7 [life-changing] lessons I learnt after quitting my job

I stumbled across this article that I originally wrote 2.5 years ago for my short-lived “Sure, Why Not?” blog and as I re-read it, realised that the lessons I learnt then still apply today, 3.5 years into my self-employment journey — so figured, why not share past Kat’s wisdom here too?

SEPTEMBER 6th, 2016

It’s the beginning of what is set to be a huge month. Huge, challenging, and crazy scary. On one hand, I’ve managed to make July/August the highest earning months of my life. But on the other hand, that (of course) didn’t come easy. I’ve just taken on my 1. biggest client 2. biggest project and 3. tightest deadline… ever.

I’ve been battling anxiety attacks, spent the middle of today lying in bed in the foetal position, and my poor partner is having to deal with a few of my less than attractive personalities — ahem, personality traits at the moment.

And yet it’s 11:54pm on a Tuesday evening and I’m lying in bed in my dinosaur onesie (from Asos, so it’s totally acceptable), writing this article. [Note: I still own that same onesie in 2019. Best. Investment. Ever.]

So… why am I not sleeping?

I’ll admit that during my midday freakout, I had a sudden urge to give up on everything and hit Seek.com in search of a different – easier – career. That was a momentary lapse, however, and soon got me thinking about all the good stuff that comes with self-employment. There’s a fair bit of it, TBH. So I decided to write about it! In part to help me stay on track, but also as a way of offering some encouragement for others experiencing the same… let’s call them “wobbles”. Here goes.

The 7 Most Important Things I Learned After Quitting My Job:

1. A formal education will only get you so far.

I didn’t go to university. In fact, I never finished high school (I was homeschooled, not a drop-out, but still). As far as resumes and job interviews go, it tends to make me look like a crummy candidate. But despite that, I’ve been able to go from successful employee to successful business owner. Go figure!

See, potential employers wouldn’t be accounting for the hundreds of books I’ve read, online courses I’ve taken or thousands of “on the job” hours I’ve accumulated. It’s that extra curricular stuff that takes you from being good “in theory” to actually rocking at your chosen career. To date, none of my clients have asked to see my resume, but I’ve certainly had plenty choose to work with me based on my portfolio, professionalism and integrity.

2. You learn by being thrown in the deep end.

Easy is boring. Easy won’t lead to any kind of evolution or personal growth. It’s the times when you’re out of your depth and are wondering how the hell you’re going to survive (let alone succeed) that you level up. You get creative, you find the answer and you surprise yourself – because you had it in you the whole time!

Push into discomfort. Put your hand up before you’ve figured out the answer. There is NOTHING wrong with “fake it ’til you make it” – just be humble enough to know when to ask for help.

3. You need to believe in yourself right down to the core.

Most of us need validation from an outside source to believe we’re any good. It’s how we’re built. Unfortunately though, the real world (unlike school) doesn’t offer many pats on the back because everyone’s too busy worrying about themselves.

So if you want to get through each day with a smile on your face (as opposed to being a sweaty, paranoid, nervous wreck. I mean, I’m guessing that’s how it could be…) you need to learn to give yourself a gold star and believe that the work you’re doing is solid. And keep in mind that most opinions are subjective, so one piece negative feedback does NOT automatically mean it’s time to pack up shop and find a new career.

4. Your darkest, scariest moments come right before the breakthrough.

All of this dive-in-head-first-bravery stuff is awesome, but there are inevitable consequences. You’ll be challenged and pushed beyond your limits. And in ditching the “safety net” you’ll probably experience dark times that are even darker than what you’re used to.

But here’s the good part. Those dark times have a purpose. Just like with weight lifting – where you need to put little rips in the muscle to grow it and get stronger – these stressful times will put you through just enough tough stuff to allow you to piece yourself back together. Stronger. Wiser. And ready for the next chapter. Basically, they’re here to make you more awesome.

5. No matter how much you love your work, it cannot be your ONLY thing.

In the early days (okay, and occasionally still) I got crazy obsessive with the work and devoted 7 days a week to it. Doing it. Talking about it. Studying it. And pretty soon I started to burn out. Because it’s about BALANCE, people. Have too much of a good thing and your love for it may start to diminish. Except for pizza. You can never have enough pizza.

So love your work. But nurture your other loves so that you stay fresh, maintain sanity, and are less likely to be disowned by your family. I mean, if it’s burning you out, can you imagine how they’re feeling having to listen to you carry on about it, day in, day out?

6. You have the power to define yourself – ONLY you.

Something I that really got my goat as an employee was having my potential limited due to the label I was given as soon as I joined the team. “You do job X and therefore have no right to comment on any other part of the process.” That kinda thing. I get why they do it, but it still sucks.

Break the chains of employment and you can be whoever the hell you want to be. You decide how you present, what you’re called, who you work with and most importantly, what you want to do in a day. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. I hope you get to experience it at some point in your life.

7. Self-employment is hard. But it beats 9-5ing any day.

There’s no question that self-employment is a long, hard slog. It’s all on you to get up every day and do the work. No excuses, no finger pointing and – in my case, anyway – no delegation. But when I think back to the soul-destroying feeling that came from being overworked, underpaid, SERIOUSLY under appreciated and having zero say over how I spend the most productive hours of my day… I have NO regrets.

Personal, creative and professional satisfaction are priceless. So is time. Even if the path I’m on doesn’t lead me to the big bucks, I don’t give a crap. Because no amount of money will ever make up for all of the things that employment was taking from me.

And the disclaimer.

Self-employment is not for everyone and is hardly a “one size fits all” kinda deal, so don’t think I’m trying to get all of you to quit your jobs tomorrow. Gosh, no. HOWEVER. If your 9-5er is sucking the life out of you and has you struggling to get out of bed each morning, I highly recommend calling a brief time out to do some pondering and life assessing. Cuz it’s not meant to be that miserable!

I would love to read about your own employment vs unemployment story in the comments below. Who knows – maybe we’ll get a debate going and I’ll have to publish a follow-up post! 😉 As always, thanks for reading and if you liked this article, please give it a friendly share via social media.

— Kat


Kat is a copywriter, brand & messaging strategist personal branding coach and the founder of The Personal Branding Project whose mission is to help you go from best-kept secret to in-demand brand.


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