When it’s Time to Quit Your Day Job

When it’s Time to Quit Your Day Job


It’s a question every entrepreneur (or aspiring entrepreneur) has asked themselves: when do I quit my day job? At what point do you drop everything to pursue your dream? How do you know when it’s time?

After a 15-year study, looking at 5,000 entrepreneurs, there exists an answer to these questions. Read on to find out.

Today’s Entrepreneurs

You, like the rest of us, probably have this big, romanticized idea of business owners—we imagine them toiling away at their craft, spending nights and weekends, every spare moment perfecting it, jumping off cliffs and taking grand risks.

And you’ve heard the stories—riveting and inspiring tales of people who risked it all to follow their dreams, and they end up making it. In those stories, you see people waking up one day, having realized their dreams. They immediately drop everything and work toward that dream, 24/7, until it becomes a reality.

But the real reality is that those stories skip the most important part. The important part isn’t the success they reach or where they end up, it’s the beginning—the part where they struggle and scrap ideas and cry and break things and almost give up ten thousand different times. It’s so often left out of these stories, because the “passion = immediate success” story is far more inspiring to most.

Phil Knight was a full-time accountant and sold athletic shoes on the side for five years before starting a company for himself. That company is Nike. Sara Blakely developed her idea for years, selling fax machines the entire time. She created Spanx and is now worth $1 billion. Markus Persson was a full-time programmer, and kept that job for a full year after Minecraft was created. He eventually sold it to Microsoft for $2.5 billion.

The important part of all of these stories is the timeline. They didn’t realize their dreams and immediately quit their jobs to pursue them full-time. They worked very hard, sacrificing their free time to work out the kinks and to see if their ideas had the legs to stand. Typically when you hear these stories, or see similar stories depicted in films, it may look like their success took a matter of weeks or months, instead of the more realistic timeline of years.

The Study

The study, conducted by the Academy of Management, found that entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs were 33% less likely to fail. The main misconception revealed by this study is that we need to get “risk-taker” out of our heads, because today’s most successful business owners aren’t risk-takers at all. On the contrary—they are extremely careful. Adam Grant, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, suggests that quitting your full-time job to start a company is like proposing to someone on your first date.

Not only is it safer to keep your day job for a while, there are some amazing benefits that will actually help your new venture.

  • Steady paycheck
    • You don’t have to be a “starving artist.” With a steady paycheck, you won’t be as desperate for business (which people can smell) and you won’t be as stressed, because your entire existence won’t be resting on one giant risk.
  • Time
    • With income, you’ll have more time to work things out. You’ll have more time to evaluate things, test them, rework them, and see what’s really the best version of your idea. Without time, desperation could cloud your judgment and force you to rush important decisions.

So, When is it Time to Quit Your Day Job?

The researchers of this massive study found that a hybrid approach to entrepreneurship is the best option and gives you the greatest chance for success. Starting something big is so uncertain, so it’s best to make small initial commitments. This gives you the option further down the road to fully commit, once you have all the information and plenty of time to assess it accurately.

It’s true—this will take longer, but you’ll thank yourself later. If you take it slowly and carefully, you’re far more likely to be successful and keep doing what you love for longer. So tinker with things on the weekends, run your idea by lots of people, get feedback, scrap ideas, and take small steps towards your goals every day. Another important aspect to this whole idea is having a day job you don’t hate. If you’ve been waiting tables for five years while trying to make an idea come to life, odds are you’re burnt out and desperate at this point. Try something else to get you through the waiting period.

Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferris suggests asking yourself a simple question before taking big steps: “Is it risk-free?” That might sound extreme, but it’s a great mentality to have when thinking of starting a business. He also suggests that you don’t quit your day job until you have supplemental income from your side project. You can figure out when the right time is for you. Everyone’s different, but stay open to advice and open to waiting.

For more information, and the support of a community of other entrepreneur’s like yourself, contact the Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Birmingham today!

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