From the monthly archives:

July 2009

Goodbye, Day Job!

by Haider on July 10, 2009 · 19 comments

in Professional

Today (9 July) is my birthday.

And what better way to celebrate my birthday than to experience a re-birth and opening a new chapter in my life?

Which is why I’ve chosen this day as the last day I work at a regular day job.

But before I talk about the reasons for my decision, I must begin with a word of caution:

Every person I spoke to recommended that I secure another job before quitting my current job. While this may be a sensible approach to many, I don’t believe it was applicable to my situation, and I will cover the reasons for that in this post.

Having said that, my approach is extremely risky by any standard, and I wouldn’t like to recommend it to anyone. I offer this post as a personal account, which you may be able to relate to. But I urge you to consider your own situation before committing to follow in my footsteps.

As much as I hate relying on others for financial support, I have asked family members to help me during the transition into this new model of work that I would like to live by. If you’re not surrounded by a supportive group that is able to offer such assistance, you may still be able to make such a move, but I can’t personally encourage you to take that step. I simply don’t know enough about this journey to be able to make such a bold claim to success. I can’t guarantee for others what I haven’t secured for myself. Making such a drastic move may require more planning than I had anticipated, so I can’t ask anyone to imitate my decision. It’s too early for that.

I suggest you read this post as an insight into why I think day jobs are ineffective, and try to look for ways you can reshape your work schedule so that it can do away with some of the disadvantages of a regular day job.

Reasons for Staying

I’ve been thinking about leaving my current job for over two years, but never took a serious step to finding another job or re-considering my approach to work.

One of the main reasons why I believe I was able to endure my current job without looking for better alternatives was the acceptance that this is what life feels like, and that I shouldn’t aspire for anything better. This is an idea that we may consciously reject, but it sets the tone for the life we lead. We don’t make a move because we don’t believe it’s worth trying. Life will feel the same no matter where we go.

Work is annoying. Work is frustrating. Work is time-consuming. Work is constraining. No matter where you go, work will always be the same. The faces surrounding you will change and the salary might be different, but the experience of working will be the same.

Whenever I complained to people about office politics, they would say: “Big deal. You get that everywhere.”

But should it exist in the first place? Are humans incapable of creating a work environment they can enjoy? Is this the only work template we are left with?

The subconscious answer is usually a soul-breaking: Yes.

If you’re not convinced that this is all that life has to offer, you won’t be willing to go down without a fight. You will accept that there are greater things waiting for you, if you would only pursue them.

But rather than pursue them, your journey is brought to a halt by the twin obstacles of fear and hope. Fear that you might not get what you want once you make your move and hope that things will get better where you are.

I used to proactively stoke the fire of hope by pursuing my own projects so that I can remain excited and engaged in my work. This meant that I was unable to move beyond where I was and to pursue another job.

Reasons for Leaving

One of the projects I felt passionate about was re-designing the student website. Before it became an official project, I was begging my manager to give me this project to work on, but she didn’t believe I had the time to take on such a project (and, being realistic, I believe she was right, given the work conditions at the time).

When I heard that the site re-design became an official project, I was eager to jump on the project bandwagon and offer whatever support I can provide.

But I soon realized that the project won’t be properly managed, and so I offered my recommendations on the management level rather than get my hands dirty with web development (which was being delayed by a management decision, anyway).

There was a consistent stream of wrong decisions being made by the project manager. Whenever I would suggest something, I would somehow be “100% correct” but none of my suggestions would be implemented. Things that seemed obvious to me were entirely overlooked by the project manager and the project committee. The team members that I spoke to would agree with me, but would not be prepared to take on my issues with management. They simply wanted to focus on their own tasks.

I felt responsible to help the project succeed, but I was being treated like an obstacle that was getting in the way of progress. The fact that the project was going in the wrong direction didn’t seem to matter as long as “progress” was being made.

