This is the norm: Study hard, get a job, move up the career ladder, earn a fat salary.
Growing up, I've never made sense of all these things.
Why do we want to spend our life building someone else's empire, playing by someone else's rules when there's so many different paths that we could take?
This is exactly why I wanted to talk about this. I want to inspire you to design your own career, your own path, your own lifestyle.
If you prefer the video version of this article (Video is 10 mins), you may watch it here. Otherwise, continue scrolling below :)
I've worked since I was 18 years old, and not a day goes by where I don't aspire to become my own boss. I was obsessed with this idea. I had good grades, but I didn't go to university. I have tried different things and worked in 10 different jobs.
When I apply for jobs and read the job descriptions, deep down, I struggle a lot. I felt like none of these job descriptions were a right fit.
I had to bite the bullet and just apply for a job that is the best fit, but then, it's a weird feeling. Until today, I struggle to label my identity and fit in a category. I'm a generalist, and I thought this is a problem, but I want to assure you that it's not.
One of the reasons why I quit my job is that I don't have the interest to climb the corporate ladder at all. I asked myself if today I was given a shiny role, like a design director or head of design for a company that I want to work at, would I be happy?
The answer is a clear no.
So then I asked myself, what do I want?
I have a clear idea of what I want, and with that realization, I worked backwards from my ideal lifestyle. I want to be doing things that I enjoy and have full control over my time. I realize this is not something that a full-time job could give. I want to build useful things for people, not what I'm told to do. I want a life that I have no so-called "job scope" that I need to follow, and constantly work on things that give me energy, not drain me. I can work from morning till midnight, but if I want to take the day off, I can.
That's the life I want.
That's when I know that a full-time job is not how I want to live my life.
When you become too comfortable at your job, you become complacent. And when there is complacency, it leads to a drop in performance. If you feel like you're not learning anymore, you're having stagnant growth, or you're feeling bored at your job, it's time to take action. The exception to this is that if you're facing challenges or stress in other areas of life, then I suggest that you solve those problems first before moving onto a new career.
If you want something really badly, you'll find a way to make it happen, even if it takes 10 years, 20 years, or a lifetime. And that's what I did. I never stop learning whatever that sparks my curiosity, like setting up a blog, thinking with tech, learning how to design, learning how to make videos.
I believe no matter what qualification or background that we have, we get ahead of other people by upskilling ourselves. Acquire the skills that interest you and stack them up together.
The first requirement is that I am aware of the ideal lifestyle that I want, and I'm very clear that I won't find this lifestyle in my full-time job.
Once I'm clear about that, I started developing my professional skillset (for me, it's UI/UX design, development) so that if I change my mind, I can go back to working full-time after 1 to 2 years of self employment.
I've also made sure that I enjoy working on my side project more than my full-time job. My side project feels like play to me, but may look like work to other people, and that's when I know that my side project is more enjoyable than my full-time job.
I made sure that the side project's income is equal or more than my salary.
I've also planned my safety net in case of emergencies using a Notion template. This Safety Net Planner helped me forecast my savings ahead of time and decide whether it's time to quit my job or not. If I quit my job early or based on impulse, I wouldn't have enough financial runway. Planning a safety net would give you a peace of mind.
The next requirement is that I have built multiple income streams so that I don't keep all eggs in one basket. I believe that job security does not exist. Tomorrow you may get laid off by your employer and you kind of lose everything. But if you build a bunch of tiny products, which I call them 'mini empires' on the side, that brings you some form of income, you have options. If one of those products die, you still have other products. If you get laid off from your job, you still have your other income sources to back you up. So before you quit your job on impulse, try building multiple income streams.
I was also mentally prepared for zero income months. I assured my family that it will be okay, I have my financial safety net all covered. I have mentally prepared that I would have no income and spend more than I planned. It's important to prep yourself mentally. If it happens, at least you won't be too surprised. This is why a financial safety net is so important.
Should you quit your job to pursue your passion? No, you probably shouldn't, but there is more to it.
So the term passion is really misleading. Passion is not a skill, it's a emotion. What should we do then?
Well, this Forbes article explains it better than I ever could.
Don't follow your passion. Do this instead:
Commit to learning and relearning what energizes and drains you. By dedicating yourself to what sparks your interest and what doesn't, you can more easily align with a successful career path that highlights your true talents.
Living by the paycheck will never make you rich, but a full-time job is good for your growth. When my ex boss shouted at me for not being detail oriented enough, it made me realize how careless I am and how much I can improve to be better, and when I'm juggling a full-time job and multiple side projects, it taught me how to be more efficient at work and how to manage my time.
If I weren't presented with all these challenges, I would never have learned these skills.
I learned how to work with different types of people. Different people taught me different life lessons.
A full-time job also helped me learn how to present my ideas in front of different people, different stakeholders. I learned that different stakeholders care about different things, so I should emphasize on the impact that design could bring, instead of walking through stakeholders on user flows.
The full-time job also taught me how to appreciate my current self-employed lifestyle. An empty calendar, waking up anytime I want, and no permission needed to do anything I want.
If you plan to be self-employed in future, I would still recommend you to work in a full-time job first.
Before you take the leap into self-employment, you should also be aware of the challenges that comes with it.
As your own boss, you're going to wear many hats. You are the finance person, the videographer, the editor, the writer, the web designer, the developer, everything.
You also gotta be okay to eat failure for breakfast. Learn from your failures, learn from your mistakes and get better at it.
Being self-employed also means that your identity is no longer tied to employer, and I can't stress this enough: Don't let a career become your whole identity. You're no longer known as the designer at Instagram or the marketing manager at Twitter.
Once you get rid of tying your whole identity with your career, it's a good start. You just need a little bit of mental preparation.
As your own boss, you pay a hundred percent of your own healthcare. You have no paid leaves. Public holidays have nothing to do with you.
Discipline is also very important. You gotta be a self starter because there is no one watching over your back.
There are the not-so-fun parts like taxes. There's also no steady paycheck, no coworkers. If you're someone who must work around people, this may be a challenge for you.
I'm still learning, evolving and exploring life every day.
Now that I've been self-employed for 6 months, I enjoy the freedom. I'll be sharing all the stuff I've learned along the way.
I've been working less hours than I used to to make room for creativity and make time to explore whatever that interests me, to read more, to get better in design and explore some creative projects.
While I'm pretty biased towards the self-employment lifestyle, I still want to be flexible in my career choices. The path I chose today does not reflect my decision in the future. Maybe in future I might find that I want to go back to become a full-time employee, whether it is by choice or by circumstances. Life is uncertain.
This all starts by asking yourself, what is the ideal lifestyle that you want? Plan backwards from there.
No matter if you're in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, you can start designing the lifestyle that you enjoy today.
Hope this brings you value!
Thank you for reading :)