How to Live Life on Your Own Terms

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Don’t quit your day job.

That sounds weird coming from me. After all, a big part of my story is that I quit my job. The title of my first blog post is The New Midlife Crisis: Quitting Your Job. It still gets more views than anything I’ve written since.

And two years later, it needs some clarification.

I didn’t wake up one day and think, “I don’t like my job anymore. I’m going to quit.” Instead, it was a calculated risk. It was something I did to take back control.

I decided to live my life on my own terms.

Be a Risk-Mitigator, Not a Risk-Taker

There’s something exciting about the idea of quitting your job. Magazine articles glamorize the risk-takers. They write about the pioneers who give up huge salaries to sleep on couches and work on their startups. There are movies and TV shows where people get fed up and walk out of the office, never to return. There’s even a terrible country song called, “Take This Job and Shove It.” (For the sake of your ears, I won’t link to it.)

But what about the things the articles and movies leave out?

Budgeting and planning exercises aren’t good TV. Saving money for years to make a leap is too slow and boring. Magazines don’t write about people whose “great idea” never leaves their basement.

Not to mention that most times quitting your job is a horrible idea.

What about the success stories for the Average Joe (or Jane)? The story where a mom juggles work and family, and stays up late at night to work on her art? The story where someone spends his free time taking online coding classes to get a better job?

These stories are much more common. But, we don’t hear about them because they aren’t sexy. These people aren’t risk-takers. They’re risk-mitigators. And they (and I) would say:

Don’t quit your day job without a plan.

Autonomy

Most people don’t want to quit their job because they want to sit at home and watch TV all day. They want to quit because some aspect of their job interferes with their idea of happiness. They want control over their time and schedule. They want to work on things that light them up inside. They want the freedom to make decisions without someone looking over their shoulder.

People want autonomy.

Autonomy equals independence. It means we control how we work. We have the freedom to make decisions and the authority to follow through with them. And when we have authority over our work, we’ve tamed the hardest part of our lives to control.

What does it mean to “live life on our own terms?” It means we decide what’s important to us. We don’t give that power over to someone else. We change the things we can change that don’t support those terms. And when something interferes, we work to change it.

But first, we have to figure out what our ideal life looks like.

Decide on Your Terms

What does your “ideal” life look like?

Be specific.

I want to make a ton of money. Why? So I don’t have to worry about bills. I want to travel the world and do what I want when I want. So how do you make a ton of money? Find a better job that pays more. And what if that “better” job that pays more comes with 80-hour work weeks and two weeks of vacation? Does that give you the ability to travel and do what you want when you want?

Goals like this aren’t specific enough. Instead, list out what your perfect life looks like in detail. This is what my “specific” looks like:

  • I want to make enough money to help support my family and plan for our future.
  • I want to wake my kids up in the morning and eat at the dinner table with them every evening.
  • I don’t want to miss my kids’ soccer matches or skateboarding competitions. (And yes, I’m projecting.)
  • I want to write.

Your ideal life will be different. And it will change as you go through different seasons in life. What I want now is different from what I wanted 15 years ago.

But you can’t create the life you want to live without knowing exactly what that looks like.

Take the Steps to Get There

Once we know what our ideal life looks like, we can start taking steps to get there. Everyone’s ideal life is different, so the process will be different.

My former job required me to be at the office early and stay late. There were too many days where I left before my son woke up or got home too late to spend any time with him. The money was good, but the time requirements didn’t align with my priorities.

I had to make a change, or I would miss more than soccer matches and skateboarding competitions. I’d been in the same profession for 15 years. I knew that changing companies wasn’t a long-term solution. I would be starting over doing the same thing.

I tried for a couple of years to find a new job in a new industry, but that wasn’t working out. I had been “institutionalized” (said in Morgan Freeman’s voice). So, my wife and I decided my best option was to leave my job.

But not without a plan.

To create the life I wanted to live, this was our plan:

  • Review our budget in detail. Cut out unnecessary expenses. Continue investing in our retirement accounts and maintain our charitable contributions.
  • Accumulate enough savings to cover our basic living expenses for 6 months.
  • Schedule monthly budget reviews to track our spending.
  • Contribute as much as I can to our household income.
  • If at any point our savings dip below a certain amount, look for a job.

This plan allows me the freedom to pursue a few different business ideas. Some of them are freelance jobs to make some money. Some of them may take time to pay off, and some may never pay off. I also carved out time to write. (Although you wouldn’t know this lately. I blame the baby.)

Everyone’s plan is different. But, failing to plan is planning to fail.

Get Over Yourself

Once you have a good plan, there’s one last thing standing in your way: yourself.

Human beings are experts at talking ourselves out of stuff. We’re fantastic at letting fear win. We make excuses for why we can’t do something, and those excuses keep us from putting ourselves out there. They make us feel safe.

Here’s what fear looks like:

  • I like the flexibility this new career offers, but I’m not sure I can handle the $20,000 pay cut.
  • What if I don’t like the culture at this new company?
  • What if no one likes my art enough to pay for it?
  • The money is great and the company is great, but I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before. I’m comfortable where I am now.
  • I want to change professions, but I’ve been doing this for 15 years. My degree is in this industry. I have too much time and money invested to throw it all away and start over. (Ahem. Brandon).

This is fear rearing its ugly head. Fear of change. Fear of leaving our comfort zone. Fear of failure. Fear of throwing away something we’ve invested so much in (the sunk cost fallacy).

But, you can kill all those fears by answering one question: What is the worst thing that could happen?

Are you going to end up homeless on the streets? Will you starve to death? Will your family disown you?

I can answer this for you: “No.”

None of those things will happen. Usually, the worst thing that can happen is you’d have to find a new job or start over. Sure, it may be a step back. It may not be the direction you want to go. It may suck, and it may hurt your ego.

But is this worst-case scenario all that bad? Is it scary enough to stop you from trying?

Do you want to look back on your life in 50 years and regret not trying?

For your own sake, get over yourself.

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