trial period” is a great approach and something I also did before I totally jumped ship. For anyone that tries it though, just remember: If it goes poorly, it doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for it; it can take awhile to train yourself to “be your own boss,” especially when it isn’t imminent. Also, if it does go well, know that there will still be times when you have to do a little un-fun stuff to keep the good things flowing. 🙂

  2. aquatom1968 says:

    Great post, Cara!

    I have loads of ideas for things that I would like to do, and really want to do something different (with regards to my job) but I don’t allow myself enough time to think things through properly enough to decide one way or the other! So I tend to carry on doing what I always do… As soon as I can, I’ll give myself some time and experiment!

  3. Jessica says:

    Looks like a good plan to me! You know how cautious I am…I couldn’t imagine going without a trial period. If I ever decide there’s something better out there for me than what I’m doing, I’ll remember this post!

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