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You should quit your job.

bitario profile image Mo Bitar Originally published at listed.standardnotes.org Updated on ・7 min read

Sounds reckless right? But I want to make the case for why quitting your job can be a great way to advance your project, even when it may sound like a scary idea.

You see, I had always thought that, during times I was employed, the extent to which my side projects would reach was inherent in the nature of the project. That is, the reason all my side projects tended to be single-use and single-launch was because they were designed for that.

I was lying to myself.

The truth was, my side projects never took off because they were missing the most important fuel a project needs: time. I would launch every project on the basis of “If I build it and launch on Product Hunt, they will come, and my moment will come. It never came.

I tried various ways to optimize success during employment. I tried waking up at 4am every day, and working on my own projects until 7am before heading to work, but that didn’t last very long. Three hours is time, but what’s needed is capital-t Time.

I tried rationalizing working during work hours, but it always felt shitty doing so. It’s no way to live. You start feeling extremely guilty and paranoid, and you begin to hate your job even more. I even tried taking long vacations exclusively to work on side projects. That one worked pretty well actually. But you can only take so many vacations.

I bounced from job to job, looking for the one that would make me happy and cure my need for wanting to work on my own projects. “I just need to find a company that works on a product interesting enough to make my own. I found two such companies, and worked at them for some time, but in the end, the whispers came back. You have to do your own thing.

There’s never a perfect time to quit your job. I had only a few months worth of savings, and the project I was quitting my job to pursue didn’t yet have a revenue model. But enough was enough.

Today, quitting my job was the best decision I’ve ever made. I only wish I had done it sooner.

Here are a few reasons you should quit your job:

  1. It will cure your shitty mood.

    After the excitement of starting a new job and joining a new team wore off (about 2-3 months), the feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose would come screaming back. There’s an inherent sort of degradation involved in employment, especially if you’re cursed to be ambitious. You sit behind a desk contributing labor to executives that profit more than you ever could. No matter what salary I was paid, no matter what my stock options were, I couldn’t escape from the inherent shittiness of feeling that I could be doing all this work for my own product rather than someone else’s. And that created an inherent depression.

    After quitting many jobs in my career chasing the perfect one, but never finding happiness, I learned that it’s not any particular job or company that I hated working for. It was employment in general.

  2. It will allow you to grow your project in ways you could never have imagined.

    You know the feeling: you’re at your day job, and you just can’t wait to get home so you can get hacking on your side project. You plan to be home no later than 5:45 p.m. 5 o’clock hits, and your build fails to compile. So you stick around for another 10 minutes. On your way out, you catch your boss in the hallway and you make small talk for a few minutes. You run to catch the bus, but it’s delayed by 12 minutes. You make it home by 6:30, and you are absolutely exhausted and defeated. You have half an hour before you need to start thinking about dinner. You open your computer and start trying to work on your project, but you’ve been staring at a damned computer screen all day, and it’s the last thing you want to do right now. Maybe after dinner? After dinner, you crash, and become even more tired. You call it a day, and repeat the same thing tomorrow.

    That was my average daily experience. It’s no wonder I could never make meaningful progress on a project. Imagine if instead you awoke every day at 8 a.m, and immediately began working on your own project without limit. Imagine the progress you’d make. The things you’d learn. Quitting my job to focus on developing my own product has been the single biggest investment in my skills I’ve ever made.

  3. Multi-tasking is a myth.

    I have never been able to do two things at the same time. Or, at least, I’ve never been able to do two things well at the same time. My best work has been when I’ve had a single-minded focus on one project or task. Switching contexts is something that I've never really been good at. Once I start something, and build up momentum towards it, it’s really difficult for me to switch to something else. When you start your day doing work for your employer, and do it for the next 8-10 hours, you gain momentum in the direction of your employer, and opposite from your own work. Switching becomes as chaotic as doing a u-turn driving 100mph.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that quitting your job will be filled with sugar, candy, and all that is sweet. Building my own product without a stable income has been the hardest thing I have ever done. And it only gets harder.

Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t quit your job.

  1. Working on your own product will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

    Quitting your job takes only 1 day, and the euphoria wears off after a week. After that, you’re left with the cold hard reality that you need to make something happen, and soon. The best part? Nothing will go your way. Every day brings a new challenge, and most times, I just want to quit and go back to the “comforts of employment, where you only have to pseudo-worry about anything. Self-employment is definitely not for the faint of heart.

    Most days I find myself asking, what on earth am I doing? What do I do next? Answers never come easy. I only have one rule for myself: keep going, and don’t give up, no matter what. And I’ve been able to make some great progress on that mindset. (And trust me, giving up is a second instinct to me. I’m so good at it. Doing this has taught me not only the value of not giving up, but also that I am surprisingly capable of persevering.).

  2. Creating a product people use is rewarding, but equally punishing.

    All I ever wanted and dreamt of when I was laboring over someone else’s dream was to create a product that people would enjoy using. I told myself that if only a handful of people found my product useful and I made very little money from it, I’d be supremely happy. In some part, that was true. Having people use and depend on Standard Notes today has been the most rewarding experience of my life. But with every new user comes the opportunity for new bugs and issues. This is software after all, and there is no escaping those dreary creepy-crawlers. Bug reports instantly ruin my day. I hate letting down users and inconveniencing them with bugs. The worst part is, they will never ever go away. Just think: you will have to live the rest of your life fixing bugs. Bugs that can make users very upset. It’s rewarding that people use your product, but it’s equally punishing.

  3. You will have no idea what you’re doing.

    You better hope that all your jobs have prepared you for this moment. If you’re venturing solo, be sure you’re ready to handle everything, from development to marketing to sales. As a developer, coding is the easy part, and I’m tempted to always do it because of how instantly gratifying it is. Marketing and sales? It’s rocket science to me. Be sure you really want this, and be sure you’re ready to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life.

