I was having lunch with a good friend about five years ago, and he uttered something I had heard numerous times in previous months – “You do realize your wife is having another child don’t you?”
Heck, the question had been plaguing my mind as well. What I was considering doing was so far from the realm of being wise that it seemed insane.
Here I was a father of soon to be three young children and I was on the brink of leaving my relatively secure job with great benefits to run a small side business my wife began about 18 months prior. Sure, for someone who was younger and without kids it might make sense, but for someone staring down 40, it seemed ludicrous.
Even typing it now, part of me still wonders how I mustered up the guts to take the plunge into self-employment. Looking back, I can sum up in one word what made my decision so difficult – fear.
Life in a Cookie Cutter
We crave comfort and safety as humans. We find something we like or that doesn’t require much risk, and we camp out there. I lived for years that way. I had a gorgeous wife, beautiful children, a decent albeit unexciting job as a stockbroker and a nice home.
I was comfortable, but I was also going nowhere. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was opening myself up to risk masked as safety. As Goethe says, “The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.”
It would be easy to think or see that I had everything. Don’t get me wrong, I was and am still incredibly blessed. However, I was living a life that was safe. I was coloring within the lines of life and pursuing a cookie cutter life – the kind of life you’re ‘supposed’ to live – work for 3-4 decades for a large corporation and hope you have some time to enjoy life in your retirement years. There’s nothing wrong with that lifestyle if it suits you.
Years of agonizing dissatisfaction made it crystal clear to me that avoiding the danger inherent with a self-employed career wasn’t keeping me safe. It was holding me back. I knew the traditional 9 to 5 job striving away in a cubicle to make someone else rich simply wasn’t for me or our family.
Fear Paralyzes and Motivates
Fast-forward a few months from the earlier conversation and I did the unthinkable to many around me. I had a four-year-old, a two-year-old and a newborn and I left my job.
My wife was bringing in 60-70 percent of her former day job income through her side hustle, and that was it. I was leaving our main income source, all of our benefits, including health insurance and a decent 401(k) match and throwing it out the window.
To say that I was afraid is putting it mildly. I remember lying awake at nights wondering how we were going to put food on the table for our little ones. I was afraid it was all going to blow up in our faces and would only confirm the doubtful thoughts expressed by many, including myself.
Fear is a funny thing, though. It can do one of two things. It can either lead you to put your head in the sand, or it can lead you to action. The former births a self-fulfilling prophecy. The latter can be harnessed into a powerful perspective that the world is full of opportunities waiting to be taken. As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Turning fear into motivation requires seeing those shots and not shying away from taking them. It means smiling at opportunities even when they are wrought with uncertainty. Every risk you take won’t end in success, but you’ll never grasp the prize without taking the plunge.
I remember my wife saying something that helped me turn the corner and go after my dream of running my own business. After coming in second for at least the fifth time on a promising job opportunity, she said, “No one else is willing to take a chance on you and they don’t know what they’re missing. It’s time for you to take a chance on yourself because you know what you’re capable of when you set your mind to accomplishing a goal.”
That ended up being just the motivation I needed to go after my dream of running my own business.
Where We’ve Come
I left my job in June 2012, days after our youngest was born. We hit the ground running with the side business my wife had and actively started to build it. Not only did we have to increase what it was bringing in, but we also had to replace the $50,000 per year in income I had been earning from my job.
Most of 2012 was a struggle. Clients we counted on amounted to nothing. Clients who promised us big things brought very little business. This continued into early 2013. While there were a few months we were thinking we might have to tap into our emergency fund, we were able to hold off.
Then, something happened. We started to get new clients as referrals from current clients. People started seeking us out. By the end of 2013, we had nearly doubled the most we ever made as a couple in one year.
2014 brought more of the same, tripling our highest amount ever made and finally, 2015 saw us making more than four times our highest take home pay in the corporate world, and 2016 is shaping up to do the same.
While the income growth has been significant that’s not what I’ve come to appreciate about taking the plunge and quitting my job. It’s the freedom I cherish most. In my former job I had to get approval four levels above me if I wanted more than four days off in a row. I don’t have to clear that with anyone now.
Don’t get me wrong; the income is nice to have. We’re able to put away more than I ever made in one year in our retirement accounts. That’s incredibly powerful.
We’re also on course to become mortgage debt free by my early 50s which is also very powerful. That creates freedom of choice – something I did not have in the corporate world.
Life is Not Meant to Be Lived in a Fabric Prison
Contrary to the belief of those in my life, as well as my own internal thoughts, the very reason why I quit my job was for my children. I want them to see that there is much more to life than a tiny, fabric prison.
I want them to know that life is about choices and that you only get one life to live so you must live it to the fullest. I want them to understand that ‘fullness’ means something different to everyone.
Ultimately, I want them to learn that a life of coloring outside the lines is one that can bring freedom if you’re suited for it. That may mean they choose the corporate world, and that’s fine. But, they will do it on their terms and work towards the life they want and not because it’s the safe thing to do.