Yep, that’s it. See that photo up there? ^
That’s my old cubicle. I didn’t like it very much.
I hated it, actually.
I guess that’s why I unapologetically trash having a 9-5 pretty regularly on this blog.
Well today, things will be a little different. I’m going to soften my 9-5 hating stance a bit, and here’s why.
The other day I got yet another email from a reader who had just finished university. He had been working an internship the year before and the resulting misery had him conclude that there was no way he was going to start a 9-5 career after he graduated (I get a lot of emails like this).
Yet, he didn’t have other plans. He knew he wanted to travel, and knew he didn’t want a job. But it seemed he didn’t have a clear idea of what he actually wanted to strive for. Travel seemed to be a way of running away from something (a job), rather than running towards another dream or goal that he wanted to pursue.
I can’t blame him. If I’m being honest with myself, a lot of my travels have been due to the same thing. But I can say with certainty it was the times when I wasn’t ‘just travelling’, but rather pursuing something I was passionate about (learning Chinese in China, learning Spanish in Spain, learning to fight in The Philippines) that have been the most enjoying and fulfilling travel experiences I have had.
If you don’t want to get a job, what are you going to do instead? What are your plans? What do you want to dedicate your life to? Without a clear answer, you will probably just end up drifting on the road for longer than you should, which in reality can be a lot more damaging than sitting in a cubicle hating your life.
People often look at a 9-5 as a life-long thing. Start at age 25, work until age 50, retire, and then play golf and go on cruises.
I prefer to think of a 9-5 a different way. I think of it as a stepping stone, something that can be used to move onto something better. Jobs are often seen as employers getting employees to do crappy things, but with the right motivation you can get a lot more out of your 9-5 if you focus on the ways it can benefit you. Put yourself first and your boss second. For example:
Do not get a 9-5 to simply earn and spend money on a consumerist lifestyle. Instead, use it to live as frugally as possible and enjoy the regularity of a paycheck to build a war-fund of savings. I can definitely say that my travels have only been possible due to the money I saved during my time in corporate. I still have some of that money, so in a way, three years after I quit my job my old boss is still paying for my travels around the world.
Do not get a 9-5 to learn how to do a job. Instead, use it to network, develop social skills, and build some discipline into your life. The job itself is unimportant. You are not there to earn money for your boss. You are there to grow and develop new skills. I can safely say the real value of my years in corporate was not learning to use Excel, but rather the skills I learned with things like networking, dealing with conflicts and time management. I also made many great friends/contacts with whom I still stay in touch with to this day.
Do not get a 9-5 job with the intent of building a career of multiple decades. Set yourself a limit of maybe 2-5 years, and work hard to maximise your time there; constantly negotiate salary increases, save aggressively, and don’t be afraid to leave for a bigger payday. Put maximum effort into optimising skills that will be useful in your future endeavours (negotiating, selling, research) and do the bare minimum on ‘office monkey’ skills that only provide value to your boss (data entry, outdated softwares, running reports). Give your time to the employer that treats you best (pays you the most) and make sure you spend time developing the skills that benefit you.
Do not let a 9-5 job be the main focus of your life. It may take up most of your time, but remember it is only a means to an end. Use these years of security to figure out what you really want to do. Constantly seek out other endeavours and consider the options you can pursue once you leave. Where are you going to travel to? Why? What do you hope to achieve? Quite often, you might actually find the thought of eventually chasing these ambitions are the only thing that gets you through the day.
Instead of enduring a 9-5 and hating your life, look at your time there as a way to set yourself up for something better. Build yourself a solid financial foundation. Decide what it is you really want to do. Concentrate on developing the skills that have life value and give only the minimum to tasks that don’t. In a few years when you’re finally ready, you can write your resignation letter, fire your boss, and move onto your travels (or whatever else you desire) with passion and purpose.
It doesn’t end there.
You will find that long after you leave, your time in corporate will have a huge effect on your travels. You will see things and travel differently to those who never went through the same experience. You will share an instant bond with other corporate runaways.
Just the other day at my hostel here in Ecuador, I met an Aussie guy who told me he saved up three years for his round the world trip. In his exact words, “It was like a prison sentence”.
We both laughed at this, because we understood each other completely. We both knew how it felt to wait longingly for that moment to break free. We both knew the joy of handing in that four weeks notice. To us, the freedom of being on the road was just that little bit sweeter.
Very often I meet young people travelling around the world, usually not much older than 18 or 19. Some are in the middle of university, and some didn’t even begin at all. But they are there, sitting on the bus next to me, journeying down the Tanzanian coast or the Cambodian countryside. I always love meeting these people, because they are young and generally share my same carefree outlook on life, but I don’t click with them in the same way as I do with a fellow cubicle refugee.
They didn’t grind through the same years of corporate chains. They didn’t go through the misery of early morning commutes in winter. They didn’t go through the years of breathing stale office air, rushing through one-hour lunch breaks and enduring Monday afternoons hunched over a cubicle. They didn’t experience trying to squeeze an entire year of wants into 4 pitiful weeks of annual leave. They didn’t enjoy the thrill of roughing up your voice and pretending to call in sick. They don’t know what it’s like to wake up in the morning, put on clothes you don’t want to wear, and sit in a desk that makes you miserable for 8 long hours, every…single…day.
Interestingly, this is probably a big factor in the key differences you’ll notice between those who worked before travelling and those who didn’t. Those who travelled straight after graduation are almost always planning to either return home and ‘get a job’, or end up drifting aimlessly on the road for too many years. But those who escaped a 9-5 always have bigger plans. They end up starting hostels, restaurants, tour companies, online businesses, freelance careers, or other entrepreneurial ventures that gel with their skillset. They find ways to build travel into their life and their career. And while part of this is probably due in part to business skills learned in their corporate life, I suspect most of it is due to a vicious motivation to maintain their freedom and avoid a return to the 9-5 at all costs.
It’s because we’ve been in the cubicle. We know what it’s like.
That’s why we make sure we never have to go back.
When I look back at the moment I finished my last university exam, it was a strange time in my life. I was so relieved that it was over, but it was also filled with uncertainty. I already had a signed job contract for the following year, but I had no idea what I actually wanted from life. Accounting career? Entrepreneur? Marriage? It was all a big unknown. In that sense, a 9-5 was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It gave me time to think and plan, to experience the corporate world, and build a strong foundation financially. It also allowed me to determine a clearer picture of what I did and didn’t want from life. It wasn’t enjoyable, but it was beneficial in many ways and definitely set me off in the right direction.
So, my advice to all those in that state of post graduation limbo wondering what on earth to do with their life, is this:
Get a job.
Use the time to save and plan. Get everything you can out of it. Use it as a tool to help you grow and develop. Don’t work for your boss; work for you. You’re going to be miserable and you’re going to curse every morning when you alarm clock goes off, but when it’s finally time to leave, the freedom and joy of travelling the world will be sweeter than ever.
Did you leave a 9-5 to travel the world? How did it change your journey and perspective? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.