What should you do?

I can’t speak for your situation. Every one of us will have infinitely varying circumstances. But if all day you dream about quitting, and all you can ever think about is how much happier you’d be working on your own stuff, then what are you waiting for? Signs hardly come this clear. The world is scary, but I promise you this: you’ll live. You won’t starve. And worst-case scenario, you’ll learn a valuable lesson or two about life and entrepreneurship, and hop your way back into another job.

I don’t have kids, so I can’t offer any advice in that direction. Quitting a job becomes a whole different monster in that situation. Talk to your family and see if quitting your job is right for you.

Finally, keep in mind that I’m just some stranger on the internet you probably know nothing about. You probably shouldn’t listen to me. Ultimately, this decision is yours to make. I thought I would share my experience and what I’ve learned, in case it helps someone trapped in a situation similar to the one I was in.

Quitting your job won’t solve all your problems, but it will definitely bring on a new set of more interesting problems. The kind of problems that, if they don’t kill you, have the potential to change your life.


If you're going through something similar, get in touch through Twitter if there's any way I can help.

Discussion (17)

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ssteinerx profile image
Steve Steiner

For U.S. developers:

Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t quit your job:

1> Health insurance is an absolute nightmare.

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ben profile image
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Harold Combs

Mo, I appreciate your candor.

I think you hit the nail on the head right here:

I couldn’t escape from...feeling that I could be doing all this work for my own product rather than someone else’s.

If you have a founder's mentality, you're not going to work well for someone else. Invoking Socrates: "Know Thyself!" That is, be honest, and if you're miserable for this reason, strike out on your own.

I had 3 colleagues who exited their startup with a buyout from my corporation. Along with the acquisition, they had to stay on for ~2 years. They got fairly high-level jobs, directors, VPs of engineering for cloud, etc., but one could see they hated it.

The second that countdown timer expired, they were out starting new stuff.

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bitario profile image
Mo Bitar Author

Good advice, thanks Harold!

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mijustin profile image
Justin Jackson

For me, it was better to keep my job, and gradually build up a side income.

In 2014, based on the profile I’d built in the product community, I was able to quit my full-time job and start consulting full-time. I consulted for teams based in Colorado, Portland and San Francisco.

During that time, I launched a side-project: devmarketing.xyz. It ended up making $66k that year, and gave me the confidence to quit consulting, and go full-time on products in 2016. More on that here.

I've seen many of my friends quit their job, hoping to launch their startup. But things never go as fast (or as well) as you plan. Almost all of them ran out of savings, and got into desperation mode.

My advice: don't quit your job until your project has earned some revenue. You should also have 6 months savings in the bank.

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Sonny Yap

It's great that it is turning out really well for you. I think about starting my own business every day but I don't have a clear idea of what I want to make and therefore not enough courage to make the jump. Thank you for the inspiration though, and hopefully I'll make the jump someday.

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David Zentgraf

This presumes that:

  1. I hate my job.
  2. I have a project I want to pursue.

Neither is true. I rather like my job, and while I have some ideas I'd like to dick around with on a technical level, I have no idea how to turn any of that into a money-making business. I'm pretty comfortable having other people worry about getting the jobs, and just concentrate on doing the best technical work with those.

To each his own.

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Andrew Richardson

So, sorry to rain on the parade and all, but don't you need to get paid? If I quit my job I'd have problems with paying rent and putting food on the table, and I'm guessing so would most other people.

If you're going to do this, you'd better have a good business plan, or go live with mum or something. And let's be honest, quite a few coders aren't the best at business (myself included).

The best, most well structured code in the world won't help if nobody wants to pay you.

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Jeudy Blanco

Loved this article. Every piece of it. I've been in this position for many years but specially in the last 2. Its so scary and I keep saving as much as I can (and keep accepting more and more work) so one day I can focus, but its a hard, scary decision. Thanks for sharing!

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bitario profile image
Mo Bitar Author

Best of luck!

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SkillSlide

Well written article! I'm actually responding to this on my way to the job. I've been a programmer for a lot longer than I've been employed. So I know what you're saying isn't commmpletly true regarding benefits of going solo again (though your thoughts on ambition are spot on.)

Ultimately, you can follow the mantra of "always make progress everyday" while you have a job. You also make a lot more money than people elsewhere. You can have a fulltime employee for $400/m (browse onlinejobs.ph).

You can definitely build up a blog / community / following / email list while you have a job. Unemployed / underemployed-selfemployed people, even in the US, don't charge a lot! Have them do some work for you. It really doesn't eat up a lot of my paycheck, and I'm on the low end salary wise for a programmer.

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Mvsica Donvm Dei

I can completely relate to this article and the points raised, it is not the easiest lifestyle yet building your own enterprise is the most rewarding thing you could ever do.

"what’s needed is capital-t Time" is an absolute. I've come up with a football analogy, where I play the quarterback and throw the ball then double as the receiver to catch the ball and sprint as long as possible. I've had to do this a couple times and each time I make many more yards. Right now I'm close to getting the touchdown and winning the game.

Between these plays I take a short contract or job to get what only money can buy. Even so I am very mindful of commute time, because I still want a good chunk of development time each day. I make sure to get my work bench into good shape so that each days focus is fast and I can accomplish milestones even in spite of a side job. Presently, I'm counting down to capital-t Time again :)

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bitario profile image
Mo Bitar Author

That's a nice way of looking at it :)

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Ahmed T. Ali

I did quit my job. And I'm jobless now hahah

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Ashish Kapoor

All I can say is set your priorities(as per your own capabilities), there's a right time for everything. :)