Two years ago, I quit my full-time, salaried with benefits job to pursue self-employment as an independent freelance graphic designer. (This is maybe the most cliche statement to read online these days.)
Since then, the reactions I’ve received have all been pretty similar. People marveled at the fact that I took this big, life-changing leap. I’ve gotten messages like “Wow you’re so brave and courageous” and “That’s so great you’re pursuing your passion” and “I wish I could be my own boss”.
At first I didn’t know what to think of it. There were other personal things going on at the time that impacted me enough to quit my full-time job. But after getting the same reaction plenty of times, and reading the same “I-quit-my-job-and-started-my-own-business!” overnight success stories online everywhere — I started to accept it. Believe it for myself. It became a part of my story.
It became easy to identify with a lot of things young entrepreneurial people were saying. I hustle my ass off to work enough contracts in a month to make ends meet. I deal with fear and anxiety of the instability every day. I battle constant future-tripping, wondering how long I can realistically sustain myself on this route. But I also get paid to do something I love (which is supposed to outshine anything else apparently). Not gonna front, it’s been fun and fulfilling. I was proud to be pursuing my passion and I pat myself on the back for making it work. But then another part of me couldn’t disagree more with the sentiment. Being your own boss is tough as shit. You have no one to blame but yourself if things go awry. It’s not always what it’s cracked up to be. But what bothers me most is how we prop up the entrepreneurial class to be inherently brave and courageous. Let’s set the record straight.
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.
Nowadays we are bombarded with messages that life could only be meaningful if we do what we love (which is subjective anyway). Quitting full-time jobs to travel the world. Giving up everything to be your own boss. Leaving routine to build something from scratch. We are offered online classes, webinars, books and podcasts of advice from professionals. We are marketed to with apps that promise the ease of starting your own business. We are told that the sacrifice will be hard but it will all be worth it. You just have to quit your job, give it your all, buy my e-book of advice for $20, and have the passion to persevere.
We praise people that are “courageous” enough to quit their 9-to-5 and dive into the deep end of the exciting unknown. We idealize and romanticize the idea of being our own boss and being in charge of our own schedule. To take a risk and reap the bountiful benefits. Yet no one talks about the real sustainability or self-sufficiency of this formula when the playing field is never even.
Quitting your job to pursue your passion is bullshit. This messaging is only beneficial for privileged people and very dangerous for working class people.
The statement alone reeks of privilege. It confirms you had a full-time job to begin with. It confirms you had time to develop a passion (that you can capitalize off of, enough to meet your cost of living). It confirms you had the option to pursue something different because you feel like it. There are more challenges to being self-employed than just mental perseverance and grit. We are predatorily luring working class people into an entrepreneur lifestyle as the answer to living a meaningful life and loads of money. It’s the new American Dream.
From my own experience, I personally did not quit my full-time salaried with benefits job to be courageous and pursue my passion. I did not quit spontaneously, nor did I take a “big leap of faith”. I quit because I was faced with new and challenging responsibilities in my personal life that required more of me mentally and emotionally than I had anticipated. I quit because I was depressed. I quit because I couldn’t keep up with a 40-minute commute, working 9–10, sometimes 12 hours a day, and pretend nothing was changing at home. I quit because I had freelance work to fall back on, not because I just wanted to do freelance work full-time. I quit because I weighed out my options every day for 7 months before making a final decision.
I am privileged to not have any student loans to repay. (I guess dropping out of college finally paid off haha.) I am privileged to have paid off most of my credit card debt while I was working full-time. I am privileged to be in a relationship with a partner that was working full-time. That I had a partner who I could live with. I quit my job because I was dealing with a family emergency with long-term responsibilities I had to wrap my head around . I quit my job because I had the privilege to do so.
I don’t want to perpetuate this false narrative of quitting a job because I was brave enough to pursue my passion. I don’t want anyone who works a 9-to-5 to feel like a fool for staying at a stable job, or feel wrong if they actually enjoy it. I want people to know that nearly all the overnight entrepreneur success stories in the spotlight leave out the privilege afforded to them in the first place. Not everyone can, or should, just quit their job in hopes of finding happiness or meaningful work. Passion can fuel your drive but sometimes isn’t enough to pay the bills and no one should feel shitty for not being able to fit this mold that’s been created. The concept is ideal for all, but not realistic for many.
And I’m not saying working class people can’t be successful entrepreneurs. I’m just saying if you haven’t read something that mentions the privileges of the self-employed, inspiring, brave, courageous entrepreneurial class that pursues their passion, then here it is.