We’re in the middle of a series for photographers and aspiring entrepreneurs called “Making the Leap” where we’re sharing our ten practical steps for going from part-time photographers to full-time. Or, as author Jon Acuff puts it, going from your day job to your dream job without it becoming a nightmare.
If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that there’s no such thing as an overnight success. We were elementary school teachers for four years before we finally became full-time photographers. We devoted the first 50 hours of our week (every week) to the children in our classrooms, and the rest of our week to learning our craft and building our business. The four years we spent with our students were some of the most rewarding of our life, but it also wasn’t our deepest passion. It didn’t drive us. It was an important job, but for us, not a lifetime vocation, and just because we were good at it didn’t mean we were supposed to do it forever.
And, so, we lived double lives. We were workaholics. We were running from our day job and chasing our dreams. In a typical day, we woke up at 6:00 a.m., got to school by 7:oo a.m., prepped for an hour, taught from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., stayed until 4:00 p.m., drove home, changed clothes, had dinner, devoted ourselves to our business until somewhere between 10:00 p.m. and midnight, went to bed, and woke up six hours later to do it all again.
We learned how to be effective time managers because we didn’t have time to take teaching work home with us. Our weekends were devoted to our dream of owning our own business. After working anywhere from 80 – 125 hours per week every week, to say we were tired a lot would be the understatement of the century. Most weeks, we were spent, run completely ragged, our sanity and health hanging by the thinnest threads. Our cupboards were empty, our laundry was dirty, and we didn’t even have basic groceries. So, we directed a lot of our anger and frustration toward the thing we felt like was keeping us from our dream: our day job. No one ever knew it, but we did — and it was toxic. We started to resent going to work every morning. Sunday nights were the worst, because we felt stuck. Trapped. Like rats in a wheel that couldn’t get out. Even though we were outwardly cheerful, we were inwardly unhappy, and we knew something had to change.
About one year before we made the leap to full-time, we were busier than we’d ever been. On one hand, we weren’t ready to support ourselves full-time with our photography business. On the other hand, we knew we couldn’t keep the same pace for another year without seeing light at the end of the tunnel. We needed a plan, an exit strategy, so, we picked up a book that literally changed the direction of our life: Quitter by Jon Acuff. In the book, Jon explains how to close the gap between your day job and your dream job so that it doesn’t become a nightmare, so that you can be a quitter who never goes back. We liked Jon right away, because he’s funny and he’s real. We related to him. He described the bitterness he felt toward his day job, the anger and exhaustion he felt, the tough time he had going to work because he believed it was stealing his dream, until he realized that it was actually funding his future. Ultimately, we realized the same thing.
In Quitter, Jon encouraged us to fall “in like” with our day job. We didn’t have to love it, but we had to give it 100%, because, at the end of the day, it was paying our bills and benefits, not our dream. Our day job made sure we could pay our rent, put food on the table, and keep our lights on. Our day job paid for us to see a doctor when we needed it, get contacts and glasses, get our teeth cleaned, and save for retirement. We had a lot to be thankful for in our day job that we’d stopped being thankful for, so we adjusted our attitude and instead of treating our day job like a roadblock to our dream, we saw it for what it really was: a launching pad.
Part of falling “in like” with your day job is leaving your dream at home and giving it your all at work. Our employer was paying us to be more than physically present. Our employer was paying us to be mentally and emotionally present, too, and being anywhere else in mind or spirit was stealing. It was that simple. Plus, we found that our attitude and energy at our day job directly affected how productive we were at our dream job. If we went through the motions at work, we went through the motions when we got home. If we were rockstars at work, we were rockstars at home. We just couldn’t separate who we were from 7:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. from who we wanted to be later on. It doesn’t work that way. The people we were the majority of the day were the people we’d be all day. Plus, through Quitter, we realized that our employer was paying for us to learn skills that we’d need for our dream. Teaching taught us invaluable lessons in planning, decision making, time management, flexibility, customer service, email correspondence, public speaking, presenting… the list goes on and on.
This week, get your hands on a copy of Quitter by Jon Acuff. It’ll give you a fresh perspective on your day job. While you’re waiting for your book to arrive, make a list of all things your day job pays for and all the skills you’re learning now that you’ll be able to translate into your dream job down the road. Odds are you’ll have a better appreciation for your day job and a better day at work tomorrow!
Once you’ve done the first nine steps and put a solid plan in place to make the leap, there’s just one last thing to do, and the answer might surprise you…
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