If you’re going to jump out of permanent employment, I reckon there’s just one moment where, all of a sudden, you know. You’re doing it. This is the story of when I had my moment.
In the summer of 2012, I had just started my tenth year in the public sector. I was 29 years old, in a well-paid and stable job, and I was bored shitless. I read a quote recently which is the most accurate summation of my state at that time:
If you have a creative mind, it’s a little bit like owning a border collie. You have to give it something to do, or it will find something to do. You won’t like the thing it finds to do.
I was creating havoc for others around me: roaming into senior managers offices to let them know the ‘great’ ideas I’d had, tormenting co-workers, and generally being a nuisance.
As we went into the Christmas break, I had a looming feeling that something had to change. My wife and I found out she was pregnant with our first child and we were planning out what life would be like as parents (spoiler: this is a totally pointless exercise – babies do whatever they want).
We went camping over the break and I read a book by Ken Robinson called The Element. This is generally not the sort of thing I’m into, but he has a TED talk that I really like and so I thought I’d give it a go. This book is amazing. It tells stories of people who realised they were doing the wrong thing and how their lives changed when they started doing the right thing. I read it and then I just knew. That was it. I had so much in common with the people that the book described in their ‘before’ stories.
I wanted to be like them in their ‘after’ stories.
First day back at work I handed in my notice. I didn’t have anything to go to, I didn’t have a particularly clear plan. To balance against the risk of being without an income, but with a pregnant wife and a mortgage, I gave six weeks notice. I spent those six weeks having more coffees than I’ve had before or since. I met everyone. I explained what I had done, what I wanted to do, and when I was available to do it. I told the same story over and over and over and over.
And one meeting changed everything. I still remember it, where I was, what the weather was like (it was sunny). From that meeting, I stepped into a contract for six months. It wound up lasting three years and gave me the stability and flexibility to pursue other clients while I worked.
I’ve never looked back. In the six years since that meeting I’ve contributed to a dozen different organisations, invested in three start-ups, started two more businesses of my own, employed staff, and helped people deliver some really fantastic stuff. The opportunities I’ve had because I’ve made myself available are amazing - unlike anything I could have done from the cloister of permanent employment.
I was pretty lucky that it all worked out and I can’t discount that. If you don’t make the leap, you’ll never know if you’re lucky or not.