So, You Want To Quit Your Job? (Why You Should)

This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing about quitting your job.hand draw i quit on note taped recycle paper

Many software developers I’ve talked to have expressed interest in the idea of someday either starting their own business, or in some capacity working for themselves.

I think this is a great idea—and I’m all for it—but, before you do really quit your job, you should first understand why it is a good idea to quit your job, beyond just not wanting to work for someone else. You should also have a good idea of what working for yourself is really like—so you know what you are getting into. And finally, you should be equipped with some knowledge of how to be successful at it—so you can actually survive and not have to come crawling back to the corporate world begging forgiveness.

Now, I’m not an expert on the subject myself—having just officially become “free” near the beginning of this year—but, I’ll share with you what I have learned along the way, both my successes and failures.

Why you should do it

In this first post I’ll be talking about why I think it is a good idea to aspire leave the employ of another and work for yourself—why you should quit your job.

When it comes to quitting your job, there is one reason, above all others, I think is the most important. That reason is that when you are working for someone else you are not building anything for you future.

What do I mean by this?

What I mean, is that when you are working a job where you are getting paid to do that job, in most cases you are trading time and effort for money. You are devoting the time and effort and you are being paid in cash; that is the limit of the transaction.

On the other hand, when you are working for yourself you are building an asset. When you are working under your own employ you are trading time and effort for something far greater than money. You are converting your time and effort into an asset, which itself has value and hopefully can generate income all on its very own.

Think of it as the difference between feeding a man a fish and teaching a man to fish. Most of us are familiar with that particular phrase, but somehow we fail to see that it is us at the market each day buying a fish with our time and effort instead of learning to fish for ourselves.SONY DSC

It doesn’t really matter if you are building your own freelancing business, authoring a book or some other content, building the next big startup, or just opening up an online store; in every scenario where you aren’t working for someone else you are building an asset. The asset may be a tangible product that you will sell, but it also may be a list of clients or a reputation that you can lean on or cash in on later.

A great example of this is this very blog. Every post I write for this blog is building on this asset. It may not seem like much, it certainly didn’t at first, but this blog has a dollar value that increases when I put more effort and time into it and it has the ability to generate income for me, be it through advertising, selling a product or just getting freelance work.

Anyone can do it

It doesn’t really matter who you are, you can become self-employed if you so desire. If you have a job right now it means that someone is willing to trade money for the asset you are helping them build. It means that you possess some skills that are able to build or contribute to the building of an asset.

Now perhaps you don’t have the ability to realize the full potential of those abilities yourself, because your means are limited or you don’t have the market to sell your skills into, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it eventually if you are willing to put forth the effort to figure out how.

For a long time I was constrained by my own inability to see this truth. I always had the dream of working for myself, but the only ways I could see it happening were if I were to somehow land some big government contract or grant, or I started sourcing and selling products on Ebay.

Looking backwards now, with the blinders removed, I can see that there was opportunity at every corner. I can see now that at any point in time, I could have grabbed a pen– or more aptly a keyboard– and started created value out of thin air.

The truth of the matter is that we all have an innate ability within us to create value out of nothing. There are so many forms this value can take. Here is just a short list:

  • Blogs of all sorts
    • Inspirational
    • How-to
    • Entertainment
    • Links collections (curated)
  • Books of all the categories above and more
  • Videos
    • Tutorial screencasts
    • Product reviews
    • Entertainment
  • Software (duh)
    • Mobile apps
    • Web apps
    • Frameworks and tools
  • Services that help a person solve a problem
  • Relationships (some value is created just by who you know)
  • Physical products and inventions
  • Arbitrage situations (study a market, find price discrepancies, capitalize off of them… buy low, sell high)

For a bunch of examples of the kinds of businesses people have successfully started for very cheap, check out The $100 Startup.  I very highly recommend this book for anyone interested in starting their own business.  Extremely valuable information.

Now of course some of these things are harder to create than others and some of them require some learning to get started, but there is no excuse that anyone can reasonably come up with for why they can’t create some kind of value.

The tangible benefits

Ok, so now that I’ve told you the most important reason why you should quit your job, and hopefully eliminated some of your excuses, let’s talk a little bit more about the tangible benefits. I’ll structure this part as a sort of pros and cons.

If you work for someone else, your income potential is capped. A software developer, no matter how good they are, can only make so much salary. If you work for yourself, the sky is the limit. Maybe you’ll create the next Facebook or Instagram, it is unlikely, but the potential is there.

If you work for someone else, you work for your money. It isn’t really possible to get paid without you doing the work. If you work for yourself, you can generate passive income streams which don’t require you to work to get paid.

If you work for someone else, your fate is in their hands. They have the power to fire you and define your success. If you work for yourself, you are in control. Good or bad, your fate is in your own hands, not someone else’s.

If you work for someone else, you most likely don’t get to set your schedule. If you work for yourself, you define what hours you work and when. (Although, as I’ll talk about later in this series, this can actually be a determent, if you are not prepared to handle this responsibility.)

If you work for someone else, you have to play by their rules. You can’t say what you think or represent what you want to represent. You have to put at the bottom of your blog posts, “this is my opinion and doesn’t necessarily represent the opinion of my employer.” If you work for yourself, you can say and do whatever you want. You can present any kind of image you want to present. You can proudly put at the bottom of your blog posts, “here I can say whatever the f*** I want, and I will, so f*** off if you don’t like it.”

I could probably keep going, but I think you get the point by now. There are huge benefits to being able to plant your own flag in the ground and call something yours. But, as I alluded to before, this great power certainly comes with great responsibility.

Next post

In my next post in this series, I’ll talk about the illusions and realities of quitting your job. We all have some fantasy about finally telling our bosses to f-off because we quit, and how wonderful life will be when we are finally signing our own paychecks, but the reality—at least as I found out—is much different than what we might expect.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."

  • ItsASecret

    Learning on the job is building an asset (you). I think on the job learning is undervalued when I read posts like this–I know I enjoy and appreciate it. Speaking of the hacker news generation, why do I get the feeling we are breeding a generation of insecure entrepreneurs who think they’re too good to take a six figure job? I think you’re assuming wayy too much expertise of a lot of people (lots of people still learning to fish the right way while you blow by on a whaling boat)

    I give an emphatic yes to side projects and a “it depends on who you are and what you do” to quitting.

    • Charles Hoffman

      When you work for someone else, you learn whatever is directly relevant to the tasks they assign you. When you work for yourself, you can decide _what_ you will learn on the job.

      • jsonmez

        Yes, exactly :)

  • Good post, John. I’m looking forward to hearing more about how your transition to an independent has gone.

  • Jack Hughes

    Building a tangible asset is only useful if you can turn that asset into cash at some point in the future. Is a freelancer’s customer base really something that you can sell successfully x years down the road? I would be skeptical myself. Who is going to buy it? The same goes for more tangible products too.

    I’ve been indie for over 10 years and I doubt we’d have much to sell when we pack it in. Or rather there is plenty to sell but precious few people / companies able or willing to offer significant lumps of money for it.

    • jsonmez

      I think it depends how you structure a sale and how you structure a business. There are always ways to realize value from an asset. For example, even a freelancer can sell his company to another freelancer who will run it. It may require a transition period, to make things work smoothly and gain trust, but that customer list is the real value of that company.

  • Sanjaya Yapa

    Hi John, this is great, can’t wait to read the next part of this, as I am looking forward to go along in this path.

    • jsonmez

      Thanks, I’ll be posting the 2nd part next week.