Hate your job? Here’s how to cut the cord

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Building a Foundation for Life Without a Job

I know many readers are interested in alternative ways of supporting themselves that don’t require becoming corporate slaves. I’ve gone about 20 years without a job now, so let me share some observations and insights to help you succeed on this path.

Adopt Realistic Expectations

I’ve seen many people try to support themselves without a job, usually by starting a small business. They typically last 6-12 months at best and then go back to full-time employment working for someone else.

On the one hand, we could say those people gave it a good shot, and it didn’t work out. But in my view, they weren’t really serious about it to begin with. If they were prepared to give up during the first year, they didn’t understand the level of commitment necessary for this approach to work. Almost everyone gets lousy results during that first year. What matters is whether you keep going or quit.

If you try going jobless for a year and then give it up, that’s dabbling. Now there’s nothing wrong with dabbling. It’s fine to try something without making a true commitment to it… if you only want short-term results and don’t care to build anything that lasts. I dabbled in chess. I dabbled in marathon running. I dabbled in macrobiotic cooking. Those were short-term interests. Is your interest in living without a job short-term as well, or are you wanting to follow this path for many years to come?

It’s hard to succeed here with less than a full commitment. There’s so much to learn and figure out. It’s not as easy as it appears on the surface. The people promoting this as something fast and easy are for the most part, disingenuous. More often than not, this path is slow, plodding, and gradual.

I’d expect nearly everyone to still look like they’re failing by the end of their first year… and the second…. and the third too. This is normal to see.
I lost money for my first 5 years straight. It was only in the 6th year that I finally got a positive cash-flow going. This isn’t unusual.

You may be incredibly brilliant and have everything working beautifully by the end of the first year, but I’d bet against you. The first year is mostly a learning experience.

Clarify Your Desires.

Some people avoid jobs because they dislike working for someone else. Some want to generate some quick cash on the side. Those are okay motivations to get you started, but they don’t have much staying power. If that’s all you have going for you, I suggest you stick with a regular job.

It’s important to dig deeper and get clear about why you really want to live without a job. A job can give you a stable income for a while, you may get to work on interesting projects, and with a good company you can learn a great deal. Jobs are obviously very popular. Most people don’t like them, but they still come back to this solution again and again, so they must find some value in it.

If you’re going to avoid having a job, then why is it? What do you want instead?

For many people the answer is some variation on freedom. There are different forms of freedom though: freedom from and freedom to. I think both are important to clarify.
Without a job you won’t have a boss telling you what to do. You won’t have to commute to work. You won’t have a limit on your vacation time. You can be free from the hassles of traditional employment.

For many people this much is already inspiring. But on the other side, take time to consider the proactive ways in which you could use this newfound freedom. You’ll have more direct control over your time. You can use that time however you see fit. While other people are going to work, you can do something entirely different.

A lot of my motivation comes from the “freedom to” side. I love traveling, and having a typical job would likely get in the way of traveling where I want to go, when I want to go, and with whom. I especially love road trips, and I don’t necessarily want to pick a return date in advance. For instance, my upcoming trip to Berlin is open-ended. After the conference I’ll be doing a road trip with friends through Germany and Holland, but what happens next is still unscheduled. I might pop over to the U.K. and visit London, or I might go somewhere else. I’ll return to Las Vegas when I’m ready. That kind of freedom is one of my favorite benefits of being jobless.

As part of this lifestyle, I like to work when I’m inspired to work. I feel inspired often, so this approach works for me. If I’d rather be doing something else, I’ll give myself full permission to do that something else instead of working. Then when I’m ready to work, I work.

What’s your reason for letting go of a job? What would you want to do with your life if you knew you didn’t have to show up to work for someone else each day?
If you can’t come up with something that stirs your soul, don’t quit your day job. The people I know who are happiest on the jobless path are generally clear about why they’re doing it.

Build a Moat Around Your Work

In the beginning you may see lots of struggle and challenge when you try to go it alone. But if you stick with it and keep learning and growing and don’t give up, the odds are that you’ll figure it out eventually.
Many of your early actions will create lasting benefits for years to come. Every client you add, link you gain, or contact you make can still produce dividends many years later. But you lose those benefits if you cut out early. Staying power is key.

