Many people fantasize about quitting their job to finally write that novel. Or start that business. Or change their career. Or hike that mountain. Or whatever.
How do you know if you should do it or not?
On the one hand, it worked for Thoreau, right?
On the other, there’s the familiar phrase, “don’t quit your day job”.
Here’s my advice.
That thing you are thinking about quitting your job for? You need to decide if it is a Fantasy or a Dream.
A Fantasy is About Being or Having. A Dream is About Doing.
(I realize I am taking liberties with definitions here in order to make a clearer point).
A Fantasy is something you imagine yourself being. Like being an author. Or architect. Or a magician. Or having some skill or some possession of status or material wealth. It is the end state.
A Dream is something you imagine yourself doing, working toward, digging into, struggling for. It’s not about status or power or credentials or recognition. A dream is something you want to immerse yourself into fully. A dream is a force that compels you to do the work. It is about the work.
I want to run a four minute mile. Do I want to work on that? Hell, no. That is a Fantasy.
I want to write a blog. Do I want to work on that? Yes. And I do, almost every single day. That is a Dream.
I’ve been in a lot of writing groups and one observation I’ve made again and again is this: Lots of people want to be a writer. Far, far, fewer want to write. They have the Fantasy of being a writer but they do not have the Dream of being a writer.
Put another way: Fantasy is the arrival; Dream is the Journey.
So be honest and ask yourself: “Do I want to BE the thing or do I want to WORK ON the thing?”
Note: There’s nothing wrong with having both Dreams and Fantasies. We all have both. But knowing how to label things can be life-changing.
There Is No Magic Switch
It’s amazing how many “writers” never put pen to paper before they quit their job to start their new life as an “author”.
The fantasy that once you don’t have to work on your job that you’ll suddenly be motivated is nonsense.
Question: Assuming you’re employed, what do you do when you aren’t working?
Whatever it is, you’re just going to be doing more of that thing when you are unemployed.
Humans are creatures of habit. Certain conditions trigger certain behaviors. “Free time” is a trigger for most of us one way or another. When we have free time, we go do the things we do in our free time. Social media, TV, exercise, pet the dog, etc.
Whatever “free time” has been triggering in you while you are employed will just be triggered more often when there’s no employment.
If, of course, you use your free time to work on your Dream – you write, you practice the skill, you study, you do the work, then you might be ready to quit your day job.
If you’re not already working on your dream in whatever free time you have, “finding the time” is almost certainly not the problem. (Test: trying blocking out an hour somewhere in your week to work on your Dream. See if you actually do it. If so, repeat and expand the time again and again. Still working on it? You might be onto a Dream).
I’ve known people to quit their job or take a sabbatical and work on their dream. At first they want to “take a well deserved rest” so they let themselves sleep in, maybe go on a trip, spend more days relaxing, maybe do some projects around the house they just “had” to take care of, etc.
And then it becomes a lifestyle. The projects get bigger (thank you, Resistance) and the sleeping in and extra socializing continues. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months. The guilt piles up. Soon they have no money and no progress on their “dream” and then they have to go look for a job that looks a whole lot like the last job.
Quitting your job is not a magic switch that gives you motivation and discipline to do something you weren’t already doing.
If you can’t figure out how to get any time to work on your dream while employed – this is your DREAM after all, right? – then you might be dealing with a fantasy instead of a dream.
I know there are some people who have many unbreakable commitments outside of work that take all their potential “free time”. They do not have any “free time”. This post is not directed at people in that situation. This is directed at those who have free time and are not spending it on their “dream”.
How to Know If Maybe It’s a Good Time To Sabbatical
If you’re giving up all your free time.
If you stay up late and/or get up early to work on it.
If you turn down social engagements.
If you have something to show for your efforts.
If you’re showing it.