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Want to Follow Your Dream? Don’t Quit Your Day Job

If you’re trying to pursue your dream job – whether that’s writing a novel, starting our own business or owning an alpaca farm) – chances are you view your day job as the enemy. It sucks up your time, drains your energy and generally stands in the way of the things you’d much rather be doing.

I felt this way myself until I read Quitter: Bridging the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job. Author Jon Acuff lays out some pretty interesting arguments for why staying in your day job as long as possible can actually benefit your dream.

I know; I wasn’t a fan of the idea myself at first. But take a look at his arguments and decide for yourself:

How your day job can actually help you achieve your dream job

It offers security. Yes, “security” is pretty much a bad word to dreamers — akin to “settling” and “selling out.” But the truth is, it’s hard to pursue your dream full tilt when you’re constantly worrying where your next meal will come from or how you’re going to pay the electric bill next month.

Having your day-to-day needs met by a steady paycheck frees up your attention for your dream in a way that’s almost impossible when you’re operating in pure survival mode.

It gives you structure. There’s some real truth in the saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” When I’m forced to squeeze writing into the hours between and around my day job, I’m pretty good at keeping myself on task and really pounding out the words. I’m already in “work” mode, and since I know this is the only time I’ve got to get “my” stuff done, I really make it count.

Contrast this to the Fridays I took off over the summer (my so-called “writing Fridays”), when I wound up getting a ton of work done around the house, caught up on lots of HGTV and futzed around with my blog widgets — pretty much everything but writing.

I really thought having unlimited time would let my muse run rampant. Instead, I learned just how easily distracted I am when left to my own devices.

Sure, it is possible to develop a consistent and disciplined routine when you’re working on your own terms. But it’s best to ease yourself into the transition rather than jump into it all at once, only to find yourself floundering in the midst of too much free time too fast.

It provides the freedom to experiment. Any new venture has a learning curve. You’ll try some things that don’t work so well; you’ll try some things that fail spectacularly. If your dream job is your financial be-all and end-all, these ups and downs can be devastating — for you, and for any family members who also depend on your income.

But if you stick around in your day job until you’ve worked out the kinks in your dream, you can afford to make all those newbie mistakes without worrying that you’ve just lost the mortgage payment for the month. You can see failures as the learning experiences they are, dust yourself off, and try again, without suffering dire financial consequences.

It gives you discretion. Acuff calls this the power to say no. If your dream is the only thing putting food on the table, you’re much more likely to take that low-paying assignment or off-topic speaking gig because you need to do whatever you can to bring in some money. Already having the financial bit taken care of gives you the ability to turn down less-than-ideal opportunities and focus only on the projects that will truly advance your dream.

If my dreams (writing and freelancing) were my only sources of income, you’d better believe my blog would be covered in blinking sponsor ads and I’d be selling my time at $5/hour to any content mill that would have me. But they’re not. So I get to say no to the advertisers who clearly contribute nothing to my readership. (You want me to promote your electronic cigarettes? Have you even read my blog?)

I get to focus on a few quality freelance assignments, knowing I’m building a respectable portfolio, and let someone else slave away for hours rewriting the same article five times for different sets of SEO keywords. My day job allows me this integrity, and for that, I am honestly grateful.

Day job as sponsor, not adversary

When you consider it from these angles, your day job is actually more of a patron for your dreams than a mortal enemy. I have to say, as someone currently living the day job/dream job double life, this can be a nice change of perspective.

When I sit down to my desk in the morning seeing the next eight hours as a way of funding my dream, it’s a heck of a lot better than seeing them as a colossal waste of time. That doesn’t mean I don’t still get a wicked case of the Mondays from time to time, but it sure helps.

Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


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      • Nathalie Winch

        Cordelia, what a brilliant article. I’ve added your blog to my “Favorites” bookmarks. But I’m curious: I’m on way to a dream job of writing fiction. So I geared by day jobs to becoming a full-time reporter. But now that I am a full-time, staff writer I wonder if my day job is too similar to my dream job.

        Because all I want to do — even in my free time — is make my reporting better for the day job, instead of coming home to write my “fiction.”

        Does this mean my day job is too close to my dream-job goals? And I should be working construction, management, waiting tables, working in retail, etc., and coming home to write after an 8-hour stretch of something completely opposite to fiction writing?

        Or does this just mean I’m too emotionally attached to doing a good job at my reporting job, and too focused on getting great clips for a future day job? And I should just relax a little at work so that I can come home on the weekends and write my novel, instead of going back to the office to edit/write more/edit again/call sources, etc., for my day job?


