Safeguarding your career switch

The night before I moved to California, I got a flat tire. The day before I moved to California, someone backed into my car. The first night that I moved to California, I got a parking ticket and my car was towed.

So, you know. I was really beginning to question my move to California.

I switched careers in 2010. It'd always been a dream of mine to move to New York or Los Angeles to pursue a career in creative writing, and while you don't have to live in either of those places to be a writer, I felt there would be more opportunity. I went with it.

It's been a hurricane. A blur. I've gotten boring gigs, awesome gigs, and I've been stressed about all of those gigs. I've wondered whether I was making mistakes and then confirmed the fact that I was making mistakes.

But two years later, the storm has calmed. Both emotionally and financially, I'm in a better place now than I was before I made the switch.

So far, it's been a success. Who knows what could happen from here, and I've been wary of writing about this for some time. I'm not typically superstitious, but I have to admit, I don't want to jinx it.

But part of that silly fear of jinxing is that I'm careful. I was very careful about ensuring that my career switch would be as painless as possible. I did everything I could to take shelter from the crap storm that inevitably ensues when you leave a decent-paying, stable job to pursue a crazy dream.

Here's what I did.

I was financially prepared

Before I made the decision to move, I talked to people who had once tried it — leaving Texas to pursue a creative career in Los Angeles or New York. They all said the reason they moved back was that they couldn't find a job, and they ran out of money. So I vowed to live below my means, and I began to save. A year before I moved, I wasn't certain it would happen. It seemed so far off, so unattainable. I thought about forgetting my goals entirely to instead travel for the rest of my life, working at my not thrilling, but still decent, job. And really, that's not a bad Plan B.

But eventually, conviction set in. As I began to save more money, I started to realize that this could actually happen. By 2009, I was getting close to having saved $10,000, and the dream started to look like a possibility. I researched what my lifestyle would cost, and I took into consideration the likely chance that I wouldn't be able to find work.

I had a backup plan (and still do)

I tried to pick up as many side jobs as I could; most were writing gigs. While I couldn't find full-time creative writing jobs in my hometown, I did find a couple of creative gigs in other parts of the country (including LA), and there were a few copywriting gigs in my city as well. I was typically working upwards of 60 hours a week. None of those gigs paid particularly well, but it was more about having some sort of income when I finally left my job and moved. Even a few hundred dollars a month would help.

I cut ties with naysayers

My decision really seemed to rub a couple of people the wrong way — they were almost offended that I had the audacity to leave my job to move to California. There was scoffing; there was condescension. One person (whom I didn't even know very well) called me stupid. I drew the line. I can take criticism about my choices, but when I saw the unfounded resentment my decision brought out in some people, they had to go. It was nothing personal, but I was already trying to accomplish something that has a low rate of success. I couldn't afford to incessantly hear about how my failure was inevitable.

I was open-minded

Before and after I moved, I took on jobs that paid considerably, almost amusingly, less than other jobs. I worked for next to nothing, and I worked for free. Sometimes I still take on those gigs. Here's why:

What you're worth vs. what the work is worth

If one gig is paying you $100 per article, illustration — whatever your freelancing fancy — that's great. But if no one else is willing to pay you that rate, and there's still 30 hours left in the week, then that's not what you're “worth.” And anyway, I find it more financially advantageous to not think in terms of what I'm worth, but what the work is worth. Is this hour-long project worth the $20 it pays, especially when I'm getting paid $100 for a similar project elsewhere? Eighty bucks is a big difference. But if I'm not doing much else during that hour aside from watching Frasier reruns, then yeah, it's worth it, regardless of what I think I'm “worth.”

Experience is worthwhile, too

I've written about topics I'm not 100% crazy about. But I've taken them on with fervor, happy just to have a writing gig. Those jobs have often, if not always, led to bigger jobs. And as time goes on, I've noticed that my days are more and more filled with the type of writing that I want to be doing.

Avoid burnout; maybe get paid to not work

I don't need to warn you about spreading yourself thin, nor do I need to tell you how to relax. But I've found a way both 1) avoid burnout; and 2) get paid for it. Because much of my workweek consists of writing, I find that I often need to do an activity that requires relatively no “right-brain” thinking. Thus, I've taken on a mundane gig that consists of cropping photos. After a long week of writing, I actually find it therapeutic. And better yet — I'm getting paid to switch brain sides for a couple of hours.

