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Is Quitting Your Job to Pursue Your Passion BS? Yes and No.

A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook the other day and I can’t quite get it out of my head: Quitting Your Job to Pursue Your Passion is Bullshit, by Janelle Quibuyen. Go take a read. It’s short.

If you read the comments you’ll see that a lot of people missed Janelle’s point – which is that the freelance life is sold with a lot of fluffy words and romance, and that those romantic ideas tend to place higher value on a lifestyle which often comes with unexamined privilege. Her point is that when we romanticize “living your passion” and call entrepreneurs “courageous”, we’re putting them on a pedestal they (we – I’ll put myself in that category) don’t deserve.

I love this line:

I am no more brave than the migrant worker picking your strawberries to send remittances to family in their home country. I am no more courageous than the recently-graduated millennial who works in a cubicle 9 hours a day to pay off massive student loans. I am no more of a boss than the working class mother with three jobs who feeds her children.

Someone told me recently that I work harder than anyone they know. I fervently disagreed. Yes, I’m dedicated to my job. Yes, I go above and beyond. Yes, I’m willing to put in the extra hours and to make sacrifices to work for my future and grow my business. But I’m hardly the hardest worker I know.

Jorge was of my favorite chefs at a restaurant I once worked at. He was so fast and efficient that he could feed an entire restaurant by himself, and he was always smiling. Plus, he made the best food. He had a wife and a super cute kid, and Jorge worked two jobs – often in the same day – to support them. Once when he mentioned he’d started a third job I asked him when his days off were. He thought for a moment, then told me, “Tuesday evenings.”

Jorge works way, way harder than me.

I work hard, but I don’t work as hard as my grandpa did or my father does out on the farm. I don’t work as hard as my mom does with her elementary school students, doing lesson plans every evening and getting to school before sunrise every morning.

My mom and dad at my cousin's wedding.
I love these guys.

I didn’t quit my day job because I was courageous. I quit it because I couldn’t stand sitting at a desk anymore. I didn’t so much take a leap of faith from a stable platform I was afraid to leave, I made a smart, calculated play to get out of a place I’d begun to feel trapped by.

I haven’t worked odd jobs and traveled because I was brave, I did it because I’m apparently allergic to consistent work. It hasn’t been courageous, it’s been fun-scary-stupid-fun.

And it’s been possible in a large part because I had a safety net.

That’s another point Janelle makes in her piece. It’s sexier to talk about the courage of an entrepreneur than to talk about the safety net that makes that courage possible.

The friend who shared this article originally on Facebook found it depressing – and I think that’s part of the reason people tend to focus on the courage than the logistics. No one wants to hear that the only way I was able to quit my day job was because I’d worked every night and every weekend for 6 months on freelance projects until I built up a tiny nest egg, then I went back to waiting tables four days a week to support myself while I grew my freelance business. I had a supportive partner, but I still had to pay my half of the bills – the bicycle industry isn’t the most lucrative field.

Not having kids made this easier – I could work crazy hours and pick up weekend doubles without worrying about childcare. I could do my freelance work in the middle of the day without having to work around naptimes. And when I finally quit waiting tables, my partner and I could afford to take a temporary cut in my paycheck because we didn’t have a third mouth to feed.

The ability to tolerate the risk of starting a freelance business is part privilege – you have to have a safety net, whether that’s savings, a side gig, a supportive partner, whatever – but it’s also part temperament.

What a lot of people miss in their romantic idea of freelancing is that you are literally starting your own business.

Friends tell me how much they would like to be able to spend all day writing – but when I explain I actually spend most of my day as Bookkeeper, Marketer, Sales, Dishwasher, Accounts Payable, Webmaster, and Customer Service Representative, they brush it off. “At least you’re doing what you love!”

And I am. But I love being a business owner and wearing all those hats. If you don’t have the discipline and business sense to be your own best boss and your own best employee, to deliver on time every time, and to keep doing it day after day (even on weekends if necessary), even when it all feels like you’re not moving forward at all…. Maybe freelancing’s not for you.

And that’s OK.

If you’re stuck on the idea that quitting your day job to follow your passion is romantic, then, yes, Janelle’s article is depressing. For me, though, I found it honest.

Freelancing is difficult, and it’s not for everybody. But the same could be said of any profession.

You have to follow your passion, yes, but you also have to find the life that’s right for you.

Whatever you do, just go into it with your eyes open and don’t let yourself get sold by flowery language. You’re smarter than that.