        • Thanks, Natalie!

          I think you’re in a unique situation that could actually help your dreams even more. While most people’s “day jobs” are not the least related to their true passions and talents, yours actually dovetails on it. You’re a writer, and you’ve discovered that journalism is a form of writing that you’re truly interested in and naturally drawn to.

          I don’t think the fact that you feel compelled to keep working on your reporting outside of work is something you should fight. It’s clearly something that you care about, which many people aren’t fortunate enough to find in their day jobs–plus it’s actually very closely related to your fiction dreams. It’s teaching you every day to examine the crux of your stories, to delve for details, and to write those stories in a compelling and concise way. While most people’s day jobs can “fund” their dreams only financially, yours is actually helping you hone your skills as a writer and storyteller. When you do sit down to your fiction writing, these things will be great preparation! (Plus, who knows what kind of story ideas you might stumble upon in the course of your reporting?)

          I’d say, as long as you’re truly passionate about your reporting, don’t feel like you need to cut it short. Delve into it, relish it, and if need be, set aside a dedicated hour or so each night when you pledge to focus solely on your fiction writing. Even if you just sit down and type nonsense, get yourself into the habit of putting aside that time each night, and you won’t feel so much like your fiction writing is getting shortchanged by your reporting.

          And the rest of the time? Follow what draws you! You’re extremely lucky to have a day job that you care so much about AND that fits so nicely with your talents. Enjoy that! :)

  2. Good stuff, Kelly! I had been thinking along similar lines lately, and this definitely helped solidify my thoughts. I like the idea of job-as-patron, in particular. Perfect post for a Monday morning!

    • Thanks, Sarah! That’s definitely my new perspective when it comes to my job–and I can’t tell you how much it changes things when you go in looking at it that way.

  3. Ahhh…been there, done that. I was too idealistic when I first started doing internet marketing that I took 7 months off my day job to focus on it. Needless to say, I was having all the problems you mentioned above and my finances were thrown off balance. I have seen learned a new word : “Outsourcing”. It’s not without its ups and downs and it’s eating away a significant portion of my income but hey, at least I’m making progress.

    Never give up your dreams. I’m not there yet but I can see where this is going to take me.

    • I feel for you. So many times I’ve been tempted to just jump ship and go full force for my dreams. (If it weren’t for a husband and a mortgage, I might have already done it.) Hang in there and keep pushing–you’ve made it this far, and look at how much you’ve already learned.

  4. Starting a business as a side-hustle while keeping your day job is a great way to learn how to properly run a business, while giving you the security (of income from your day job) to test your business idea without much risk. You might even grow your side hustle to a point where you can ditch your day job. That’s essentially what I ended up doing. After consulting for a while, I realized that my time spent at my day job was getting in the way of how much I could earn consulting; at that point, I went part-time at my day job while I ramped up my business, and a couple months later, quit my day job completely.

    Having run by business for nearly 5 years, growing it steadily during the worst economic downturn in decades, and being able to QUADRUPLE my former day-job salary, I’d offer the following advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:
    –>Don’t overthink things; just start doing something, and be persistent. Your efforts will snowball over time.
    –>Get your product/service offered to customers as soon as possible. This lets you test your idea quickly to see if it’s viable, and gives you valuable feedback from customers.
    –>Research whether there’s a market for your product/service. Don’t spend a ton of time on this, but get enough info to make a decision. I have a couple articles on my blog where I show how to identify a profitable niche.
    –>Make a BRIEF business plan. Don’t go all-out, just write down a handful of bullet points to clarify your business.
    –>Start your business as a side hustle while keeping your day job. Once you’ve grown it to the point where you have a reliable minimum monthly income, then you can think about quitting your day job.
    –>Don’t use debt to finance your business. Debt creates risk and stress, which can lead you to make poor decisions. Figure out how to bootstrap your business instead.

    Following my dream and creating my own business has truly been life-changing, and has completely changed my worldview; I’m no longer dependent on a single employer, and I continually see new business opportunities.

    As a result of my daily efforts to build my own business and make it succeed, I feel empowered and happier. I complain less, and when I find myself complaining, I try to refocus on how I can change the situation instead of just bellyaching about it. I’m modeling those behaviors for my kids as well, and teaching them about entrepreneurship and how it can lead to greater independence.

    You can check out an interview I recently did where I talk about how I made the switch from employee to consultant, and where I talk about some of my initial fears & doubts, and give actual income & rate numbers::

    Greg Miliates

    • Hi Greg, Great sharing.

