Well, here's the secret I've been keeping since February--I quit my dream job as a middle school art and leadership teacher at an all-girls school to follow my calling as an artist and embark on my dream career of running Yardia full time!
Let me tell you the story of why it felt like the right time to take this step, and share a few of the unexpected lessons I learned from the process of this transition.
Sometimes you need a little push to take the leap
After a too-busy holiday season in the previous year, I'd decided to cut back my hours at my job to three days a week instead of full time for the 2018-2019 school year. Initially, this seemed to work really, REALLY well. The balance of teaching and creative entrepreneurship felt manageable and realistic, and I felt a renewed sense of creativity in my teaching practice.
One day in January I learned that the schedule might be changing for the following school year, and I wasn’t sure how well the new version would align with my schedule of running my business. After some initial worry and anxiety, I decided that the best thing for me to do was to look at my numbers and come up with some backup plans.
I looked at my numbers. I saw that I’d probably be making a sustainable living wage from Yardia by the end of the year. I looked at my savings. I had about three years worth of expenses saved up, without a real plan on what I’d been saving for. I wondered if this moment was what I’d been saving for.
I said all of this to a coworker friend who told me that maybe the potential schedule change was the push I needed to make my own change. I began to think, "maybe my backup plan can just be my plan."
I started to think about going full time with Yardia.
Don't forget to check in with your inner mentor
I loved my job. I loved teaching art and leadership, and I knew I was good at it. I loved the community of the school I worked at and how I'd been able to grow my own voice while I was there as an educator, artist and leader. But I wasn't sure it was enough anymore in how I wanted to continue to grow as a person. Because of all this, I gave myself a few weeks to think about whether I really wanted to leave now instead of a year or two from now.
I went back and forth in rumination until I decided to check in with my inner mentor. At first, I had trouble connecting with her--my inner critic and logical brain kept getting in the way. I kept hearing phrases that I knew were just me thinking instead of listening to my intuition.
Then I heard, "this is what you've prepared for." And that's when I decided to quit my job.
People you care about might not celebrate your decision
This was tricky to reflect on. And an unexpected part of quitting my job. Although most people were really excited for my next step, there were a few who were unexpectedly not supportive, in fact, pretty vocally unsupportive of my decision at first. They voiced the deepest fears and concerns that my inner critic was already yelling at me internally in my most vulnerable moments. What I learned from this is that not everyone is going to understand or accept your decision to work for yourself instead of in a traditional job.
If, like for me, these folks are people you deeply care about like friends or family members, then it’s likely that they’re just expressing their fear of wanting to keep you safe. It took me a bit of time and space to understand this, just as it took a bit of time and space for them to accept and support my decision. I think we all had to consciously decide to celebrate and embrace each other for who we truly are, instead of staying in a state of fear or resentment. The relationships were too important to let go.
Know your hidden numbers
Your employer takes care of a lot of expenses that aren't part of your take home pay, so make sure you know what you really need to be making in order for your business to be sustainable. Things like health care, retirement matching, and even things like coffee, free lunches and the Adobe Creative Suite were all expenses that I got through my employer. I added the potential costs of everything I’d need to additionally pay for when working for myself to determine a more realistic salary I’d need to afford to pay myself.
In Washington state, self-employed health care is pretty straightforward to navigate online, and I did a bit of research into a couple investment companies I had accounts with to see what my options were for self-employed retirement accounts. I looked at my business expenses to see what could be cut to offset some of the new expenses and factored in the fact that I’d no longer be commuting for about an hour and fifteen minutes each day through Seattle traffic.
Look at your paycheck or employment contract to see the real numbers of what you're making and where your income is going. If you don't already have a budget and know where your personal expenses go each month, get on that immediately (and you'll probably want to read Ramit Sethi's I Will Teach You To Be Rich or another similar personal finance book). Use all this information to see how much you need to be making in your business to have a sustainable lifestyle.
You decide to exit with grace or burn your bridges
Over the years, I've seen some people decide to leave their jobs with grace, and some burn down all their bridges. No matter what industry you're in, connections and networks are closer than you might think, so it always baffles me when people bad-mouth a company or slack off in the time between announcing they're leaving to the time that they're gone.
I knew that I wanted to leave my job as gracefully as possible because, well, I do love the school I worked at and I wanted to remain on good terms in case I ever decide to return to teaching in any capacity.
