A few weeks have passed since I quit my job so I could focus on my writing. And now that the mental and physical fatigue which this decision brought about are finally starting to abate, one subject I want to tackle is when is the right time to take a leap and go for a dream.
The short answer: There never is a right moment to do so and there never will be, at least not as the world is today. But this doesn’t need to be such a big hurdle. What I found out while pondering my own options is that short of being already a best-selling author with lots of money in the bank from a huge advance for a three-book deal, I will never stop feeling apprehensive about stepping away from the well-trodden path. All creatives, myself included, encounter the following conundrum: to get to any stable income from whatever the passion of your choice is, one needs time. But how to find enough time with a day job that eats away a considerable number of hours and creative capacity?
The truth is, taking the decision to step away from a steady job will ALWAYS entail a certain amount of risk. It will never be possible to make a totally rational choice to leap into an unknown territory unless you have a stable business going on already. (But that isn’t an unknown territory, now, is it? Plus, life is too short to wait for that). So, it basically comes down to how much risk is bearable vs how unbearable the current situation is. But there is another factor to add to the balance: how much your current situation is damaging your chances to succeed in the coveted profession. The sooner you start doubling down on what you want to do, the sooner it might become your source of income.
In my case, a few things converged to the point when the balance tipped and I made a choice. 1) I finished the first draft of my trilogy. 2) I couldn’t go on with my double life without serious mental damage. 3) It wasn’t totally crazy financially to quit (just a little bit).
Let me elaborate on the third point because this is what most people’s decisions hinge on. Financially, it wasn’t totally crazy to quit, but it was perhaps a little bit crazy to quit. My husband is a scientific researcher, and researchers often don’t get permanent jobs until their forties. And we have a small child. So taking these two facts into account, I was mad to quit. But on the other hand, my science job was not permanent either, we are ok with one salary for now, and in science, it’s common not to have permanent contracts so there is a high turnover of jobs. Later, I might have to find a job again, but this time I will not go for a mad scientist job, no, no. I will choose carefully and go for something that allows me to write even if I need to take a pay cut. There you have it: It was not the right time to quit, but it was also not the worst time to quit.
This much for the practical side of it. One can stop here, but anyone in my situation knows that there is so much more to the choice to follow a dream than a simple balance of pros and cons. It’s not about getting out of the 9-to-5 rut to freedom because this is not where freedom lies. If one has a 9-to-5 job which brings fulfillment, one is still free. It is about not having to go against your own grain. In my case, no regular job will ever fill the void that writing fills, so I made the choice I had to. The alternative was depression. At some point, making a less-than-sound decision financially can still be the right decision. What’s the point to be able to put the best food on the table when one is so worn out and unhappy that one can’t be a good parent or partner? There are other currencies than dollars or euros, and we often forget about them when we take decisions.
A world where these other currencies count with equal weight will be a world where the choice I took wouldn’t be a hard one to take. It often saddens me that this world has not yet arrived, though I know it will. Call me naive, but I do believe that we are headed towards a money-less world, not unlike the one in Star Trek where to discover a better version of ourselves would be the driving force of society (with or without aliens around).
I can see the beginnings of such a world in initiatives like a citizen’s basic income (Wikipedia). The nay-sayers are against such an initiative because they think that having a guaranteed income would bring about an exponential number of lazy bums. But the truth is that there will always be lazy bums around with or without money in their pockets. And even if the number of lazy bums does indeed increase, this will be offset by the many other people who will suddenly be visible because they will have time to create, to work with their grain, to reach their full potential, and thus enrich society. Also, think about how much money the state will save when there are far fewer depressed and anxious people around because we wouldn’t have to stress with choices such as “Do I make money so I can live, or do I live a life worth living?”
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