You Work For Yourself, or How To Fire Your Boss

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Depending on who you talk to, I’m either a half-retired entrepreneur or a lowly wage slave. You can read about my five sources of income and decide for yourself. Whatever you think of me though — and whether or not you think of yourself as an entrepreneur — doesn’t matter today. All you need to know is, starting today, you work for YOU. You no longer answer to a boss or clients you don’t want to. You’re now in charge of everything. Your only goal now is building the career life you’ve always wanted. Here’s how.

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I get it: It’s easy to feel trapped by a job. Remember “K”? He’s now welding long hours with a nasty 1-hour commute every day. Even at one of my workplaces, management changes are happening, and it hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. I started looking at other opportunities for the both of us. In just minutes on Craigslist, I’d found backup options. I found “K” a welding opportunity in the same city, and it had the potential to reduce his commute time by 75%! I found a job almost identical to mine on the other side of town where there’s considerably less traffic, potentially saving me time and gas! In the end, we decided to stay at our current jobs, but feeling trapped was no longer an issue. We weren’t, and we came to realize we were never really trapped in the first place. There were always options, mere minutes away and at our fingertips. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like I can “fire” any job I don’t like and “hire” any job I want. If that doesn’t sound freeing or realistic to you, here’s a practical way you can get closer to making this a reality.

Losing income between jobs is a real problem. This is why virtually every personal finance writer suggests creating an emergency fund. A simple three months of income stocked away is all you need to become a boss. It automatically increases your “hiring” and “firing” abilities, and gives you more time to find the work situation you really want. You’re no longer taking the first thing that comes along so you can put KD on the table. You have the freedom to flip through job descriptions — I think of them as résumés — and “hire” what’s right for you! Build an emergency fund that covers three months of income. If you feel like you can’t climb the job ladder, there’s your first rung.

Pull this off properly and your whole worldview might change. You might realize your “boss” isn’t really the boss of you at all. They’re just a coworker. The tasks in front of you aren’t mandatory. It’s a gig you’re doing, and you get to choose if it’s worth it. Feel stuck? You’re not. You have THE ENTIRE GODDAMN INTERNET to help you find a new job to hire. Don’t like your job? FIRE IT.

I’ve always told freelancers they should make every job decision based on passion, profit, and prestige. Whatever you’re doing, do it for at least two. Start thinking of yourself as a freelancer, and think of your bank account as your business. Job hopping is the new normal anyway, so in a way, we’re all freelancers.

The truth is you’ve been your own boss all along. Are you ready to work for yourself?

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Career Burnout and What To Do About It (Pt. 2)

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For the first post in this series, click here.

“A” wrote in: It was about 3 years into my second job in the engineering world so 8 year’s total. I was having trouble focusing, I was easily irritated, I wasn’t taking care of myself like I should have been (food and exercise wise). I ended up having appendicitis for over 1 year (yes crazy I know) and that only impacted my health more. It got to the point my bosses where being super understanding and letting me work when I could because they didn’t want to lose me. But I would delay deadlines, feel sicker then I actually was and make excuses not to go. I just wasnt happy and it was hurting everyone. When I finally was allowed to switch (a pay decrease of nearly half and, I now work in retail) my life improved drastically. I’m 100% happier, life is going well, I’m not looking for drama and my relationship is the best it’s ever been. My health is getting my better and I’ve lost weight!” (Editor’s note: This isn’t our artist friend, “A”. Totally different people.)

I heard lots of responses like this one. “A” here was bogged down with “Drafting, data entry and project management” and just wasn’t feeling it anymore. She didn’t include numbers, but we figure she was making decent money. If working retail gives her roughly half what she used to make and she was eight years into an engineering career, let’s pin that around $50,000. Let’s also assume she makes and lives off $25,000 now. First off, good on her for keeping expenses down enough for a career shift. Even assuming she spends everything she makes, she’s on par with how much I spend in a year. (I spend roughly $20,000/year now, but I don’t have rent. She does.) If she’s managing to save money too, she’s kicking my ass! Second, it’s awesome that she knew when to walk away. Here’s why.

