Sounds reckless right? But I want to make the case for why quitting your job can be a great way to advance your project, even when it may sound like a scary idea.
You see, I had always thought that, during times I was employed, the extent to which my side projects would reach was inherent in the nature of the project. That is, the reason all my side projects tended to be single-use and single-launch was because they were designed for that.
I was lying to myself.
The truth was, my side projects never took off because they were missing the most important fuel a project needs: time. I would launch every project on the basis of “If I build it and launch on Product Hunt, they will come, and my moment will come.” It never came.
I tried various ways to optimize success during employment. I tried waking up at 4am every day, and working on my own projects until 7am before heading to work, but that didn’t last very long. Three hours is time, but what’s needed is capital-t Time.
I tried rationalizing working during work hours, but it always felt shitty doing so. It’s no way to live. You start feeling extremely guilty and paranoid, and you begin to hate your job even more. I even tried taking long vacations exclusively to work on side projects. That one worked pretty well actually. But you can only take so many vacations.
I bounced from job to job, looking for the one that would make me happy and cure my need for wanting to work on my own projects. “I just need to find a company that works on a product interesting enough to make my own.” I found two such companies, and worked at them for some time, but in the end, the whispers came back. You have to do your own thing.
There’s never a perfect time to quit your job. I had only a few months worth of savings, and the project I was quitting my job to pursue didn’t yet have a revenue model. But enough was enough.
Today, quitting my job was the best decision I’ve ever made. I only wish I had done it sooner.
Here are a few reasons you should quit your job:
It will cure your shitty mood.
After the excitement of starting a new job and joining a new team wore off (about 2-3 months), the feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose would come screaming back. There’s an inherent sort of degradation involved in employment, especially if you’re cursed to be ambitious. You sit behind a desk contributing labor to executives that profit more than you ever could. No matter what salary I was paid, no matter what my stock options were, I couldn’t escape from the inherent shittiness of feeling that I could be doing all this work for my own product rather than someone else’s. And that created an inherent depression.
After quitting many jobs in my career chasing the perfect one, but never finding happiness, I learned that it’s not any particular job or company that I hated working for. It was employment in general.
It will allow you to grow your project in ways you could never have imagined.
You know the feeling: you’re at your day job, and you just can’t wait to get home so you can get hacking on your side project. You plan to be home no later than 5:45 p.m. 5 o’clock hits, and your build fails to compile. So you stick around for another 10 minutes. On your way out, you catch your boss in the hallway and you make small talk for a few minutes. You run to catch the bus, but it’s delayed by 12 minutes. You make it home by 6:30, and you are absolutely exhausted and defeated. You have half an hour before you need to start thinking about dinner. You open your computer and start trying to work on your project, but you’ve been staring at a damned computer screen all day, and it’s the last thing you want to do right now. Maybe after dinner? After dinner, you crash, and grow even more tired. You call it a day, and repeat the same thing tomorrow.
That was my average daily experience. It’s no wonder I could never make meaningful progress on a project. Imagine if instead you awoke every morning at 8am, and immediately began working on your own project without limit. Imagine the progress you’d make. The things you’d learn. Quitting my job to focus on developing my own product has been the single biggest investment in my skills I’ve ever made.
Multi-tasking is a myth.
I have never been able to do two things at the same time. Or, at least, I’ve never been able to do two things well at the same time. My best work has been when I’ve had a single-minded focus on one project or task for a long period of time. Switching contexts is something that I've never really been good at. Once I start something, and build up momentum towards it, it’s really difficult for me to switch to something else. When you start your day doing work for your employer, and do it for the next 8-10 hours, you gain momentum in the direction of your employer, and opposite from your own work. Switching becomes as chaotic as doing a u-turn driving 100mph.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that quitting your job will be filled with sugar, candy, and all that is sweet. Building my own product without a stable income has been the hardest thing I have ever done. And it only gets harder.
Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t quit your job.
Working on your own product will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Quitting your job takes only 1 day, and the euphoria wears off after a week. After that, you’re left with the cold hard reality that you need to make something happen, and soon. The best part? Nothing will go your way. Every day brings a new challenge, and most times, you'll just want to quit and go back to the “comforts” of employment, where you only have to pseudo-worry about anything. Self-employment is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Most days I find myself asking, what on earth am I doing? What do I do next? Answers never come easy. I only have one rule for myself: keep going, and don’t give up. I’ve been able to make great progress on that mindset. (And trust me, giving up is a second instinct to me. I’m so good at it. Doing this has taught me not only the value of not giving up, but also that I am surprisingly capable of persevering.).
Creating a product people use is rewarding, but equally punishing.
All I ever wanted and dreamt of when I was laboring over someone else’s dream was to create a product that people would enjoy using. I told myself that if only a handful of people found my product useful and I made very little money from it, I’d be supremely happy. In some part, that was true. Having people use and depend on Standard Notes today has been the most rewarding experience of my life. But with every new user comes the opportunity for new bugs and issues. This is software after all, and there is no escaping from those dreary creepy-crawlers. Bug reports instantly ruin my day. I hate letting down users and inconveniencing them with bugs. The worst part is, they will never ever go away. Just think: you will have to live the rest of your life fixing bugs. Bugs that can make users very upset. It’s rewarding that people use your product, but it’s equally punishing.
You will have no idea what you’re doing.
You better hope that all your jobs have prepared you for this moment. If you’re venturing solo, be sure you’re ready to handle everything, from development to marketing to sales. As a developer, coding is the easy part, and I’m tempted to always do it because of how instantly gratifying it is. Marketing and sales? I might have an easier time understanding quantum mechanics. Be sure you really want this, and be sure you’re ready to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.
What should you do?
I can’t speak for your situation. Every one of us will have infinitely varying circumstances. But if all day you dream about quitting, and all you can ever think about is how much happier you’d be working on your own stuff, then what are you waiting for? Signs hardly come this clear. The world is scary, but I promise you this: you’ll live. You won’t starve. And worst-case scenario, you’ll learn a valuable lesson or two about life and entrepreneurship, and hop your way back into another job.
I don’t have kids, so I can’t offer any advice in that direction. Quitting a job becomes a whole different monster in that situation. Talk to your family and see if quitting your job is right for you.
Finally, keep in mind that I’m just some stranger on the internet you probably know nothing about. You probably shouldn’t listen to me. Ultimately, this decision is yours to make. I thought I would share my experience and what I’ve learned, in case it helps someone trapped in a situation similar to the one I was in.
Quitting your job won’t solve all your problems, but it will definitely bring on a new set of more interesting problems. The kind of problems that, if they don’t kill you, have the potential to change your life.