Plus, it was way more fun to treat this past spring as my swan song as a teacher and go all in on making second semester a creativity powerhouse for my students. We went on walks and hikes to learn about photography, we worked on paintings and drawings en plein air, I let my students come into the art room at lunch to work with clay, we made a giant mural on one of the outdoor walls with sidewalk chalk, and I felt like I finally mastered teaching two assignments that had eluded me for thirteen years.
I’d always wanted to love my job when I left it for entrepreneurship, and I’m grateful that I was able to leave on a high note. Letting go of over-attachment to work and setting boundaries when dealing with external negativity also helped me avoid falling into too much unnecessary drama. (I also started occasionally using the reminder of “not my circus, not my monkeys” when needed.)
The mental and emotional struggle is real
I'm not sure I fully realized just how much of an emotional slog making this decision would be. On my last day of classes, one of my students asked me (when wanting to know whether to put her chair up or not), "Ms. Swanson, are we your last class in here today?" I responded, "Yes! You're my last class…" (and then came to the realization) "…ever. Oh, now I'm getting emotional!" and then proceeded to tear up unexpectedly.
Yesterday, on the last day of school after classes had ended, I pretty much spent the entire day in tears. Even though I'm overjoyed and excited about my next step as a creative entrepreneur, it made sense to me that I'd be grieving the end of my previous career. I hadn't expected it, but of course I'd be rather weepy in the transition.
I think it's important to know what personal strategies help you work through emotional and mental states like excitement, sadness and anxiety when making a big change, and knowing what might be a sign of getting to an unhealthy well-being.
Starting from when I decided to quit my job, my emotional state ranged from fear to sadness, excitement, anxiety, joy, and gratitude, and sometimes all at the same time. For me, meditation helps me reach a sense of calm, and outdoor exercise helps me get out of my head. Physical illnesses like colds are usually a sign that I’m taking too much on, and insomnia alerts me to impending anxiety. Throughout the spring, I made sure to be consistent with my meditation and exercise habits, while also taking things extra easy when I was sick or lost my voice.
Knowing what strategies work for you to maintain your emotional well-being in times of change is essential, as is, in my opinion, having a good therapist to call on if your strategies aren't enough in that period of time.
Get comfortable with letting go of control
When I went to Oaxaca in February and met with a curandera, she asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to work on during our session. I told her about my situation. Over the course of the day, I came to realize that the reason I was so scared to take the leap was because it felt like I was letting go of control.
While entrepreneurship offers a lot of potential gain, it feels like a lot more risk. Getting comfortable with letting go of control and realizing that you won't be able to see exactly what's coming up in the next few years is something I need to remind myself of again and again.
Opportunities present themselves when you're ready to see them
As soon as I'd made the decision to quit my job, it was as if the universe was saying, "Finally!" A few weeks after making the decision, I found out from a colleague about a trade show I want to do next spring which wouldn't be possible for me to attend if I was still teaching. I suddenly was accepted to some big craft shows in Seattle that I'd been applying to for years (YEARS!) but had never previously gotten into. A creative entrepreneurship podcast I listen to religiously asked to interview me, and their recording schedule takes place during the day when I'd have been teaching previously (but more on that later).
I don’t know that I would have noticed these opportunities had I not decided to quit my job, and I wonder how many other opportunities I missed previously because I wasn’t yet ready for them. It gives me hope that my business will continue to grow in the right ways for me at the right times when I’m ready.
I don't know where my future will take me, and that's exciting
When I look at where my life is headed, I have a sense of where I'll be in the short term, but I have no idea where I'll be, what I'll be doing or what the state of Yardia will be further along the road five to ten years from now.
Maybe I'll be doing the same thing, maybe I'll be leading a team of employees, maybe I'll be teaching again, or coaching, or have an entirely new calling to follow.
I think that this is the most exciting part about quitting my day job for me.
I used to be on a path where I could pretty easily see what I'd continue to do as a teacher, what kind of income I'd make and when I'd retire. Now I feel like I've stepped onto a new path that's been running somewhat parallel to the old one, but which is about to turn in a new direction that's a bit more foggy. I'm feeling hopeful about how I’ll grow and learn on this new path, and I can't wait to see where it leads me.