This article suggests a “stressful workplace could take 33 years off your life expectancy”, but if you read the article, they’re sensationalizing a little bit. For our purposes, let’s say half that – 16.5 years. Average life expectancy in Canada is 81.24 years, so what happens when we take 16.5 years off that? Uh, it looks like people subject to a stressful workplace drop dead just before their 65th birthday. So much for that RRSP! Clearly, workplace stress will not only kill you, but it’ll also make your financial goals moot. After all, you want a long and prosperous life, right? Anyway, “A” decided to look after her health and mental wellbeing, and her life has improved dramatically. I maintain that no matter what field you choose initially, there will come a day when you may want a change. For that to become even a remote possibility, you’ll want to start saving ASAP.

This is what happens when you’re frugal and/or have savings to fall back on: increased life flexibility, and keys to the golden handcuffs.

“A” escaped.

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Everyone is going to be different, but I quit shooting weddings 2 years ago (after 15+ years) and no longer take paid photography work. I could not be happier.”

“J” used to shoot weddings with me. It’s been years since we’ve done one together, but we’ve had some wild adventures. Because of photography, we’ve ended up in car accidents, kink dungeons, and more than a few situations I can’t talk about on a PG blog. I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for the world. That’s why I was sad when he announced he was quitting wedding photography. I thought, “Why give up?”

I was wrong, of course. He wasn’t giving up. In talking with entrepreneurs who have “burned out”, sometimes the dream jobs we craft for ourselves aren’t much different than the trappings of a day job. The only difference is we “own” our jobs, but they’re still jobs. I think of my photography career as my day job, for example. And just like any other work situation, sometimes you need to step away when your career isn’t in alignment with what you want anymore. Even I’m sometimes tempted to leave photography because regular pay at a regular job is FAR EASIER than running your own business. Entrepreneurs are a weird bunch. For every success story that lasts for decades, there are some who didn’t quite attain their ideal, yet soldier on anyway. Sometimes, we build our own prisons.

The romantic notion of creating our own work based on our passions is a great story. I love shooting weddings, but I don’t publicize the bout of depression I dealt with last year and how it set me so far back in my projects, I gave partial refunds to my customers out of my own pocket. People don’t see the months we go without work at the beginning of our careers, living off ramen and unhealthy amounts of alcohol. And yet, us entrepreneurs are proud motherfuckers great at self-promotion, shouting “LOOK AT WHAT WE BUILT”, believing that creating our own work is somehow better than what Safeway Joe does for a living. For some of us, clinging to a business we created, whether or not it meets our goals, is the only thing we know how to do, and that’s how we ACTUALLY burn out.

Some jobs are objectively better than others, but there’s a myth that self-employment is better than regular employment as long as you can pay the bills. It’s not. I say find employment wherever you feel most fulfilled and, if possible, take money out of the equation by living on less and saving as much as you can using the advice on this blog. It’s quite possible that avoiding burnout is as simple as changing gears every few years and going back to our passions only when it feels right.

You don’t “work for someone”. You work for you. Seriously, just save some cash and do whatever the fuck it is you want to do, even if that means being a barista. Climb the corporate ladder, or don’t. Start your own business, or don’t. Retire early, or don’t. As long as you do what’s right for you, you won’t burn out.

The only imperative is you save enough money to afford your own freedom.

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Continue the discussion on Facebook. I heard from dozens of people on career burnout, so give us a like and chat with us there.

Career Burnout and What To Do About It (Pt. 1)

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This article took weeks to write, and is coming to you in parts. In researching for it and wading through hundreds of reader messages, I was forced to reexamine certain assumptions I’d made about career choices and burnout. I learned lots. For the sake of keeping this post concise, I’m making “burnout” a catch-all spectrum ranging from “losing passion in a job” to “being unable to do a job because of exhaustion”. In all cases though, burnout WILL most likely happen to you, so here’s how to manage it. That’s what this post is ultimately about.

