To come to terms with opting out of your career, is primarily to come to terms with money. The first step toward leaning out is to get a raise. Maybe a side job. Also, max out your 401(k) and your Roth IRA. Fill up your emergency fund – and feel free to call it a “screw you” fund if it helps you contribute more. Because opting out? It’s best suited for those with money.
Our money paradigms – often negative – say that those with a lot of it are undeserving, and came by it via luck (“the rich get richer”). And in times of enormous uncertainty, like now, we seem to be more comfortable leaving things up to chance. Things will work themselves out; everything happens for a reason. This sort of fatalistic thinking puts us in the depressing position of being in less and less control of our own lives. But we used to be a lot more self-reliant. We used to actively manage our lives.
“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it,” said Thomas Jefferson. Luck used to be “perceived as something to be mastered, dominated, and controlled. It was not this weird external force that couldn’t be understood,” argues PayPal founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel. “Today’s default view is more Malcolm Gladwell than Thomas Jefferson; success, we are told, seems to stem as much from context as from personal attributes. You can’t control your destiny. Things have to combine just right. It’s all kind of an accident.”
Le sigh. A big reason I chose to “lean out,” was specifically to ensure that my life wouldn’t be left up to chance. And I spent a good two years preparing, long before my “Enough!” moment. The financial viability of taking a break, and exploring your options comes with a price tag. Mine includes a six-month emergency fund. Plus, I have side income and no debt. Even though I quit my job, I didn’t quit my side projects, which I actually enjoy. So my six-month fund will last much longer, more like a year. I also have a fiancé, and together, we split expenses. Practically, if I lived alone, I would probably spend less, but psychologically, his support makes taking risks easier.
Fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses. And fifty percent have less than a three-month cushion, while twenty-seven percent had no savings at all. Several people in the last category have told me they want to leave their jobs since my last post. Why? If you hate your job now, if you are stressed and exhausted, it will only worsen when you are sitting watching daytime television and have nothing in your bank account.
Take care of yourself. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to make millions when you opt-out. You need to hustle enough to cover your expenses. And if you can’t hustle now, while in a job, by getting a side job, or asking for a raise, you will not be able to support yourself without the protection of an employer.
The first step is money. The first step is not to figure out what you want to do with your life. It’s not to discover your one true passion. It’s not to come up with a great idea. Passions are fleeting. Most ideas aren’t very good. Learn how to make money. Start now. Build the habits. Money allows you to do great things. Money allows you to quit the job you hate, or keep the job you love. I’m not talking obscene wealth. I’m talking enough to provide for your later years, enough to make your current years nice, and enough to lean out if you so choose.
Luck, Thiel says, “defeats one’s ability to shape the future.” Don’t leave your life up to chance. Lots of things don’t happen for a reason, but many do, and for a very specific one – that is, because you made an intentional and deliberate choice. You showed up. You did the work. Don’t opt-out to live a romanticized artist’s or entrepreneur’s life with no money. Money does in fact buy happiness. Make some.