Making Big Changes in Times of Crisis

I quit my job in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was not just any job. It was a cushy remote job at a company that’s both well-positioned to ride out the pandemic and also treats its employees very well.
It was not an easy decision to make. While I liked the company overall, I was unhappy in my current role there. More importantly, I was unhappy with being an employee in general. With everything going on in the world, though, was I crazy to even consider quitting? I mean, with unemployment approaching 15% nationwide (and virtually 100% in some industries), who would leave a secure job right now?
I considered my options. I could cut back to part-time to give myself time to work on other projects while still making enough money to pay all my bills and not become a complete hermit. I could ask to be transferred to a different position within the company. I could stick it out until the pandemic was over and then figure out what to do. Or I could resign.
Obviously, I chose the last option.

Time for Reflection

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Photo by Faye Cornish
Prior to my state’s “Stay at Home” orders, I went out most nights. Live music is life for me, so you could find me at one venue or another almost every evening. I’m a social person, so working alone from home meant a need to be out around people when I wasn’t working.
But as soon as the bars and other venues closed, I had nowhere to go in the evenings. And as the pandemic became more serious in my state, I didn’t want to go anywhere. During the first month of the pandemic shutdown, I basically didn’t leave my house for anything but essentials (once a week grocery trips and that was about it) or see anyone other than the grocery store checkout clerks.
All that time at home gave me a lot of space to reflect on where I was in life and where I wanted to be. It didn’t take long to realize that the two were nowhere near the same.
I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I love to build my own things. I love the planning, the strategy, and the rewards. I love the challenge of being in business for myself.
Most of all, though, I like the freedom of being self-employed. I like being my own boss and calling the shots. I was both under the weather and working all this past weekend (to meet some deadlines for clients), so I decided to take Monday off to rest up. And the best part was that I could just decide to do that and not have to ask anyone or report to anyone. My personal idea of bliss.
I grew up with an entrepreneur mother. She bought out a business she had worked for when I was 6 or 7 years old and worked from a home office until I was a teenager. And my father had owned a carpentry business off and on for much of his life, before retiring, and then went to work with my mom handling the bookkeeping and accounting for the business. In other words, the entrepreneurial seed was planted early for me.

The Stars Aligned

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Photo by Ryan Hutton
While I was debating whether to quit my job or make some other kind of change, a couple of things happened. First, I had some really supportive messages from friends who knew I was toying with the idea. Having them tell me that no, in fact, I was not crazy for considering quitting my job during a pandemic, was really comforting.
The other thing that happened was that I had three freelance clients basically fall in my lap within a week or so of each other. All three reached out to me, based on my prior work, and asked if I’d be interested in recurring work with them. And all three were companies I was actually interested in working with.
I had once said I would never go back to freelancing because I hated the hustle part of it and the uncertainty that went along with it. But there were three clients that I was pretty sure I could earn enough from to at least pay my bills and not starve, that would provide me with regular, recurring income. No hustle involved.

Taking the Plunge

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Photo by Blake Wheeler
So there I was at the beginning of May, with my mind made up that I was going to resign and a plan for how I could at least get by without a full-time job.
And that’s when I realized I hadn’t quit a job since I was in high school. For much of my adult life, I was a freelancer, so while I had let clients go, it wasn’t quite the same as quitting a regular gig. The other “regular” jobs I’d had, I’d either stuck it out until the company folded or I’d been let go.
I went into research mode to figure out how to quit a job. I wanted to be as professional as possible and make sure not to burn bridges. Like I said, I liked the company I worked for and wanted to have the option of coming back at a later date (or working with them as a contractor) if I decided I wanted to be an employee again at a later date.
I finally set the date, decided to give them three weeks notice instead of the usual two so that I could finish up some active projects, and then totally panicked.
That was when a sign from the Universe showed up.
The day I planned to resign I was procrastinating, trying to put it off for as long as possible. My immediate boss is five time zones ahead of me, so I had a limited window in the morning to actually have a call. I opened up Instagram as yet another way to procrastinate and right there at the top of my feed, in bold white letters on a black background were the words “You should quit. Now.”
Message heard.
I hopped on a call with my boss and his boss to break the news. They were great about it and I think glad I was willing to give enough notice to tie up all the loose ends. I even offered to stay longer if my help was needed on another project, but they declined (thankfully).
The takeaway from this: when you make up your mind to make a big change, set a date and stick to it. And be prepared for the Universe to give you a little kick in the butt if you try to avoid it.