I heard from a wide variety of people on burnout. Some were entrepreneurs like me, who’d found their dream job only to realize it wasn’t all sunshine and ponies. Others went down the more practical route and chose a well-paying job over their dream job, only to regret it. Others chose very lucrative day jobs that ended up taking a major toll on their health. One respondent almost died when job stress drove his blood pressure to 240/120, and stories like that were COMMON! As we go on, I’ll be peppering my insights with reader messages. Enjoy.

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“I used to be an engineer and now I’m a train driver and hate it”, “M” wrote. “it has ended up where I have to work very anti social hours which I hate. I’m at work on Friday night until 1 am Saturday morning which is my day off. Then straight back to work at 5 am Sunday. Also I have to deal with a lot of very horrible people. Just yesterday someone literally took a shit on the train. Have to deal with drunks, fighting and I’ve even had an attempted suicide. Also I find my work very boring and unrewarding.”

I asked him how much he made.

“Minimum wage for someone over 21 in this country is £7.50 per hour before tax which is 20% at the moment”, he said. “I trained for many years as an engineer. I worked for various companies where I enjoyed the work but couldn’t find somewhere that paid enough. I was earning about £20k. I now earn £34.5k”.

Ah, fuck. Another case of The Golden Handcuffs. FYI, £20,000 is $33,000 in Canadian dollars and £34,500 is $57,000. Now, you MIGHT anticipate my response being my usual condescending arrogance, but given what I’ve learned, I’m actually NOT recommending “just live frugal and go back to engineering”. Granted, $33,000 is TOTALLY LIVABLE, but here’s the catch: I’ve now heard from people who burned out at their dream jobs too. What’s stopping that from happening to “M” if he goes back to engineering, and for less pay too?

I recommend building up some “Fuck You Money” first to afford extra flexibility. “M” is burned out now and maybe other jobs to recharge are necessary, but he needs a cash cushion to fall back on. One reader wrote in, feeling as though her job cost her her personal life, and she now longs for “a simple coffee shop job”. Fuck, do that! You know how millennials are now notorious for job-hopping? IT’S BECAUSE WE(‘RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO) SEEK SELF-ACTUALIZATION AS OUR FIRST PRIORITY. I say work where you’re at while the money’s good, save all you can, and when you have enough to fuck off and change gears ENTIRELY for a few years, do it. Life wasn’t meant to be lived doing the same thing every day for 40 years. The most interesting people I know have had 5+ jobs. No matter where you work, you’ll inevitably run into some form of burnout given enough time. When you can’t take it anymore, get out and do something new. It doesn’t even have to be a total departure from your job. Maybe scale down your hours and work on that 10-to-2 on the side.

My life story has already involved MANY career changes, and I’m only 28. I burned out when I worked in the film industry, and at one point, that was my dream job! I’d wanted to work on movies since I got my first job at a video store, and there was literally a point in time when I could walk down the aisles and go, “worked on that, worked on that, worked on that”. It was pretty goddamn cool. I rose up in the ranks, from starting as an indie film PA to working on NBC’s lighting team during the 2010 Olympics. I even became an IATSE 891 permittee. And yet, the long hours made that job unsustainable. I left a job that paid $400+ a day, five days a week, in order to work less than 30 days a year as a photographer, DRASTICALLY cutting my income. Why? I had the Fuck You Money to do it. Build up your FYM. Think of it as your Freedom Fund. It’s your freedom to work wherever, for whatever, whenever!

Now, here’s the scary thing: I -know- I’m gonna burn out with photography someday. I already kinda have, since I say no all the time now. Yet, I’m not worried. One reader mentioned that burnout doesn’t have to be permanent. You can take a few years off to do something different and go back to a career, whether you love it or not. Now, that’s an important point. Our career lives now are different than career lives in the past. Millennials have so many options now, it’d be silly if we didn’t at least explore SOME of them. My point? Here’s your TLDR:

Build up Fuck You Money. Use it to explore job opportunities you think you’d enjoy. Burnout isn’t permanent, and you can jump back into an old career anytime you want. Don’t be scared of change, and beware of golden handcuffs.

