Warning: If you’re an idealist this post will bum you out.
When I was 24 years old I quit my amazing job in public health (which I completely took for granted by the way) to pursue a vaguely-formed and viscerally exciting dream of being a “Life Coach.” That’s right, I quit my cushy, salary-with-benefits job to move to New York City (ridiculously expensive) with NO stable source of income. I had a few thousand dollars saved and no real plan other than to “wing it” and put a lot of hard work into my itty bitty coaching business. My close friends and family were skeptical but supportive because of my enthusiasm. My millennial acquaintances threw buckets of praise my way, commending me for “taking a risk” and straying from the “beaten path.”
While I’m proud to have done what so many people are afraid to do, I admit that I did it completely wrong. The moment I quit my job I hopped on literally the next train to Grand Central and spent the next 1.5 years of my life surfing a big fat “ego wave” down the coast to nowhere. Needless to say, I wiped out.
Here are a few things I learned:
Having no steady income made me a bad coach - Not only did I burn a hole in my pocket, I put so much pressure on myself (and my clients) for income that I couldn’t feel as much joy in coaching. Instead of coaching with lightness, the sessions felt heavy. Sadly, I felt dependent on my client’s approval so they’d keep paying me. I became too wrapped up into creating flashy “client packages” that I spent too much time selling my services than actually providing them.
I need structure to stay focused- Without the structure of a 9-5, I flailed. I would sleep in until 10 or 11 each morning. When I attempted to wake up early, it didn’t take much for me to snooze the alarm because I had nowhere to be. I had a ton of friends in my neighborhood so I was easily distracted and wasted a lot of time socializing. While I’m extremely driven, my drive seemed to disappear when I had all the time in the world to work on my dream.
I burned out super-fast- After a year of working in “feverishly passionate bursts,” all I needed was to read an article about Millennial Life Coaches (and how most of them suck) to burn me out. On the days I did coaching, I would go-go-go for hours, working on my next project/event/client session. When I wasn’t working I’d feel extremely guilty not coaching because my livelihood depended on it. Additionally, I had zero patience in my business. With each passing minute I felt my savings account dwindling and I simply felt rushed to build Rome in a day. The stress was terribly exhausting, so I burned out.
During my burn-out period I took some time to step back and reexamine.
I realized that having financial stability is important for me to feel relaxed. I realized that I like having a place to be every morning at 9:00am. I realized that sleeping in every day no longer feels cool if you’re doing it every day. Other things I learned: I am not super disciplined and work better with a schedule. I’m happier with a schedule. Despite what every coach seems to preach, I like a clear divide between “work” and “play” (otherwise I feel guilty when I play….and yes, I’m aware that I should probably work on that guilt). Finally, I realized that when I have all the time in the world to focus on my passion, I lose focus.
It was not long after these realizations that I started applying to full time jobs again. I did not feel embarrassment or defeat to put coaching to rest because I was so done with struggling.
When I got a 9-5 job again I immediately felt a resurgence of confidence. My lightness returned and just when I thought I was done with coaching for good, I had a few new clients reach out, out of the blue.
Now that I don’t depend on these individuals for my stability, my time with them feels like a delightful bonus. In effect, I’m more joyful, more playful, more attentive and more secure as a coach. It’s friggin amazing.
If you’re planning to quit your day job- make sure you plan in out. Make sure no part of your plan includes “to wing it.” Make sure you have your financial situation figured out. Make sure you are aware of your evolving needs. Finally, don’t be ashamed if it doesn’t work out exactly the way you hope it will because there is a chance it won’t.