In his book, Quitter, Jon Acuff tells the provocative story of a co-worker’s going-away party. After ten years of loyal service, she was quitting. Notably, this young woman was one of the highest-paid in her field and still had a lot of room for growth.
What she did not have, however, was another job or any plan to generate an income…
Instead, she was quitting to ‘follow her heart.’
Just like Hans Christian Andersen’s naked emperor, she was a queen in brightly-colored ‘quitting’ clothes. Many of her co-workers sang her praises, telling her they were proud of her for “following her dream” and “stepping out in courage.”
But nobody said the “I” word – impulsive.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone use the phrase, “I’m, but…”.
Somehow, in despising routine and glamorizing adventure – in demonizing our jobs and idolizing those willing to throw caution to the wind – we’ve become the “I’m, but…” generation.
- “I’m a lawyer, but I want to be an entrepreneur.”
- “I’m an accountant, but I want to be a teacher.”
- “I’m an administrator, but I want to be a therapist.”
What’s with the ‘but?’ And, why do we so often feel a need to throw everything out the window to address it?
I understand the temptation. After all, I’m speaking as a person who cut all ties and moved across the country to invest a ridiculous amount of money in grad school.
I enjoyed all of the same praise as the woman in Acuff’s story – and I reveled in it. What’s more, I daydreamed about romanticized notions of intellectual conversations, long mornings in the gym, peaceful afternoons in the library, more free time, etc…
Boy was I wrong!
If I could do grad school over again, I think I’d do it differently: I wouldn’t allow my discomfort to drive me overboard.
Existing in the tension between reality and possibility is often very difficult. It feels easier to commit to a course of action so you can stop expending mental and emotional energy evaluating the options.
I’ve never met anyone who said, “I’m a pharmacist, but I have no idea what I want to do. Really. I’ve never had a dream in my life – I am a blank canvas of pill-counting misery.”
Instead, most of us have some conception of what makes us come alive – and, as we start to hone in on a particular dream, we feel a need to legitimize it by abandoning ship.
But forcing yourself to embrace the tension between reality and possibility is often the better choice, even when we think we know exactly what we want to do.
Don’t abandon ship.
I say this as a person who has been in the water, and is now back on the boat.
If you can relate to what I’m saying, I want to encourage you to work toward your dream while maintaining the status quo. In other words, keep your day job and develop your dream in your spare time.
Stop saying, “I’m, but…” and start saying, “I’m, and…”
Put your dream to the test while still maintaining a strong foundation. Doing so gives you a distinct advantage: Namely, you can explore your options while keeping gas in your car and food in your fridge.
Here’s what this lesson looks like in my life:
I approached the decision to go to grad school a lot more intentionally than most people:
- I brainstormed a list of 34 questions and interviewed 6 different attorneys with varying career paths.
- I talked with several close friends and mentors.
- I fasted and prayed over the course of six months.
- I determined that I would only go if I could get into a handful of selective schools and get a certain amount of scholarship money.
What I didn’t do is spend any time doing legal work. I didn’t even job-shadow an attorney for a day.
Today, I enjoy my practice – but looking back, this oversight is ridiculous!
Considering the cost of school (even with scholarships), the cost of living, and the opportunity cost, I committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to becoming an attorney without even knowing exactly what attorneys did every day.
I should have gotten an administrative job in a law firm to see if I liked the atmosphere and the work before I even considered applying to law school.
Instead of saying, “I’m in human resources, but I want to be an attorney…,” I should have said, “I’m in human resources, and I’m considering becoming an attorney…” – and then acted accordingly.
Doing so would have helped me further understand my options. Maybe I would have gone to a less prestigious (and less expensive) school closer to home. Maybe I would have kept working and gone to night school. Maybe I would have realized that my dream was actually a little different, and wouldn’t have gone at all.
Learning from mistakes.
Today, this water is under the proverbial bridge, but I’ve certainly learned from the experience.
As many readers know, during law school I realized that one of my dreams is to write inspirational non-fiction and speak professionally. However, you’ll never hear me say, “I’m an attorney, but I want to be a writer.”
I’m an attorney – AND a writer.
I’m cultivating that dream in my spare time instead of allowing the tension between reality and possibility to compel me to abandon ship once again. This blog is growing (and will be re-launched soon). I’m also excited to announce that I am co-authoring a book, which I’ll talk more about in the coming months.
The best part about abandoning the “I’m, but” mentality?
Watching my dreams take shape while still being able to pay the bills.
Burn the ship!
There may come a time when it’s necessary to quit your day job to grow your company, promote your book, tour with your band, or go back to school. But if the idea of quitting your job to do so inspires romantic notions of sun-kissed skin, long days in quaint coffee shops, and Mel Gibson as William Wallace yelling, “Freedom!” – then today is not that day.
Don’t be a part of the “I’m, but…” generation.
Be an “I’m, and…” person.
Allow your day job to provide the resources necessary to cultivate your dreams in your spare time and stay on the boat until the time is right.
Leave a Comment: Have you ever ‘abandoned ship?’ Would you do the same thing over again?