In the meantime, I’m preparing for the very real possibility I may hate photography someday, even though I love, love, LOVE it now. Crafting a Plan B as we speak.

More insights coming your way in Part 2.

What I Learned About Money from My Parents

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My dad once paid $10,000 to advertise in a Chinese newspaper. I still admire him for that. He risked everything to run his own business as a driving instructor, but in the end, I don’t think he ever made that money back. Most of my family considers him a failure, but I don’t. He actually believed in something. To me, he was an inspiration.

My dad wasn’t a very good businessperson. Assuming he spent exactly $10,000 on advertising, and using his old rate of $30/hour, he should’ve done the math and realized it’d take him over 333 hours just to break even on his ads. Generating that many leads turned out to be impossible. He also somehow forgot to factor in gas and overhead. The business was destined to implode. In a family where his siblings earn far more, tensions arose. My grandparents eventually covered his ad costs, but resented him for it. He kept trying, but his health gave out. He eventually stopped working.

One night in 2014, he was admitted to Royal Columbian Hospital with chest pains. I rushed to the hospital and found him. He was very much alive, and was sitting up in bed telling dad jokes to our pastor. Apparently, he’d called him too. I don’t think any of us understood the seriousness of the situation that night. I figured he’d be home soon, and everything would be back to normal. We stayed up, told bad jokes, and just laughed. He was eventually admitted to the high acuity unit. I visited him there the next few days, and found him happy. He’d sing to the nurses and read the Garfield comics I brought for him. He didn’t seem like he had many regrets. Eventually, his aorta ruptured. I wasn’t there. From the last time I saw him alive, I remember two things: He was grinning like an idiot, and I told him I loved him.

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Ironically, my mom puts together advertising materials. She works for a marketing company, and as far as I know, spends most of her time feeding paper into a machine. She believes in a steady job, and not taking risks. I don’t think she’s ever made more than $15/hour. To her, what I’m doing is ludicrous. I’m going down the same destructive path as my dad by owning a business. After all, she’s seen what happened to him. If only he’d had a steady job, right? A steady job brings security, and security is all that matters.

I can’t even fault her for thinking this way. She’s right: I’d probably make more with a full-time job as a retail manager. Would I be happy though? Fuck, no! That’s not me. Like my dad, I need to pursue something that I build on my own. The last thing I want is a job like hers, feeding paper into a machine for peanuts while I make someone else rich. She doesn’t take any risks with money or investments either, so index funds are scary and $15/hour sounds just fine. She can’t understand I’d rather make $400/hour doing what I love on a not-so-frequent basis, and she’d rather see me in a Target or Burger King grinding out full-time hours like her. She’s seen my dad’s business fail, and she doesn’t believe in me. It’s depressing as fuck.

I was able to learn something though. I’d now seen both extremes. My dad risked everything. My mom risks nothing. Well, obviously, the answer that made sense lay in the middle. I could do both.

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With my photography business, I’m crazy. I’m all in, all the time. I risk my money, time and sanity to capture the perfect shot, and try to wow my clients always. I give everything. I also work at a liquor store. I really don’t need it to pay my bills, but the added security is nice. Want numbers? In June, photography brought in $3,262. I didn’t even shoot a wedding that month. The side job brought in $1,518. Not bad for added security, right?

My dad taught me to chase my dreams and take risks. It’s paid off. My mom taught me a little bit of grinding at a day job might not be so bad after all, even if I fundamentally believe Smart Work always trumps Hard Work. I figure one hand washes the other, since the more security I have, the more risks I can take. I think I’ve found a good middle ground!

Ultimately, I’ll have to forge my own path. I may not be stoked about it, but I’m still equal parts my dad and my mom. What do you think? Have I struck a perfect balance, or is a normal life and a normal job the way to go? Tell us in the comments, and don’t forget to share.