      I’m apprehensive about this one:

      “Once you’ve grown it to the point where you have a reliable minimum monthly income, then you can think about quitting your day job.”

      Say, if I make 10k monthly but I only need a minimum of 5k to survive, I’d be feeling really insecure about quitting my day job once my side income reach 5k. There are a number of “what ifs” here. What if business is bad all of a sudden, or Google decides to change their algorithm and wipe my site off their search engine.

      Having taken the path of quitting my day job before, I’d think thrice about doing it again. You really need a plan B, plan C and D. These are the options that you wish you had when you are trapped without a day job, depleted your savings and a fluctuating business profit.

      Good thing my business has very low overheads and this has allowed me to continue on with or without a day job.I can imagine giving up if I was running a conventional business with high running costs, which unfortunately, have happened to me before. It’s easy to be telling yourself you’re able to quit your day job, it’s another matter in actually doing it.

      • If you’re anxious at the thought of quitting your job when your side income is unstable, then that might be a sign that you need to work on stabilizing and growing the side income before jumping ship at your day job.

        The key is having a “reliable” minimum monthly income.

        For me, by the time I decided to go part-time at my day job, and then quit my day job completely, my consulting/side income was steady and growing, and had been for several months. It was clear to me that the time I spent in my day job prevented me from earning more with my side business, so, the thought of leaving my day job didn’t seem risky at all. I had very little anxiety about it–and I tend to be cautious rather than impulsive by nature.

  5. I’m a believer in loving the life you have, and making the best of what you have. For most of us this means staying in our current jobs while we take steps towards our dreams.

    Staying in your current job doesn’t have to be a jail sentence if you have the right attitude- in fact staying at your current job offers all the benefits you’ve mentioned, and more!

    There are great opportunities available to all of us right now if we choose to seek and pursue them. Maybe a current job provides you the opportunity to build your network and make contact with future customers or business partners. It’s much more challenging to build a network if you’re out on your own, so why not take advantage of building a network with the group of people you work with every day?

    Many jobs also provide training opportunities to build skills that can often be transferred to the job of your dreams. Training can be expensive so take advantage of any training opportunities while working for someone else- just be mindful if your employer requires you to stay for a certain length of time after receiving training.

    There are many other benefits to leverage at the job you have, even if it’s not your dream job.


    • Excellent points about networking and training possibilities! “Leverage” is the perfect word–even the least “ideal” situations can work to our advantage if we make the most of them. It’s all about perspective (and I love yours, by the by). :)

  6. I’ll preface my comment saying that I totally agree with your post and strategy. But…a few questions/concerns, and more like a request for advice :)

    How do you find the energy to work after work?
    How do you balance family and friends?
    How do you get other random tasks and errands done?
    How do you not let your dream job hurt your performance at your day job?

    These are some problems I’ve encountered trying to pursue something after work. Would love to get your thoughts.

    • I completely understand your dilemmas–I’m dealing with them myself.

      For me, it’s been a lot of hustling and a lot of perspective changes. I push myself more than I used to by staying up later, using my “down time” more productively, and reminding myself as often as possible that I’m putting in all this effort now for a big payoff later. I’ve also started taking better care of myself physically (eating better, using de-stressing techniques, etc.) because being in better physical shape helps me to perform better overall.

      It’s also a matter of changing the way you look at things–I’m a huge neat freak, but I’ve learned to let the chores slide a bit and be “o.k.” with a little bit of clutter if it means I can get a side project done. I’ve asked my husband to help out a bit more around the house, I’ve eliminated some tasks I was wasting my time on, and every day, I remind myself of my big goals for the day. As long as I get those big goals accomplished (write a blog post, do a freelance project, etc.), I try to accept the things that couldn’t get done as a result. I’m learning to “revel in chaos” to a certain extent. :)

      For me, my dream job doesn’t really compete or conflict with my day job. I’m able to do both and, honestly, I think my performance at my day job has gotten *better* because I’m happier overall with the way my life is going.

      It’s definitely a lot of work, but I already feel a thousand times better now that I’ve seriously started down the road to pursuing my dreams, so for me, it’s totally worth it.

    • I was coping quite well with my side venture until my baby comes along last month. Now, it’s another chaotic transition that I have yet to figure out. I have come to a point that I no longer watch tv, and I don’t spend so much time on myself unnecessarily such as applying nail polish or curling my hair. My biggest demon is getting distracted when I go online.

