I still remember that day.
We’d just finished our Christmas holidays. It was the first week back at work – a Tuesday morning, January 11th, 2011, 9:06am. Not to be specific or anything.
I walked into my boss’s office and asked if I could have a minute. We sat down and I just told her.
“I’m going to leave this year. I think by April or May – I’ll be gone.”
She could see my decision was pretty concrete, and didn’t bother trying to change my mind.
“Well thank you for letting me know. What are you going to do?”
Funny thing was, I didn’t actually know. Travel was at the top of my list, but I still had thoughts of maybe finding a new job overseas, volunteering or going back to study. I was still weighing all my options. But I walked out of my boss’s office that morning feeling really good. Confident. I knew this was the right thing to do.
In a lot of the emails I get, people use the word “brave”. “Oh you were so brave to quit your career like that! How brave of you to leave all that work behind and travel the world. I wish I could be brave like you.
But braveness was never part of the picture. I wasn’t lying in bed thinking, C’mon, be brave Brendan, just quit. It was a relatively easy decision. I didn’t like my job. I quit. And I don’t think it was my job in particular that I hated. It was the whole idea of a job. I’m pretty sure if I had worked in any other accounting firm in any other country on any other planet, I would have hated it just the same.
Quitting, then, had nothing to do with braveness. Braveness is only required when you’re afraid. I wasn’t afraid of quitting. I was afraid of staying. How could I wake up every morning, be totally unexcited about every single thing I was going to do that day, spend eight hours doing it, spend two sitting hours in traffic, sleep too little, wake up the next day knowing this was going to be my life for the next 35 years, and not be afraid? That terrified me. Staying was a lot scarier than quitting.
One thing many of you don’t know is, I wasn’t actually allowed to quit my job back then. When you go through the Chartered Accounting programme, there are a lot of fees. You have membership fees, application fees, exam fees. I had just completed my qualifying year – workshops, tests, a big six hour qualifying exam, which had cost around $5,000. The company covered it, but also made me sign a 12 month bond. At the time I still had six months left, but I couldn’t stay there any longer. I handed in my resignation and agreed to pay them back. I ended up paying my boss $2,500 to let me quit. She chopped it right off my final paycheck. $2,500. Poof.
But for me that was worth every cent. $2,500 or six months of my life? I’ll take life. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really seeing things so differently to everyone else. Maybe I’m just more impatient than them. Or intolerant. Entitled. I don’t know. It baffles me how people can spend decades in careers they don’t like. Why can’t we see that it’s a prison? You have to wake up at a certain time each day or you get in trouble. You have to show up on time or you’ll get in trouble. You have to do work you don’t like every day or you get in trouble. You have to eat lunch when your boss tells you or you get in trouble. You can’t go on holiday or you get in trouble. You have to say the right things or you get in trouble. You have to wear the same clothes as everyone else or you get in trouble (I guess you at least get to choose the colour, sometimes). And for all your trouble you get paid just enough so you can afford a roof and food and a car to get you to the office and back. Then if you wait your turn and stay in line and smile, you might get a day off every ten years. Rewarded for good behaviour.
We all have somewhere else we’d rather be. So why aren’t we there? For some reason we’d rather stay in prison. But the real the crazy thing is, we can leave! We can leave any time we want. But we stay. We show up again on Monday and we stay.
Why do we stay?
I wish I could be brave like you.
We’re all afraid of what’s outside the box. But we can’t be afraid forever. We owe ourselves something better. All these other things we want to do – we owe it to ourselves to at least try. Maybe you want to open a surf shop. So, go. Open it. Go bankrupt in three days. Great. Now go back to prison. At least you tried. Didn’t you ever get told that as a kid? It doesn’t matter if you don’t win. As long as you tried your best.
That still applies as an adult: Try your best. Staying in the job you don’t like because you’re scared – that’s not trying your best. Opening a bankrupt surf shop – much closer to trying your best than sitting in your cubicle thinking about it. And you know what? Even if it was a crappy surf shop, you can still try again and do better next time. I’m sure you got told that one too.
We tend to live in a world of scarcity. I’m not sure why we do this, because the world is abundant in everything we’ll ever need. Go to the supermarket. Look at all that food. Take a guess at how many years it would take you to eat every single thing in that supermarket. Five? Ten? And that’s just one supermarket out of hundreds of millions on the planet. How is it possible to starve in a world with so much food?
Think about how many dollars are out there. How many trillions upon trillions of dollars are floating around. You don’t need trillions. You only need like fifty bucks a day. Out of all those bazillions of dollars in the world, you only need like 1 or 2 million and you’d be set for life.