Insure your career, even your old one

Telling my boss I had put in four years at her company only to move to California to pursue a dream was one of the most difficult things, career-wise, that I've had to do. But during that meeting, something interesting happened. Instead of telling me to get lost, she actually asked me if I could continue working for her at my convenience after I moved.

I was stunned. This meant I wouldn't have to immediately dip into my emergency fund.

I got lucky; I had a really cool boss. But if I hadn't worked hard at that job, as great as she is, I doubt she would have asked me to keep working for her. I was thankful that I'd insured my career.

What's worked for me

Everyone's different. What works for me isn't necessarily what would work for you. Some might find their career switch to be most effective by “just doing it.” In fact, I know a couple of people who left their jobs, moved to Los Angeles with nothing and are now getting by perfectly fine. Not many, but a couple.

But for me, it took many years of contemplating, deciding on and planning my career switch. I took a decision that some would deem irresponsible, and I tried to make it happen as responsibly as possible.

This isn't to say that I'm in the exact place where I want to be. As my goals continue to develop and expand, I may never even get there. But so far, I'm content, and this is what's worked for me.

More about...Career, Planning

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William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

Good job, and good thinking! I particularly liked your line about having a cool boss. It’s funny how that works: you work hard and smart, you care about your work, you’re diligent and conscientious… and you just happen to end up with a cool boss. It reminds me of Gary Player, the South African golf great who usually got heckled in the States because he beat Arnold Palmer too often. Once, as he sank a long putt, someone from the gallery yelled out, “Lucky shot!” To which Player turned around and smiled. “You’re right,” he said. “That was a lucky… Read more »

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago

Completely agree about cutting ties with naysayers. There are people in the world who are unhappy about their lives and seek to bring down others who are trying to build on their own happiness without hurting others. I see no reason to keep people like that in our lives.

Kingston
Kingston
7 years ago

So interesting about the naysayers you encountered. I, too, made a radical move and life change, and was blindsided by how offended some friends and family members were. I was called crazy, to my face, by one or two people. One really, really important friend pretty much cut herself off from me for several months, which made my loneliness during the move more profound. But now that I’ve been in my new situation for a year, and everyone can see that it’s working out OK and I am still available to them by phone or Skype, and that I come… Read more »

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

I also give the article an A+.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

It’s nice to hear Kristin’s story. (I admire the guts it takes to quit a full time job to try freelance!) Having made a career switch, I think the most important financial thing a person can do is start building a cash reserve before you do it.

My career switch involved going back to school, which pretty much drained my reserve (and then some!) So I built up a reserve of a different kind: volunteer work + paid work in my new field and building a professional network.

Melissa@LittleHouseintheValley
7 years ago

You made several smart moves here to help your transition become a success–you had an ample emergency fund and already had work. Your boss’ attitude was just icing on the cake. Nice work. Thanks for an inspiring story.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

Nice article, and great ideas. Inspiring! I laughed so hard at the car’s bad luck (sorry!). Some times, you know, we sabotage ourselves when we try to move forward. Other times it’s excitement and nervousness. I’d take the car’s woes as a sign that you were doing the right thing! (My dad crashed a car only twice in his life: once the day I was born, once the day my brother was born. True story.)

ps- I’m really loving this article as I let it work its way into my brain. Srsly.

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
7 years ago

Drop naysayers. Right on, right on. I’m working on starting my own business right now. It’ll probably happen in 3-4 years though. I’ve gotta do a lot of research and save money etc. Some people are very supportive and offer advice opinions, while others are just a-holes. It doesnt’ make any sense even…what’s it to them if I quit and start my own business?? People who don’t change their lives and live on the sidelines mock and say we can’t do it. But guess what? We can. You did. I will. Screw the naysayers.

ren
ren
7 years ago

Good for you! Keep at it.There will always be naysayers (some say it directly to you while others say it behind your back). I’ve had similar. I now recognize my frenemies. And yes, I’ve cut them out.

Great article.

ren
ren
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

I’d say writing for a blog is still writing.

Ellen
Ellen
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

How is writing for a blog not writing? Does he think you sing your entries down the phone and some magical mermaids transcribe them. . .?

Nicoleandmaggie
Nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

A measured risk is the best kind of risk!