      Two things have helped tremendously:

      1. Getting enough sleep – I write better after a good night’s sleep and this ensure that I don’t get worn out or demoralized at my daytime work. It’s tempting to cut back on sleep to get more done, but productivity is almost surely compromised.

      2. As soon as I have a little time to myself, ie in the loo, while waiting fot the traffic light to turn green, I think of what I would fo when I get off work. This allow me to jump into “efficient mode” very fast instead of needing a “warm up” before the engine starts.

    • Bryon

      Good thoughts! Here is what I do as I’m beginning a business on the side and working and in school full time. Break down those work tasks to small size chuncks (keep in mind, you will get it all done)! The balance of family and friends is that in my new adventures, part of family and friends are in the middle of it. Fortunately, family helps with a few of the errands I need to do – but more of making wise choices for every second of your day. I’m still figuring out the performance issue at my day job, after nearly 5 years of the same thing, I’m ready to move on. Management knows, but management doesn’t know about a side business.

  7. “It gives you structure. There’s some real truth in the saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” When I’m forced to squeeze writing into the hours between and around my day job, I’m pretty good at keeping myself on task and really pounding out the words.”

    Here, here. While I’m not particularly good at getting my writing done after work, I’m even worse at getting done when I’m not working. I was unemployed for 16 months and got absolutely nothing accomplished. I got a job and that’s when I got my cookbook finished.

    • I’ve heard the same accounts from friends and family members who’ve been unemployed. While the idea of completely limitless free time can sound so tempting, it’s not always the blessing it seems.

      • Indeed it isn’t – despite the apparent huge amount of time to do as one wishes, you waste a lotta time freaking out about where your income will come from + procastination. I’m just embarking now on planning/training for my dream job while i remain entrenched in my day job that i’m very thankful to have.

  8. Good advice. I know a lot of people who have always dreamed of pursuing their creative abilities– writers, musicians, and artists– but most of them have (wisely!) stuck with their day jobs as well. The only negative thing about this is budgeting your time. If you are one of these people, try sitting down and, just like you’d come up with a monthly or weekly monetary budget, come up with a monthly or weekly “time budget.” Make sure you devote a certain number of hours, pages, pieces, or whatever to your dream, while still staying on top of your other work. Thanks for a great post, Kelly!

  9. I can so relate to what you’re saying. I’ve had the unique privilege of having some savings to fall back on while I embarked on my dream of working at home, and for many months I haven’t been able to make a dime. More than half a year later, I’m finally starting to see some revenue but at a net loss. Luckily my job is working in freelance, so I can start right back up when I want to, but there were many months where I got really down in the dumps due to no structure and many wasted days procrastinating. Working alone with just your computer can be a very lonesome job. For those who can’t afford to take a permanent break from work, please start up your dreams as a part-time endeavor.

    Best Gifts For Boys

  10. Anonymous

    This might work if you don’t work for an organization that has you on the hook 24/7. For those of us who had to work over time constantly – but never paid for it of course – having a side income is near impossible. I recently got laid off from such a job and making way more progress unemployed than I did while employed.

    For some of us, especially people like me who are 20-somethings with no attachments, taking a big risk and going out on your own is better than sticking around a soul sucking job.

    • If you’re in the kind of job that has you working all-hours nonstop, with no compensation, then you should absolutely get out of it. Whether you have a side hustle or not, no one should have to put up with that kind of treatment.

      You’re right that if you’re single and not tied down by a mortgage, large student loans, etc., it’s much easier to take a leap faster than those of us who are a little more “entrenched.” Still, it is possible to find a non-“soul sucking” job to give you some security and stability as you test the waters, even if it’s only a part-time job. But, it’s completely your choice. As long as you realize the risks you’re taking, and you’re o.k. accepting those risks, then the decision ultimately comes down to what you’re comfortable with.

      • I totally agree with Cordelia… Becoming an entrepreneur is tricky – it would be great to have all the time in the world to devote to a venture, but you really need the financial security that comes with a steady paycheck until you can count on entrepreneurial income, which is often non-existent to spotty during the first couple of years. Even if you need to take a non-soul-sucking job that doesn’t pay amazingly well, it’s better than being completely broke…

  11. I think the time has come for some “outside-the-box” approaches for getting that “dream job.” Put yourself out there as an independent contractor. Let the world know via Linkedin Groups using the Promotional tab.

