Do you ever dream of working for yourself?
Are you sick of feeling trapped inside a gray cubicle?
Does the thought of doing work you enjoy on your own terms make you delirious with desire?
Me, too, which is why I quit my day job this summer to be home and enter the world of freelancing.
I’ve learned a lot since then. There have been challenges and bumps in the road, sure, but here’s something else you should know: After paying off debt and getting our finances in line, working for myself is actually a million times easier than having a traditional day job. Despite the challenges, there are some not-so-hidden benefits I want to share with you, like being able to:
- Take a day off, walk or exercise whenever I want to.
- Stare as yellow leaves flutter from a tree branch.
- Work from anywhere, including my favorite coffee shop.
- Completely eliminate writing yearly reviews. Mwahhaaaaaaa. That feels good.
- Give myself a raise if I want by finding more clients.
- Say, do and think what I want without the fear of getting written up.
- Only work with people I like.
- Nap on the couch before the kids get home from school.
and so on. I’ll stop there, but you get the idea.
So you want to quit the traditional day job. What comes next?
If you’re feeling stumped, this post is going to help with that.
I’ve invited Tammy Strobel from Rowdy Kittens to talk about her experience with kicking the cubicle habit. She believes in building very small businesses - and she’s the author of Smalltopia: A Practical Guide to Working for Yourself. I’ve personally read the book (make that, devoured her tips in one straight sitting) and I’m thrilled to share Tammy’s story with you today.
The preferred career is to follow the well-worn path, to read the instructions, to do what we’re told. It’s safer that way. Less responsibility. More people to blame. – Seth Godin
Tell me about life before Rowdy Kittens, before downsizing, before quitting your day job … what was it like?
Tammy Strobel: About five years ago, we started talking about downsizing our lives. In the beginning it was all talk and not a lot of action. During this time, my life was very stressful. I was working way too many hours and not devoting enough time to the really important things in life, like building strong relationships, my health or volunteering in my community. And frankly, I was an emotional wreck. I was deeply unhappy for a number of reasons; a lot of that unhappiness came from stress and at the time I was still struggling with my eating disorder. So, in a lot of ways, embracing a simpler lifestyle empowered me on many levels.
Downshifting my career was my first big step in the downsizing process. I left the investment management industry and start working in the movement to end violence against women. I loved the work I was doing, but we were still living paycheck to paycheck and had a lot of debt.
And then there was all of our stuff. We had two walk in closets packed with clothing, dozens of kitchen appliances, enough plates to feed over 24 people, a bathroom that was packed with personal care products, couches, lamps, coffee tables, trinkets, plus our cars! All of this stuff took up precious time and space in our lives.
You’ve just self-published your second book, Smalltopia: A practical guide to working for yourself. Click here to view more details. Who is this book for?
Tammy: If you’ve been thinking of escaping your cubicle, Smalltopia will help you figure out what you plan on escaping to. The ebook will benefit anyone who is interested in leaving a traditional 9-5 job or who is just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey.
In addition, the guide includes tips, tools, and strategies that will help individuals create personal freedom through a very small business.
What is your definition of a “Smalltopia?”
Tammy: Smalltopia is a really simple philosophy that includes these three points:
1. Live small. Think big. Do something.
2. Focus and don’t engage in stupid work.
3. Build a strong community by helping people improve their lives.
Folks tend to make things too complicated. In Smalltopia, I encourage people to simplify and start small. For example, instead of taking out a huge loan to open a retail space I would suggest taking a low overhead approach by working out of your home and selling products online.
What do you want unsatisfied working women reading this today to know about creating their own Smalltopia?
Tammy: You can create your own Smalltopia. It probably won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking one small step toward your goal everyday will result in a huge payoff.
Every time you start getting frustrated remember this quote by E.L. Doctorow.
…”writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I think this is one of the best quotes about writing and life. It’s a slow process, more like traveling by bicycle at night rather than a car. You don’t have to see where you’re going or even the destination, you just have to see a few feet in front of you and look for the next turn on the road.
Simplify the quitting process. What are the most important actions to take in order to quit your day job?
Tammy: Quitting a job isn’t hard. The hard part is figuring out how to sort through all your responsibility and commitments. It’s totally possible, but I think it’s essential to think through all of that stuff.
If you want to escape your cubicle, make sure you have something to escape to. I think it’s really important to do three things: First, get your finances and spending under control. If you are deep in debt it’s going to be really hard to escape the rat race. Second, be really clear about your career goals. What are you going to do after you leave your day job? Is there a market for the service you are offering? I think you can get paid to do what you love, but I also think it’s essential to do the research. Third, talk to your partner about your dreams and ambitions. I guarantee he or she will support your long-term goals. (Any loving partner should!) However, being in a partnership means your choices will impact your mate. So it’s essential to talk through all of that stuff before making any kind of career change.
And as you get ready to leave your job, do so responsibly. Don’t burn bridges. The idea of walking out and saying, “Take this job and shove it!” sounds appealing. But I think leaving with a smile on your face is vengeance enough.
What did you do, personally, when you wanted to give up? I know from experience that a goal two or three years in the future can feel underwhelming.
Tammy: I look for inspiration in other places. And usually that comes from books, blogs, and hanging out with creative people. For me, escaping the rat race didn’t happen over night. It was a process. It took time to get rid of our stuff and pay off our debt.
Also, as we slowly downsized it was helpful to look back and see how far we’d come. We continually reviewed our accomplishments and broke our goals into small tasks each month. By doing this, our process seemed more tangible.
In the end, all the hard work and waiting was worth it. My time is mine. I’m free to work on projects that I care about and that is incredibly empowering.
Is there a new American dream forming? What do you want readers to know about the future?
Tammy: Yes, there is a new American dream forming. People are tired of the status quo and business as usual. So they are starting to either question or opt-out of the traditional American dream.
To make the new American dream a reality, you can do three things:
1. Share resources.
2. By making small changes in your daily life, you can have a huge impact at the macro-level.
3. Focus less on yourself and start helping others.
To purchase Smalltopia and start building your own very small business, Click here to view more details.
Full disclosure: I promise to never recommend products I don’t fully believe in and use myself. I am an affiliate for Smalltopia, so any purchases will help support this blog. Tammy’s book is truly a practical guide – her stories will inspire you and the micro-actions will help you answer, “What’s next?” Make sure you check out her blog, too. Spread the love!
Photos by Tammy Strobel/Rowdy Kittens.