On Leaving Multi-Six Figures for $35,000/Year

leaving six figuresThere was a time in my life where I took home well in excess of six figures and worked (roughly) an hour a day to earn it. My bank account was phat fat, I owned had a mortgage on two homes, drove a fly automobile, and never wondered whether my debit card was going to clear at the Whole Foods checkout.

And I was fucking miserable.

After 17 years of living someone else’s Shouldas, I was at my wit’s end. All I could think about doing when I woke up every morning was rushing through my work (that token hour) and spending the next 7 hours in my office writing. Anything.

Have you been there? Staring at a giant pile of money like it’s zero-calorie cake frosting, a delicate sterling silvers spoon resting next to it begging for a good horking. I mean, how do you say no to that shit? IT’S CALORIE-FREE! In my case, it was calorie-free money disguised as a soul-sucking journey through the Shouldas. I was paid (disgustingly) well. And I never went to bed happy.

So one day, I left. Walked out the door of my cushy six-figure gig and into a contract position at a teeny tiny ad agency as a copywriter as a 1099 contractor.  I had mortgages, bills, and that pimp ride to get me back and forth.

And while I was over five figures lighter each month when I took home that check from the ad agency, I was finally happy.

Ecstatic, in fact.

That was February of 2008.

In September of 2009, I learned that the startup I’d moved to Denver to team with (and invest in, coincidentally) was out of money. On Thursday I had a job. The following Tuesday, I had a sofa and a minimum of 99 Problems (and yes, they deserved the capital P). And The Bitch (me) was, of course, one.

What would I do? How would I pay my bills? But most importantly, how would I ensure that I never (ever) relied upon anyone else for my professional happiness?

From September of 2009 to year-end 2010, I doubled what I was making at the startup. 2011 doubled that. Today, it’s February-something of 2012 and I’m staring at a national magazine column, the release date for two books, and a community of folks who pick up what I’m putting down at RedheadWriting. I get to wake up every day and love what I do, with whom I do it, and for whom I do it. I get to laugh, travel, write, strategize.

And I know now, three years later, that walking away from a pile of money that only made me miserable was the best choice I’ve ever made. Well, aside from calling off my engagement in 2006 — that was a pretty brilliant decision in its own right. Oh, and getting rid of this hairdo. Primo decision. But I digress.

Book # 1 is coming out soon and Matt Grant over at MarketingProfs recorded a podcast with me about it not so long ago. It’s about why unpopular brands rule. Hell, I should know — I’ve lived my life making vastly unpopular decisions.

But here I am. There’s not a day I wake up and don’t love where I’m at.

Why we jump, why we want to jump…what it takes to really build a business that will survive. We dish about it all. And maybe you’ll discover something in the podcast that reminds you why this thing is important to you. What it takes to make that leap.

So stop by and have a listen — you can stream it right from your desktop. And it’s because of everyone reading this blog post/email that I get to do what I love. Which means I blame you for this. Wholly. (Holy shit)

BONUS PODCAST SPOILER: During the podcast, Matt made me cry. Which isn’t too hard to do. I’m secretly a Weeper.

Listen to the podcast now.

20 comments
laurie kalmanson
laurie kalmanson

living in the future: writing a book because you want to, and not having to ask a publisher's permission

Christy
Christy

I needed to hear this today. I'm at my breaking point with my day job (I only work 10-15 hours a week there) but I'm so over working for someone else that I want to scream. I know my last day is not too far ahead regardless of if I can pay my rent with my side projects. You are an inspiration. 

Kim Godfrey
Kim Godfrey

Hi Erika, I LOVED your podcast! I found it really inspiring and it helped to give me perspective on life choices. -Kim

MelACulbertson
MelACulbertson

I needed to hear this today! I'm launching an online course on content planning on my blog and it's scaring the bejeezus out of me because I'm slacking off on my freelance work to get it finished  up. If I fail? We're in quite a bind. But it's what I love and with readers whom I love so I'm risking a lot and hoping for a reward... to stay out of the 40+ hour workweek and keep chugging and this consulting/blogging gig!