    Get yourself an About.Me page and turn it into a Needs Sheet. (For an example, visit Create your Needs Sheet as a Word document, too and print it out on card stock. Then, laminate it in plastic. Glue a pack of Post-It Notes to the the front with a link to your About.Me (Needs Sheet) page. Next, attach a 3M wall-hanging tab to the back. Finally, put the whole thing in a large envelope and send it to the manager of the local TV station. Tell the manager in the cover letter you would like for him to hang your Needs Sheet in the company lunchroom. See what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised. I actually have connected as a result of having sent a Needs Sheet with someone at GBTV.

    If you would like more clever marketing tips, visit After all, everyone needs to learn how to “sparkle.”

    Lamar Morgan

    • Interesting suggestion! The About Me/Hire Me page is often touted as a good way to get your side biz “out there,” but your Needs Sheet is a really creative way to make your experience and offerings stand out. I’ve been thinking lately of doing some letters/emails to potential clients, and having a sheet like this to send with my cover letter would be a great way to show them what I can offer and how I can be of service to them. Thanks for the great tip!

  12. Great article – I work with aspiring entrepreneurs who are often caught in this “in-between” phase of “when can I quit my day job?” It’s easy to forget that working in another career isn’t a departure from what you really want to do, but more of a stepping stone toward making it happen from a resource angle. Well said, Cheers!

    • Thank you. Seeing your current job as a “resource” rather than a hindrance definitely makes a huge difference. Why waste your energy resenting your day job, when you can see it as part of the grand plan to reach your dream?

    • That’s why it’s important to make time to work on your dream, even if it’s just setting aside an hour every night after work to devote to that. It definitely takes some “hustle” to work on your dream while also holding down a day job–but I think many people who’ve hustled their way to freedom would agree that it was completely worth it. :)

    • Agreed that each person needs to apply this to their own needs/situation. I’m passing on advice that I’ve found helpful, but only you know what you (and your dreams) really need!

  13. Great article! This describes exactly how I successfully transitioned from a full time job into a career as a freelance writer. I built up my freelance income on the side, after work and on weekends in addition to my 45 hour per week job. I did that for a while, working sometimes 50-60 hours per week in total until I could afford to cut down my hours at my day job to 20 per week. Once I did that, I could build up my writing career even more and a few months later I quit my day job entirely and was making the same amount of money from my freelancing as I was from my job. A few months after that, I was making twice as much money from my freelancing than I did in my day job, and now 8 months later I am making three times the amount.
    I’m so glad that I gradually made the transition from day job to freelancing rather than just pulling the plug on my job and trying to make a start as a freelancer. Because I had the job to rely on as a source of income, I was able to really focus on building a strong foundation for my business rather than having to grovel and take every job that came along just to pay the bills.I also agree that it helped me get more done, because I had to learn to squeeze as much as possible into the work day so that I could meet my deadlines as well as go to my day job.
    If you are building up your own business or following a dream, it makes so much sense to see your day job as a tool that you can use to give yourself the security and support you need to launch yourself in the right direction.

    • Congrats to you! It sounds like you put in a ton of work and it paid off threefold! I love hearing success stories like yours–they prove that it really can be done, if you’re willing to put in the effort and not give up.

    • It’s really helped me a TON when it comes to balancing my work/side hustle dual life. It’s so much easier to see the two as working hand in hand–and it can get your dream a lot further, faster, too!

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  15. This blog has lots of truth, but for me I HATED my day job and it was truly a hindrance. Because of the security, I stayed and each day I was there, I literally, felt the life being sucked out of me! I was becoming a robot. My family didn’t like the person I was becoming. Hell, I hated the person I had became. I lacked passion, hunger, drive, and enthusiasm. I was always tensed, tired, and sad. SO badly I wanted to pursue my dreams, my passions, but I was afraid.

    Security kept me in a hell hole. Finally– I just stepped out on faith. As a result, I am a published author, successful playwright, actor, and a much better human being! You can get a copy of my book at my website at —- albeit, everyones situation is different, for me, I began to LIVE again once I left my Job and started my JOURNEY.

    Sulondia Hammond

    • Sue:

      I completely understand where you’re coming from. There’s a point at which the pros of staying in your job are outweighed by the cons, and if it ever gets to that point, then I think you do need to reconsider your priorities. Your day job can “help” your dream job only insofar as you’re still able to function and do your work (at the 9-5 and on your dream) properly. When it starts to get to the point of soul-sucking, you need to seriously examine what’s more important to you. Your health and sanity ALWAYS should come first!

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  22. Exactly! You have much more freedom to choose only the most optimum projects when your dream isn’t the only thing putting food on the table. Too many people feel forced to compromise and settle when they don’t have the backing of a day job to give them that option.

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