July 14, 2020

What I learned from Jon Acuff about quitting and closing the gap between my day job and my dream job

I recently read Jon Acuff’s book: Quitter – Closing the gap between your day job and your dream job. Jon is an expert at quitting jobs. He held eight jobs in eight years from 1998 until 2006 and he quit six of those jobs, one he was fired from and another went out of business. From his book, I understand that he worked at AutoTrader for three years, often taking vacation to pursue his dream job doing speeches and writing. Finally, after hustling for several years, Dave Ramsey offered him his dream job at his company. Jon had been working away for a while and his book shares all the things he learned working a day job while pursuing his dream job. Reading Jon’s book gave me a number of great takeaways:

Quitting brings a whole new crop of problems

Jon shares a story about one of his worst bosses ever. His boss was a jerk, did not treat him well and he thought about quitting all the time – probably like you or me if we were in the same situation. However, a lot of us think about the situation that we are in but never think about what happens after we quit. Do we think about the conversations we have with our spouse after we quit – i.e., how many resumes and cover letters were sent out today to look for new work? Why you are watching TV when you don’t have a job? How you are going to pay the bills or your mortgage?

A day job lets you say no, but also provides a number of other benefits that you don’t realize

When you don’t have any money coming in, you may have to take on jobs that you don’t want to do just so that you have some income coming in. Your day job also gives you health insurance – maybe you have to go see the dentist or have an emergency surgery. Things like that you may not have the money for if you just suddenly quit your day job.

Five criteria for a new speaking request

The five criteria are:

  1. Are they willing to pay my fee?
  2. Will I be speaking to an influential crowd?
  3. Will I be associated with other influential speakers at the event?
  4. Will I already be int he area speaking somewhere else?
  5. Is this a unique chance to share an important idea with a new audience?

Jon only says yes if he answers yes to at least three of those questions – but the point of sharing the criteria is that if he didn’t have a day job, the only criteria that needs to be answered is 1. Are they willing to pay my fee?

People with jobs tend to have more creative freedom than those without

People have to have a need and purpose of work in their lives. For example, I had no idea that after Ryan Gosling experienced huge success after The Notebook, he didn’t want to just drift aimlessly and coast on his success so he got a job making sandwiches at a deli. When asked about his job, he said, “The problem with Hollywood is that nobody works. They have meals. They go to Pilates. But it’s not enough. So they do drugs. If everybody had a pile of rocks in their backyard and spent every day moving them from one side of the yard to the other, it would be a much happier place.” I have also heard that many partners leaving professional services firms have heart attacks within a few years of them retiring – I don’t know if this is true but there is a reason why everybody needs to find something to do after retiring and not just sit at home and ‘coast’.

How do you find what you want to do in life?

We can go through different activities and exercises to find out what you want to do with your life but Jon talks about a simpler way of finding our passion. Look to the things that you have done in the past that you loved doing. Instead of having a million options, you are left with a few manageable options from your own experience. Some other ways of finding what you want to do in life: what do you do on Saturday mornings when you don’t have anything else planned?

Here’s another interesting story: Mercedes-Benz had developed an expensive sports car – it was an SLR and it cost more than $400,000. But Mercedes-Benz had a problem. Because the car was high-end, every inch of the car, every detail had to match the power and luxury the car offered. The one thing that every car seems to have these days is a turn key ignition. Some cars these days have push button ignitions, but for the SLR, this was not enough. What Mercedes-Benz did was first, relocate the ignition button into the gear stick. Right away, that feels like a video game. It’s a little different – almost like starting up a jet like you’re in the movie Top Gun. Next, they added something that forever changed how Jon looked at his life. They added a hinge. On top of the button they put a small hinge that held a cover in place; in order to start the car, you had to first open the cover and press down on the ignition button with your thumb. The hinge tapped into every scene in every movie where someone launches a missile. That hinge that Mercedes-Benz created completely changed the experience of its car. And it probably didn’t even cost a lot of money – maybe $30. Jon’s advice is to look at your life and watch for these hinge moments.

You’re doing something normal and all of a sudden a small detail throws you in a completely different trajectory than where you were originally going. Jon found that asking himself a few questions helped him find hinge moments in his life:

  1. What do I love enough to do for free?
  2. What do I do that causes time to feel different?
  3. What do I enjoy doing regardless of the opinions of other people?
  4. If only your life changed, would that be enough? (If you killed yourself creating something and at the end, only your life changed, would that be rewarding enough? If yes, you might have a hinge moment).
  5. Are there any patterns in the things you like doing?

In between your day job and your dream job, we come up with a lot of reasons of why we can’t close the gap

I’m too busy with my full-time job – more free time does not necessarily mean that you will get more done. Ever hear the adage that if you want something done, give it to the busiest person? Think about when you were just about to leave for vacation and trying to get everything done at work and tell me that you weren’t super efficient. You still have to pay your bills so you can’t just quit your full time job either.

“By now” – Jon says that these are two words that he hates. Oh if I wanted to be a doctor, I would have gone to medical school and been done by now. It’s a twisted justification that you could have been where you wanted to be but now you’re too late. This is awful advice because the next thing that you will tell yourself is “don’t start”.

How can you use your day job to help you get closer to your dream job?

How long does it take for your dream to become a full-time job and sustain you? Longer than you think. Find the parallels between your day job and your dream job. Go ahead – there are many that I bet you haven’t stopped to think about. You can also use your day job to learn different skills in another environment. For example, if your dream job is to create your own business and you work at Starbucks, you have a great opportunity to learn about sales, about marketing, about working with people, managing teams and staff.

Jon also advises not to do a few things while pursuing your dream job at your day job:

  1. Don’t steal from work – don’t work on your dream job while at your day job. Your day job didn’t pay you to do the responsibilities of your dream job.
  2. Your day job is your advocate, not your adversary – think of your day job as helping you get to your dream job. Maybe you won’t dislike it as much and it will be easier to close the gap.
  3. Don’t try to make your day job like your dream job – for example, if you are trying to start a business in social media, don’t try to do social media at your day job if that is not your responsibility.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been guilty for a few of these things trying to make my day job more like my dream job. That isn’t fair to my company and that isn’t fair to me.

Be invisible for as long as you can

Everybody wants to be a huge success right away but it doesn’t happen that way. You’re going to go unnoticed for far longer than you probably want but don’t think of it as a bad thing. It’s actually great. Why? When you’re popular, you’re going to get more criticism. When you’re largely unnoticed, you also get to develop your craft with smaller audiences. Imagine getting into professional speaking and speaking at TED. There are cameras recording and you forget your speech halfway through. You didn’t work out all the kinks in your speech and it’s not as well polished as you wanted it. Practice with the smaller audiences first.

Hustle is doing the things that you don’t enjoy doing sometimes to earn the right to do the things you love

You don’t get all the good without any bad. Sometimes you need to do some things you don’t like sometimes. For consulting, that means sometimes working the long hours or with picky clients. For government, that might mean having to handle and deal with the bureaucracies of the organization.

Quantity leads to quality

Seth Godin has written over 7000 blog posts – all for free and for everyone who is interested. You use the idea of free to attract your initial audience. People won’t pay for the exact same things they can get for free, so you have to change it, add to it, improve it and differentiate it if you are going to charge for it. There are also long term benefits for free – when you do free speeches, it pays dividends toward expertise. And eventually, if you do enough things for free, people will see the value in what you bring and you can start to charge for it. If you charge for it at the start, people may not have the chance to see the value in what you bring.

Do you have a dream job that you’re pursuing? Reading this book about quitting will help you close that gap.

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