If you stick to your chosen field long enough, it gets harder to fail with each passing year. More people will be aware of your existence than when you first started. You’ll have a bigger toolbox of strategies. You’ll have more clients and customers. Your skills will increase. You’ll have more chances for fortunate opportunities to land on your plate. And you’ll be competing against people with increasingly less experience than you have, relatively speaking.

One of my goals for each business I started was to develop a big moat around my work. For this business that moat consists of my website traffic and the community that’s interested in what I have to share. Individuals within this community come and go, and my level of personal engagement with them changes over time, but the community is always there in some fashion. Having such a moat makes it hard to fail. In fact, to kill my business I would basically have to drain that moat somehow; otherwise there will be too many people encouraging and supporting me on this path.

If you can build a moat around your business or lifestyle, you’ll be established as a fixture in your field, and you’ll find it hard to fail. But when you first start on this path, your moat is probably very small, perhaps consisting of just a few friends and family members — an in some cases, not even that.

This moat idea applies to income as well. I still earn passive monthly commissions from business deals I set up years ago. It’s hard to fail when you keep getting paid for work that was completed long ago. Even if some income sources are relatively small, they add up over time. I’m glad that instead of chasing short-term deals several years ago, I favored moat-building deals that would generate passive income year after year. That way I don’t have to keep chasing new business just to pay the bills. The bills are covered by this safety net of passive income.

Now hopefully this all makes sense logically as to why it works, but I’m also suggesting that you apply this kind of strategy very deliberately. It takes time to build a solid foundation and to create a moat around your work. If you quit after a year, you won’t be around long enough to see those long-term benefits add up. A year is nothing. Quitting during this time means you’re taking your moat-in-progress and draining it. Then you’ll have to start all over again with an empty moat. Good luck with that.

To thrive on this path, you need to balance your work intelligently. Do what you must to pay the bills in the short term, but still invest in long term moat-building strategies that may not pay off for years.

My favorite moat-building strategy is to create and give away lots of value for free. I’ve been doing that for years by writing and publishing free articles, and I do a lot of speaking for free as well. If you add up all the time I’ve spend creating and giving away content for free, you might find it ludicrous — it would add up to many years of my life. And I was already using this approach for many years before I started blogging. The key is not to be stingy with your freebies. Give away your best ideas for free. Then challenge yourself to top them.

How you build a moat depends on your particular path. But generally it takes years to build a good moat. That’s why it’s unwise to quit within the first year when your moat is still just a baby. Try committing to 5 years as a minimum if you really want to make progress.

The funny thing is that once you have a strong moat, it can be hard to shake it even if you want to. I shut down my computer games business in 2006, and I still get letters from old fans, including requests to update my old games for new platforms like tablets and smart phones. Although that old moat has shrunken considerably, it’s still there. This is another reason why it’s important to make a committed choice. You may have to live with your moat for many years to come, possibly even for the rest of your life, so if you’re going to commit, commit to a field you truly love.

The jobless path can be challenging, but it certainly has its rewards. Creating a sustainable lifestyle that you enjoy and that serves others is an achievable goal — if you’re willing to maintain a long time perspective and stick with it.

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5 thoughts on “Hate your job? Here’s how to cut the cord”

  1. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to make money without a job. It wasn’t always necessary to have a job to get by in this world. Only in the last century or so has working away from home been seen as the normal situation for those in the workforce.

  2. @Tammie – yeah, but ever since the Industrial revolution the working class is trying to catch up with the business people and it’s a tough job. There may be thousands of ways to make money without a job, but not one of them is easy or guaranteed.

  3. To gauge which jobs are the least stressful, CareerCast considered the 200 professions in its database and focused on 11 different job demands that it deemed likely to provoke stress, including travel, growth potential, competitiveness, physical demands, hazards, environmental conditions and risk to one’s own life or to others’.

  4. To thrive on this path, you need to balance your work intelligently. Do what you must to pay the bills in the short term, but still invest in long term moat-building strategies that may not pay off for years.

  5. Yes. Buildng something stable comes slow, but then destroying it is also slow – or impossible.

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