Quitting your job to pursue your passion is bullshit

Pursue your passion... (Image via Pixbay and republished under a Creative Commons license)
Image via Pixabay and republished under a Creative Commons license.

Two years ago, I quit my full-time, salaried with benefits job to pursue self-employment as an independent freelance graphic designer. (This is maybe the most cliche statement to read online these days).

Since then, the reactions I’ve received have all been pretty similar. People marveled at the fact that I took this big, life-changing leap. I’ve gotten messages like “Wow, you’re so brave and courageous,” and “That’s so great you’re pursuing your passion” and “I wish I could be my own boss.”

At first I didn’t know what to think of it. There were other personal things going on at the time that impacted me enough to quit my full-time job. But after getting the same reaction plenty of times, and reading the same “I-quit-my-job-and-started-my-own-business!” overnight success stories online everywhere,  I started to accept it. Believe it for myself. It became a part of my story.

It became easy to identify with a lot of things young entrepreneurial people were saying. Like them, I hustle my ass off to work enough contracts in a month to make ends meet. I deal with fear and anxiety of the instability every day. I battle constant future-tripping, wondering how long I can realistically sustain myself on this route. But I also get paid to do something I love (which is supposed to outshine anything else apparently).

Not gonna front, it’s been fun and fulfilling. I was proud to be pursuing my passion and I pat myself on the back for making it work. But then another part of me couldn’t disagree more with the sentiment. Being your own boss is tough as shit. You have no one to blame but yourself if things go awry. It’s not always what it’s cracked up to be. But what bothers me most is how we prop up the entrepreneurial class to be inherently brave and courageous.

Let’s set the record straight.

I am no more brave than the migrant worker picking your strawberries to send remittances to family in their home country.

I am no more courageous than the recently-graduated millennial who works in a cubicle nine hours a day to pay off massive student loans. I am no more of a boss than the working-class mother with three jobs who feeds her children.

Nowadays we are bombarded with messages that life could only be meaningful if we do what we love (which is subjective anyway). Quitting full-time jobs to travel the world. Giving up everything to be your own boss. Leaving routine to build something from scratch. We are offered online classes, webinars, books and podcasts of advice from professionals. We are marketed apps that promise the ease of starting your own business. We are told that the sacrifice will be hard, but it will all be worth it: “You just have to quit your job, give it your all, buy my e-book of advice for $20, and have the passion to persevere.”

We praise people that are “courageous” enough to quit their 9-to-5 and dive into the deep end of the exciting unknown. We idealize and romanticize the idea of being our own boss and being in charge of our own schedule. To take a risk and reap the bountiful benefits. Yet no one talks about the real sustainability or self-sufficiency of this formula when the playing field is never even.

Quitting your job to pursue your passion is bullshit. This messaging is only beneficial for privileged people and very dangerous for working-class people.

The statement alone reeks of privilege. It confirms you had a full-time job to begin with. It confirms you had time to develop a passion (that you can capitalize off of, enough to meet your cost of living). It confirms you had the option to pursue something different because you feel like it. There are more challenges to being self-employed than just mental perseverance and grit.

We are predatorily luring working-class people into an entrepreneur lifestyle as the answer to living a meaningful life and loads of money. It’s the new American Dream. 

From my own experience, I personally did not quit my full-time salaried with benefits job to be courageous and pursue my passion. I did not quit spontaneously, nor did I take a “big leap of faith.” I quit because I was faced with new and challenging responsibilities in my personal life that required more of me mentally and emotionally than I had anticipated. I quit because I was depressed. I quit because I couldn’t keep up with a 40-minute commute, working 9–10 — sometimes 12 hours a day — and pretend nothing was changing at home. I quit because I had freelance work to fall back on, not because I just wanted to do freelance work full-time. I quit because I weighed out my options every day for seven months before making a final decision.

I am privileged to not have any student loans to repay. (I guess dropping out of college finally paid off, haha). I am privileged to have paid off most of my credit card debt while I was working full-time. I am privileged to be in a relationship with a partner that was working full-time. That I had a partner who I could live with. I quit my job because I was dealing with a family emergency with long-term responsibilities I had to wrap my head around . I quit my job because I had the privilege to do so.

I don’t want to perpetuate this false narrative of quitting a job because I was brave enough to pursue my passion. I don’t want anyone who works a 9-to-5 to feel like a fool for staying at a stable job, or feel wrong if they actually enjoy it. I want people to know that nearly all the overnight entrepreneur success stories in the spotlight leave out the privilege afforded to them in the first place. Not everyone can, or should, just quit their job in hopes of finding happiness or meaningful work.

Passion can fuel your drive, but sometimes isn’t enough to pay the bills, and no one should feel shitty for not being able to fit this mold that’s been created. The concept is ideal for all, but not realistic for many.