Robyn
Robyn

Hi Erika. I listened to the Marketing Profs podcast today, and all I have to say is wow, you are brave. Kudos to you for going after what you really wanted, and for telling the "Shouldas" to kiss your a$$. That takes moxie, and from what I've read so far on your site, you've got a ton of it, girl! I'm "lucky" because I have been able to call myself a writer for almost 15 years after graduating college with a journalism degree, but I've been shilling mostly corporate-speak for the majority of that time. And when I wasn't doing that, I was paying the bills with non-writing endeavors - what I call my "lost years" following a divorce.  It was good to hear that trying on different hats, as you did, and discovering your place in life, truly is a journey. Sometimes a circuitous one.  My dreams for the future, however distant, include starting my own freelance writing business and relocating to Portland. I have been in serious re-evaluation mode since January 1, and I have a pretty good idea of exactly the kind of life I want to create. Now, it's just a matter of figuring out how to get there! My current salary is only in the five figures, but it comes with health insurance. I also have a child, so there's something to be said for having a steady paycheck. That said, my son is one of the many reasons I want to leave my corporate job and start my own business, so I can be there for him and spend more quality time with him. I'd rather play ball with him than spend another hour commuting any day, no matter what the cost. In any case, you have a new follower, and I'm looking forward to your book debut!  'Glad to have "met" you. 

Leon Noone
Leon Noone

G'Day Erika, I started my own business in 1978. There have ben lots of ups and downs. But it sure as hell beats working for someone else. And one has only oneself to blame for the "downs." I can lice with that. Bonus is , I get to read good stuff from people like that Erika whatsername. And I have lotsa fun. Regards Leon 

Karin Mesa
Karin Mesa

Hi Erika, I can't say that I left 6 figures to do what I loved. I have been partnered with my husband in a carved glass studio for 20 years. I was doing art and loved it. But I can say that when I began to illustrate the 1st of my kids stories time flew. I worked till late every night and the first thought I had when I woke up was "go see how last night's painting looks in the daylight!!!"  I just wish I'd started earlier. When I talk to kids at schools I tell them, regarding their dreams, just hold your breath and jump. Do it while you're a kid. You don't have to wait to grow up to accomplish your goals in life.

Matthew T. Grant
Matthew T. Grant

It was my first, official "Three Hanky" podcast. You are an inspiration, Erika (if a tad weepy).

Sydney Owen
Sydney Owen

Seriously, did you write this so I could read it and be inspired for our call? I think you did. Or perhaps it's just perfect timing. Thanks for this. Needed a little reminder that it's okay to be broke as fuck because I love what I'm doing. Word. 

The Redhead
The Redhead

Yup. Worked one hour a day for a stark raving maniac and yes, I *did* spend the other 7 hours writing. Sometimes even being around the man makes you less of a human. So I left -- happily. And be careful what you wish for. My then-side projects are my now-living. And I've not only replaced every penny in that pile I've walked away from, but gained my soul...my happiness...as well. Which I'll never let go of again. Cheers :)

sajego
sajego

I jumped almost two years ago. I didn't mind the work at all but could not stand the 1 hour of real work and 8 hours of sitting around. Flexible schedules go a long ways, but I was really hoping to end up somewhere with a Results-Only Work Environment. It ended up being easier to quit and do my own thing. Much happier now and yeah, $35k is about right.

NeedTime
NeedTime

Totally understand the point here. Doing what you love vs. working for the man. But what I don't understand is the fact you worked ONE hour per day and still felt compelled to quit? How can one hour per day be stealing your soul? The guilt of being paid but not working? Why couldn't you write in the 7-8 hours per day you weren't working for the man? I wish I had that opportunity! I work in excess of 9 hours per day for my 6 figs+ finding myself exhausted when I get home with little time to focus on my side projects. I actually like the work I do but it's not my end game. 

Bret Juliano
Bret Juliano

Thanks for sharing this podcast. I have been following you for awhile on the blog, but the podcast brings your knowledge to another level of  engagement.

Mike Sobol
Mike Sobol

I feel ya, Erika. Three years into my big jump (Nov 08) and I feel like I was but a child way back then. So many kudos, so many admirers, and (I know now) I had no idea what I was doing. Why is it that stopping a "successful" endeavor garners more praise than deciding to quit on a losing project, like a slowly failing business? There is value in the romance of turning your back on it all-- showing others courage by example, and helping them find a germ of it in themselves. The converse of that transcendental experience, perhaps, is finding the courage it takes to stop doing the simplest, most mundane, and yet most insidious life- and business-draining habits.  Maybe a monumental baptism into a new career puts daily "hard" stuff in perspective. While that big jump set me on a new trajectory, it took quite a while for me to start really learning from it... to dispense with the bullshit. Make the hard phone call. Say No. Jump on something new when it makes sense. Quit it later when it turns out it didn't. Double-down on things that do work. And generally be vastly more effective and happy than ever.

Morgan Barnhart
Morgan Barnhart

Rock on, Erika! I'm like you, I cannot work for "the man" anymore and have them take all the glory while I know I'm good enough to do what I do on my own. You're an inspiration! :) Can't wait for your book, by the way (I think I've said this, but it's true!).