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

Good for you for moving to such a competitive market for what your were pursuing, and making it work. I don’t know if I would be brave enough to do the same, although your planning does seem to be extensive and very well thought out. I like when you say its not what you are worth, but what your work is worth. I think it’s important to remember that so you don’t get discouraged and continue to put your best effort into what you do.

Seth
Seth
7 years ago

I have the highest respect for those who want to start their own business. I’ll never understand why people have to be so negative, maybe they were jealous? Being that your boss was so supportive really showed that you must work hard and your business understood.

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
7 years ago

“Life is not a dress rehearsal.” Who wants to go through it haunted by “what ifs?” Sometimes even failure is better than not knowing.
But you are succeeding and will continue to do so. I admire your careful planning and your bravery. Thanks for sharing.

Luke
Luke
7 years ago

Great courage, great achievement, great article. A very sincere thanks. You just made my morning.

Nina
Nina
7 years ago

I can totally relate to this story! I made a big move location and career wise a couple of years back. I saved hard for 8 months, and decided to work in a Burger King if that was the only job I could get after my cushion ran out. Luckily I had a solid career with a lot of achievements to showcase, so I got employed within a week. Luckily all my friends were very supportive. This was mostly because they knew I had been dreaming about the move for nearly five years before taking action. They had actually waited… Read more »

Megan
Megan
7 years ago

Excellent article! I also started freelancing about two years ago. It was more a way for me to stay home with the kids while earning (much-needed) extra money. Gradually, I started attracting bigger clients and turned it around for the better. After taxes, I am actually bringing home more now than I did at my office job – my previous salary basically paid for daycare. Like you, I’ve had to take on projects that weren’t my favorite topics – but it helped broaden my horizons while making me more marketable. I think you briefly touched on this, but I feel… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago

I’d like to know more about preparing financially. How many months of an emergency fund should you have? I’ve heard 8 months for most people, but if you’re going to be self-employed shouldn’t it be a lot more? And how far down do you let your savings dwindle before you decide to give it up?

Kathryn
Kathryn
7 years ago

I applaud your determination and focus on achieving your dream – congrats! The only point I might quibble with is working for much less that you are worth. I set an hourly rate that I am willing to work for and that’s it – I won’t go below it. Writing is already undervalued and I don’t like to encourage that taking low-paying gigs. Also, what if the client who pays you $200 for an article learns you would do the same story for $20. For me, the hassle wasn’t worth it. Bring on the Frasier reruns!

Rya
Rya
7 years ago
Reply to  Kathryn

@Kathryn

Yeah but sometimes you can’t afford to turn down lower-paying offers.

Even if you can, you are just sitting on all those “empty” hours and you’re not doing work. You can miss a whole lot of twenties while you’re waiting for that one gig that pays a hundred.

Rya @ bulgarian money blog
Rya @ bulgarian money blog
7 years ago

What a great story that is! Congrats on making it work! I find it very clever on your part that you took the photo-clipping job. It really is a great way to let your brain shut down, go on autopilot, and maybe wander away and find new ideas on its own without you pushing it. I also find it very clever of you to get away from naysayers. There is a popular story about a dozen frogs attempting to climb a mountain. Those frogs who were scared to even try sat at the bottom of the mountain and while the… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
7 years ago

Inspiring story, Kristin. You seem very motivated, but careful. Because of that, I’m guessing you will find a way to succeed, no matter what.
I, for one, would be interested in how you found your various gigs.

Jill
Jill
7 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Aberle

I’m glad you put the question out there Lisa. I was wondering that myself. I admire folks who have the courage to go freelance. I’ve often wondered how they built the network necessary to pull it off. It seems most of the time I hear about freelancing on this blog it centers around writing. I’d also like to hear how folks in other lines of work got started in freelancing.

Susan
Susan
7 years ago

Thank you for this article. I like the part about your boss wanting to keep you on even if remotely. I think it’s proof that you never know what your boss will say about a remote work situation. I spent a year looking for another job in my preferred location (close to family) and didn’t find a position. So one day I asked my boss about how he felt if I worked remotely permanently from 700 miles away but did not change a thing about the way I worked, the quality of the work, and how it got done. He… Read more »

carosgram
carosgram
7 years ago

This is one of the best articles I have read here in a long time! Thanks! It has given me a lot of ideas of how I can make changes in my life.