Then people worry about jobs. All the time. What if I can’t get another job? Do you know many jobs are out there? I’ll tell you exactly how many. A lot. You don’t need a lot. You just need one.
In a world of abundance, quitting your job isn’t scary. It’s only scary because you focus on the negative. You focus on the scarcity. What if you focused on the positive? Instead of visualising yourself opening a bankrupt surf shop, envision yourself opening a good one. Maybe not even a good one, just an okay one. Might even turn a profit. Then your profit gets bigger, and you need to hire employees. Then you hire someone to manage it for a month while you go on holiday. Where are you going on holiday? I don’t know, Morocco. You go surfing in Morocco, and you realise there’s no surf shop here. Maybe you can open one. You open one. You rent out all your boards on the first day, you need to buy more. You call the manager at your shop back home, give him a payrise on the spot and tell him to manage the shop for six months – you’re staying in Morocco. Five years later you have surf shops in California, New Zealand, Morocco, Australia, Portugal. Your business has expanded to include hostels and tours. You’re thinking about opening in Norway next, or Denmark. Maybe Denmark. Someone told you they have really good hot dogs in Denmark. Days after your Denmark shop opens, a big tourism conglomerate offers to buy your company for 3 million dollars. You decline. You want 8 million. They say, sure. Well give you 8. You sell and get married to a sexy Moroccan and open a mint tea shop in the middle of Casablanca.
Why can’t you envision that? Why is that impossible? In a world of abundance, quitting your job is not scary. Not giving yourself the chance to get your mint tea shop ending? That’s scary. Sitting there at 75 thinking, man, what if I had just tried to open that surf shop when I was 31? That’s terrifying.
Maybe your surf shop does do miserably and you go begging for your job back. I agree, that doesn’t sound like fun. But is that really what you’re afraid of? You’re staying in your cubicle because you’re afraid you might fail and end up in a cubicle? Hmm. In the English language, I believe that’s what we like to call an excuse.
Maybe what you’re afraid of is the success. Maybe you’re scared of being more successful than you ever imagined. Your mega insane surf shops means you now have to be an employer, you have to hire an accountant and a lawyer and worry about your customers smacking themselves in the face with their boards and suing you, you have to negotiate multi million dollar deals with big companies and learn how to register companies in foreign countries and pay taxes in five different currencies and actually make decisions that affect other people’s lives.
People often say they’re afraid of failure. That’s why they stay in the cubicle. But what they’re really afraid of is the success. That’s why they stay in the cubicle.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
There is nothing to fear out here. At least, nothing scarier than the things you already face every day. Stop being afraid. Stop living in scarcity. Because living in scarcity means you only ever see obstacles. Oh I have to pay $2,500 to quit. Oh I might not find another job. Oh my idea is stupid. Oh everyone will think I’m dumb. Oh I have asthma. Oh I saw a donkey fall over back in February and that means I’m going to fall over too.
Everything you’ve ever wanted is out here. In abundance. You want a million dollars? It’s here. Just floating around. A million dollars probably goes through your local supermarket every week. You want a new job? Great. There’s billions of them. You want to travel? Cool. Lots of planes taking off today. Lots of countries with airports.
When you think of the bad things, that creates fear. That’s why you’re afraid. Instead, think of the good things that could happen. Imagine yourself succeeding. Imagine yourself happy. That creates excitement, energy, motivation. And that’s how you should always be thinking, because if you pursue something real, nothing bad is going to happen. Life is not going to get worse. It only gets better.
I can prove it.
Over the years I’ve conducted a study. Super scientific. Peer reviewed by my left eye and my right eye. Here are my super scientific results:
- The number of people I’ve heard say “I quit my job as a lawyer to go travelling and my boss keeps begging me to come back but I can’t because I just started my own art store and now I’m writing a book and life is so cool.” – A lot.
- The number of people I’ve heard say “I quit my job at the store and I went travelling and then I came home and now I have another job at the store.” – Quite a lot.
- The number of people I’ve heard say “I quit my job as a nurse to go travelling and I hated it so I went home and tried to get another job as a nurse but every single nursing job in the whole world is taken and now I’m homeless and going to die.” – Zero.
I get it. It’s safe to stay in the nest. It’s easy. You can’t fail there. You can’t succeed there. Life is worry-free, nobody knows who you are, nobody cares, you can just hum along peacefully until zero. But one day, and I can guarantee you this with every single damn tax return I’ve ever done (and I’ve done a lot), you will wonder why you didn’t reach for the stars. You will wonder why you didn’t write your story when you had the chance.
Don’t let your fears become chains. Don’t let your dreams become regrets.
Live in abundance.
Try your best.
Don’t be afraid of failure.
Don’t be afraid of success.
Think of the good things that will happen.
Make your ****ing dreams come true.