Career freedom-seekers often ask: “Should I give up my job and move to Montana?” Or, “Should I quit my job to start a business?”
Imagine that you decide to walk across a room on a high wire. You probably have no desire to do this, but suppose you believed there was a secure net under you. You can fall anytime, with no harm done. Would you be more comfortable taking the risk? Would you have fun dancing on the wire, perhaps trying out some daring moves?
Or think of driving down a narrow driveway, with a steep drop-off on one side. With a guard rail in place, you can drive faster than you would otherwise.
When you are contemplating a life change, I recommend moving very, very slowly. Ask lots of questions. Do your research, and then do more research. Take trial steps and weigh the consequences. And, most important, create your safety net.
What will allow you to feel free?
A safety net is anything that lets you dance free on the high wire or take a mountain curve at forty miles an hour. It’s whatever makes you feel safe. Your safety net can be cash stored in a savings account (or a mattress); a flexible career, such as medicine, accounting — or house cleaning; a supportive family; a retirement income. It is important to remember that one person’s safety net will be another person’s cobweb.
Recently I attended a teleclass about business start-ups. One caller told us, “I sold all my possessions and moved two thousand miles, to a city where I knew nobody. In just a few months, I had a profitable business, a great place to live, and some wonderful new friends.”
Fortunately the class leader intervened: “I want to give you full credit for making that move,” he said, “but not everyone can, or should, do that.” He was right. This caller’s safety net consisted of her personality, energy and networking skills. Some people would also want financial security.
Cash: Not the Best Safety Net
Safety nets can be elusive. Sam felt comfortable starting a business after he’d saved a large cash reserve. Once the business was underway, Sam’s reserve seemed smaller and he began to reconsider his decision.
And once you’ve danced on the wire, you won’t want to land on the net with a thud.
In her book, The Cinderella Complex, Colette Dowling describes a fortyish woman who takes a leave of absence from her teaching job to seek a career as a film director in Los Angeles. To make ends meet, the woman sells her house and takes a day job as a tax preparer. Months later, she realizes she hates her day job more than she ever hated her teaching job. She also realizes that she needs twenty years to become a film director, and she will be sixty when she gets her first job. Los Angeles is a city of youth.
The woman returned to her teaching job. Thud!
Keep your Power: Create the Net Early
To avoid emergency landings, place your net before embarking on the risky adventure.
Marianne consulted me about starting a business. I asked how long she could survive on her savings.
“A year,” she replied. “Maybe a little longer.”
“Some businesses take awhile to get off the ground,” I reminded her. “You may need more than a year. Or you may discover you hate the business, or some uncontrollable event has made your business obsolete or unmarketable.”
“I thought about all that,” said Marianne, “and I can always take a job at X Company. I’ve worked there before and they said they will make a place for me.”
“Imagine,,” I said, “six months down the road, that you fear the business is growing too slowly. You may have a personal emergency that calls for cash. Now you’re in a one-down, weak position. You really need a job.
“Better,” I continued, “to take a job at the start of your business, or keep the job you have now. If your profits soar, you can bid farewell to your day job. You can use the extra cash to grow your business faster, have some fun or save for the next crisis. But you will be free.
“If you take a job later, out of need, you will be in a one-down position. You show up, hat in hand, asking for work. You will not feel as free and you may even feel trapped.”
If You’re Forced to Leap …
Sometimes you have no choice. If you are laid off, or otherwise unable to continue your career, you may have to find a way to start a business or move to a new city before you can get a safety net in place.
Ideally, you can plan a net before you encounter a crisis, but that is not always possible. People do get taken by surprise. I know people who were astonished to find themselves too burned out to continue their careers. Some even fought the evidence. In those circumstances, safety nets may have to be custom-made, using more than a little creativity. But they can, and should, be found.
In summary, a safety net allows you to find freedom, and more important, keep freedom. Design a safety net before you choreograph the high-wire act, and you will honor your commitment to be a free spirit.