Because I take my work seriously, the project was affecting every aspect of my life. Whenever I spent time with family I would be thinking about the project and how I can help it change course. But whenever I spoke up I would be ignored. The emotional toll this project was having on me was unbearable, but I still felt committed to it.

After giving some recommendations to the committee head, I was told to not involve myself in the committee’s work and to concentrate on my own tasks. This was extremely hard for me to accept, because I knew that the committee’s decisions will determine the success of the project much more than the work that I would be doing. I tried to focus on my own tasks, but I couldn’t. I was effectively being told to paddle upstream in a waterfall. I experienced chest pains and stomach aches for three consecutive days while I was trying to ignore the work the committee was doing so I can continue my paddling.

When I was called in to be briefed about committee decisions that were made that day (some of which I had suggested 6 months earlier), I realized that my efforts were in vain. The head of the committee distanced me from the decision-making, even though I reached the decisions that she had reached 6 months before. I walked out of the meeting and sent an email to the committee head informing her that I had left the project.

And after securing for myself some financial support if I was to resign, I told my manager that I would be resigning.

Although I had the intention to leave a long time ago, this experience acted as a catalyst that forced me to take decisive action, rather than fear uncertainty or hope for uncertainty. It crystallized some important facts that I was choosing to ignore. These facts are what led me to decide that I should no longer aspire to hold a regular day job.

The Facts that Made the Difference

Throughout my 4 years of employment, I always struggled to come to work on time. Most days I would have to chisel myself out of bed. I usually blamed lack of motivation for this. But motivation had nothing to do with it. I was experiencing a struggle I was hoping would go away.

I was trying to conform to policies that I did not agree with. I don’t believe that developers need to be present in a specific location to be of value and that they need specific work hours to offer their value. I don’t agree with such an approach to work, but I was trying to force myself to fit into that mold. Don’t get me wrong. Some jobs require attendance and a specific work schedule. But do these factors apply to the type of work that I’m doing? And – more importantly - am I doing the work that I want to be doing and is most suited for me?

Some people enjoy selling products to customers. Others enjoy writing in a secluded corner. A day job doesn’t distinguish between the two. It simply tells you to show up at a specific location during specific times, even if that’s not the best approach to the work being carried out.

This was only part of the struggle I was experiencing. There are other issues that fueled my inner conflict. But what I realized was that this conflict was between my values and company values, but the inner conflict emerged because my actions weren’t stemming from my own values. My actions were trying to adjust to company values. That’s why (or one of the reasons why) I found it difficult to get out of bed. I was trying to ignore my values, while my body knew that I wasn’t convinced with company values. You can’t live according to other people’s values.

This struggle meant that I was wasting my time, my energy, my emotions and my life doing things that I shouldn’t really be doing. I’m not doing myself a favor or anyone else on the face of the planet a favor by wasting my life living against my values and not looking for a way that I can truly shine.

What pushed me over the edge when it comes to abandoning the whole notion of a regular day job is the fact that different people have different strengths. Some are good at programming, others are good at managing. Some bring the greatest value to others through their ideas, while others do it through physical labor. Some can see the big picture, while others can see the finest details. We each have unique strengths that should be the basis for our career decisions. I wasn’t at a job that harnessed my greatest strengths, which meant that I was doing the world a disservice by staying there. What’s more, I realized that my greatest strengths reside in tasks that don’t fit the day job mold.

I am better at defining a process than carrying it out. I can tell a company how they should handle customer care rather than be a customer care staff member. Once I realized what my greatest strengths truly are, it seems only sensible that I should abandon the idea of a regular day job, and look for ways I can make the most use of my strengths.

I cannot afford to waste more time stuck in my day job trying to look for another day job when the work model itself doesn’t suit my style of work.

These are the main reasons for my decision, and why I can now celebrate my Personal Independence Day, knowing that I made the right decision.

I look forward to sharing more about my experience with you, and hope I can be a source of inspiration and information for you to realize your own dreams and share your own strengths with the world!

Stay tuned to find out how my life unfolds and what lessons will be unravelled along the way.

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