Tara
Tara
7 years ago

I have been planning a career change and cross-country move for the past 5 years. Being totally paranoid after reading too many horror stories on the net, I decided I would not jump until I had a 3 year emergency fund. I also have backup plan B prepared in case I fail to achieve objectives within the 3 year deadline. I would probably not allow myself to deplete my reserves more than about 50-60% before I abandoned and went to plan B, unless things were looking very optimistic for a speedy resolution.

Carla
Carla
7 years ago

One of the most difficult things about naysayers is they are often our flesh and blood. No one more than family can make you feel small, stupid and like you’re making the worst decision since Bush invaded Iraq. Often their way is the only way to live and pursuing anything that breaks away from the cult family is akin to flushing your life down the toilet. There is a reason why I moved 700+ miles away from the “compound”. Sometimes “ditching” naysayers means ditching family. The key is to do it so that you do not become completely estranged from… Read more »

The Ninja Baker
The Ninja Baker
7 years ago

Bravo, Kristin! Appreciate your down-to-earth advice for making dreams come true!

skp
skp
7 years ago

OK… I’ll admit it. I can be quite the “Negative nancy” according to my son.
I am not a risk taker. Reasonable, calculable risks well…OK. Anybody ever watch American Idol. Some of those people think they can sing. Anybody ever say – why didn’t their mother tell them the truth? I have to work really hard to keep my mouth shut.

Kingston
Kingston
7 years ago
Reply to  skp

I find I must hold my tongue with my kids sometimes and let the world tell them what’s what, instead of me telling them. I’ve also come to realize that my negative assumptions about their capabilities and how things will turn out for them may be completely wrong, and that it’s like a form of abuse for me to harm their hopefulness. So I try to be encouraging if they are pursuing something that is important to them, even if I’m secretly skeptical.

BD
BD
7 years ago

Naysayers aren’t always bad though. Had I listened to the ones in my life, and NOT gotten into graphic design back in 1994, I’d be in much better shape today than I am now. Sometimes you should listen to the naysayers, because their advice is actually GOOD advice.

Megan
Megan
7 years ago
Reply to  BD

The trick is to figuring out WHEN to listen to them. 🙂

I have a relative who never takes risks and always flies below the radar, so to speak. I have internalized a lot of that, and it’s only in the last few years where I’ve said “OK, I have to break the mold.” It’s SO hard to walk away, and it’s so hard to do something that’s different than what everyone else has been doing for years. But sometimes, you gotta do what you want to do.

Jill
Jill
7 years ago
Reply to  Megan

There’s constructive criticism and destructive criticism. And if you really listen to the criticism, you KNOW when it is only meant to knock you down and when it is meant to prepare you. But if you don’t trust you gut instincts, a good acid test for criticism is to ask the person, “OK, so what do you suggest?”. If they don’t offer something proactive, constructive, or positive, they’re only trying to knock you down, and you can stop giving their criticism serious consideration.

Kingston
Kingston
7 years ago
Reply to  BD

But it wasn’t a bad thing to be a graphic designer in 1994, was it? Who really knew back then that print publishing would implode? I mean, you can’t play it safe all the time. I had many friends who did quite well in design for a long time. A few are still doing great — but they mainly the ones who have always been freelancers and they focus on deep-pocketed corporate clients (and they kind of have do hack-ish work, to be really honest about it). A few others have been devastated, and I am very sympathetic. If you’re… Read more »

Vangile
Vangile
7 years ago

Wow awesome. I have switched and moved jobs more than I care to count since I have lived on 3 continents and move back and forth. I am a more jump before you think kind of person. I wish I’d had the wisdom to have a back up plan or be financially prepared whenever I moved because it definitely makes things easier. My recent move from Boston to South Africa was easy because I was financially prepared but that was the first time I was ever prepared. I love what you say about naysayers – people sometimes behave that way… Read more »

J. Lemon
J. Lemon
7 years ago

“In fact, I know a couple of people who left their jobs, moved to Los Angeles with nothing and are now getting by perfectly fine. Not many, but a couple.” I fall into that category. Quite the risk though and I wouldn’t do it again–I’m the first to admit there was a lot of luck involved. Ironically it was this website that helped me pay off the debt I incurred getting out here and setting me up to make the decisions to succeed in the future. Definitely would be more planning and substantial savings involved were I to see the… Read more »

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