And I’m not saying working-class people can’t be successful entrepreneurs. I’m just saying if you haven’t read something that mentions the privileges of the self-employed, inspiring, brave, courageous entrepreneurial class that pursues their passion, then here it is.

This story was originally published on Janelle Quibuyen’s blog at www.janellequibuyen.com.

17 Comments

  1. As a millennial who went straight into entrepreneurship (with no funding) immediately after university graduation, where do you think I fit in?

    Unsure if I should be offended by this article.

  2. You still have a privilege, whether you realize it or not. The privilege if not having some extra mouths to feed. Or if you are like me, someone who still supported your parents and your brothers & sisters after you graduated from college, then maybe you are one of the brave ones. Brave enough to gamble the livelihood of your family (not only yourself).

  3. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed in this article. Yes, working a 9-5 job – or an 8-6 job, or two or three jobs to make ends meet – is no less brave and courageous than being your own boss. And, yes, the instability of a freelance or entrepreneurial income is definitely something to consider before ditching your regular job.

    However, the following statement by the author gave me pause: “We are predatorily luring working-class people into an entrepreneur lifestyle as the answer to living a meaningful life and loads of money.” This implies that poor people as somehow more gullible or less likely to think for themselves than people with more money.

    I seriously doubt that somebody – especially somebody with a family to provide for or debt to pay off, and/or somebody who doesn’t have that special talent or skill that is needed to start your own business – is going to be so naive as to be “lured into an entrepreneur lifestyle” just because it has become a fad.

    If there is someone who knows how to do the basic math to make sure your pay will cover your bills, it is working-class people. A person whose income is already limited will think longer and harder about whether self-employment is the right option for them than someone who is well-off.

  4. I am so thankful for this article. I so needed it. it’s right on time. I’ve battling with the concept of “freeing” myself from my 9-5 due to depression, and feeling like I haven’t taken enough risks, yet also feeling like I belong to a structured lifestyle. Man, I appreciated this perspective. The truth!

    1. Hahahaha funny to see how are you lying to yourselves to free yourself from the BIGGEST mistake you’ve done : “NOT taking enough risks !”

  5. Thank you for this….a seriously honest and real response to something we’re bombarded with daily as millennials. I’m struggling with my future choices in this exact area, and have firmly believed in the power of privilege for a long time. Much of the bravery people claim ownership over was never theirs to own. I still want to love what I’m doing and let my enthusiasm lead…but it will have to be careful and calculated.

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  7. I like this. Self-employed/freelance people are one, entrepreneurs are another. You cant clash them into one and call it entrepreneurship, despite everyday marketing. There are people who genuinely like( more like “need”) to fix things, improve and build and there are others who want their “business” to help cover bills, allow to travel the world or simply put – provide financial security. Majority of those making six figures a year and are comfortable and then there are minority who dont really think about how much they are making right now and where they want to travel next summer or which house they gonna buy soon. They are purely interested in ventures and again building things, fixing, improving. And im not talking unicorns. Differences are very clear between two.

  8. I don’t even know how I stopped up here, but I assumed this post was good.
    I do not understand who you might be however definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already.
    Cheers!

  9. Let’s get some responses here. I can understand that you had this negative experience, however would you reconsider some of the thinking if you had a stable job and built your side hustle while in your full time job to the point where it replaces your salary and has an additional few thousand to allow you to put back into the business for growth? I believe that might have been a more safer route to follow so the transition is not ‘I quit my job – now I need to start earning every penny from the bottom up’ as you would have already made concessions for this while working full time?

  10. You entered a flooded market. Of course you going to be writing a negative article. If you did the math first you would have realised that the business you are in is not very profitable.

  11. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to start your own business or freelance. The truth is you can always go back to a regular job if it’s not for you. Back in the day it wasn’t culturally acceptable, but now you can take a year or two or three off, and start a business, and come back to a job if that fails. It doesn’t really hurt in the work world so it’s not even that big of a risk anymore. And if you’ve tried and don’t like the anxiety of dealing with the uncertainty of getting your own contracts, etc., you can stop and go back to a 9-5… That being said, I too don’t think we should denigrate folks who prefer a 40-hour work week or a stable job. We need people of all types to make this world go around. I’d be really upset if there were no plumbers or handymen or car mechanics, etc. They all make my life so much better doing what they do. Those migrant workers pick fruit that I eat and is extremely tasty and they’re more brave to travel a place that doesn’t speak their language and manage to eke out a living. There’s a place for everyone and we should have a healthy respect for all the different people pursuing different things in this country. We’ve placed college on a pedestal and now have a lack of skilled workers in the trades. There’s a place for everyone if we just stop being so dogmatic and extreme in our beliefs of what’s right for the majority.

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