The First Month

I set some big, huge, scary income goals for my first month of being self-employed. Like, more than three times what my previous monthly salary was.
Not gonna lie, I did not even come close to reaching that goal. But, I did make enough to cover my bills and not have to dip into my savings. So I still consider that a successful month.
Instead of earning crazy amounts of money, I spent my first month getting some systems in place. I also spent time getting up to speed with my new freelance clients (I added a fourth client in June).
But now, a week into month two, I have a solid strategy in place, time management systems that seem to be working, and a good grasp on what I need to start and keep doing to get where I want to go.
I’m also way more relaxed than I was a couple of months ago. I have time to do things like reading and meditate and see people I care about (now that the pandemic restrictions are easing—sensibly—in my part of the world). I have time to get out into nature and recharge whenever I need to. That’s been hugely important for me and something I felt was really lacking when I was working full-time as an employee.

What’s Next?

For the rest of this summer, I’ll be focusing on launching a handful of new products. Most of these will be one-off workshops and training, which may eventually turn into evergreen products (or they may not, all depends on how they do initially).
I’ll also be focusing on increasing my earnings to get more of a financial cushion established. I like to slow down in the winter (I live in an area that gets extremely cold and has a lot of snow, perfect for hibernating), which means I’d like more money in my savings and investment accounts.
I’m also in the process of learning more about things I’m passionate about. I’ve been averaging 2–3 online courses per month for the last few months, and plan to continue to do so.

Should You Make a Change?

Only you can decide if now is the time for a major life change or not. But here are some things to consider:
Do you have a safety net? “Experts” often say you need 6–12 months' worth of savings before embarking on your own as a freelancer or business owner. I disagree with that advice for most people. I had about 3 months' worth of savings and investments when I quit. But I also knew I would have at least some income coming in, so I could make 3 months’ worth of expenses stretch out to 6 or 8 or even 12 months if I absolutely had to.
I had friends who told me I should “get fired” instead of quitting so that I could collect unemployment and have a safety net in that sense (especially with the extra $600/week unemployment recipients get through the end of July). Not my style, even though the idea of nearly replacing my weekly income for a few months on unemployment was somewhat tempting.
The thing about having a huge safety net or regular income like unemployment is that it removes some of the motivation you have to hustle and get clients or sell yourself. If you know you have enough to get by for a year, where’s the impetus to land a few clients in your first month? Keeping your safety net as small as you can manage without having a panic attack keeps you motivated to get shit done.
Do you have an emotional support system? This is more important than a lot of people realize. If the people in your life aren’t supportive of your choice to make a big change, it’s going to be harder to keep your spirits up, especially if things don’t always go according to plan.
Spoiler alert: Things rarely go according to plan.
Can you handle uncertainty? This is another big one. We’re living in an incredibly uncertain time right now. The global pandemic is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a LOT going on. And making a huge change in your life is only going to add to the overall uncertainty.
How comfortable are you with that? Are you going to have panic attacks on a weekly (or daily) basis because you don’t know what’s next? If that’s the case, you may be better off riding out your current situation until things calm down a bit.

Would I Do It All Again?

In one word: absolutely. I’ve been more relaxed and feeling way more emotionally and mentally balanced since I struck out on my own. Sure, I’m working a ton and not making as much money, but I’m also in control of what I’m doing. If I wanted to suddenly increase how much money I’m making or cut back on my hours, I could do that.
It’s important to understand what you want in your life, and then really analyze whether the things you’re doing now are getting you closer to that place. If they’re not, make some changes. They don’t have to be huge, life-altering changes if that’s not something you’re comfortable with. But even making incremental changes that get you a little bit closer to where you want to be will increase your overall happiness and satisfaction with life.
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