Today I am doing something incredibly scary. Something a lot of desk dwellers and paper pushers dream about but are too afraid to ever do. I am quitting my full time job to pursue my dream. And I am doing it for the second time. I am lucky enough to know a few fellow risk takers and in honor of leaving behind that corporate check today, I wanted to share not only my story from the past year but also the stories of two of my former co-workers who also left a desk job at Groupon in the name of dream-chasing. These women went on to do something amazing things including: moving to San Francisco and interviewing rockstars as a music journalist and writing and publishing a book while living in New York City!
I started working in the editorial department at Groupon in late 2010 because I was struggling to make ends meet as a freelance journalist. When I joined the company, I realized this was a place full of creative individuals with similar goals and dreams to mine that had nothing to do with coupons.
I initially met Jonnita Condra when we shared a cubicle at Groupon – but when the company made some changes, she ended up in a department that she says had nothing to do with her journalism skill set.
“I just felt like I was wasting eight hours at that place, plus another two hours of traveling to get there. So, I was basically dedicating 10 hours of my day to a place I did not want to be,” Jonnita says. “On top of that, I had major anxiety when I was there. I could not sit in the office for long periods of time. Everything was taking a toll on me, mentally, physically and spiritually. Enough was enough. So, finally one day, I prayed about my decision, and gave them my two weeks notice,”
Laura Braun, another Grouponer that I met while working as a Fact Checker, felt a similar anxiety after taking a trip to San Francisco.
She says, “On the plane ride home, I cried. I realized that I had been exhausting myself 9-5 for something I really didn't believe in. I wanted to get back to the goals I had for myself.”
The trip inspired Laura so much that after officially quitting Groupon, she headed west.
“I loaded up my car with whatever would fit and drove to California. I didn't have much lined up, but that was just the kind of freedom and flexibility I needed at that time,” she says.
I started running Ready to Stare officially in February 2012 so my motivation to leave came from the fact that I was wasting a big chunk of my day working for someone else when there was so much that I needed and wanted to do to grow my business. Unlike Laura and Jonnita, quitting for me was painfully long and drawn out. By December 2012, my best friend who I had forced move to Chicago from Ohio was bugging me to move somewhere else. I had my established my business in Chicago and had a boyfriend at the time so I didn’t feel like it was time to leave. But one day in late January 2013, I reached my breaking point with Groupon and my boyfriend so I broke up with him and told my best friend that we could start looking into how feasible it would be to move our lives and my business to Atlanta. I started then saving money and plotting to quit in August.
The initial relief of quitting is short-lived when financial responsibility sets in. Even with savings, we all soon felt the weight of our decision.
“I had money saved up, so I lived off that, but I blew through that money in six months,” Jonnita says. “Then life got very real. So, I started my own copy writing company. I had a nice little clientele to carry me over til income tax time. I was hustling! Any writing service I could provide, I was on it. Every dollar counted at that point. Before my money ran out, I was going really hard for my site, Yur Storee. I was doing interviews and blogging a lot, but when my money ran out, my passion for the site disappeared, because my focus was making ends meet.”
While Jonnita continued to hustle in Chicago, Laura and I faced similar struggles in our new cities where we knew no one. And probably not surprisingly, we both ended up working as baristas. For Laura, it was a reality check.
“It was humbling, to say the least,” she says. “The funny thing was that despite the pay cut, loss of benefits, and destruction of any and all manicures, I really enjoyed it! Everyone in there was hustling in some kind of way - my fellow baristas were photographers and musicians. We were all there to pay the bills on our journey towards something bigger. I was only there a few months, but it left a huge impression on me.”
My experience as a barista was not quite as pleasant. After cashing in my measly 401K and deferring all my student loans, I decided in November 2013 that working at Starbucks would be an easy and mindless way to make some extra cash. I couldn't have been more wrong.
My hours were inconsistent, my feet hurt constantly, my boss was a bitch and let's face it, khakis have never been a strong look for me. I agreed to work on Christmas after my boss guilt-tripped me into it. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t spend the holidays with my family which was hard enough but on top of that I was making million frappacinos for bratty high schoolers for $7.25 an hour. I expected at least a thank you from my boss but she told me that thanking me more than once for working on Christmas would be "groveling."
Working as a barista was just the motivation that both Laura and I needed to take ourselves one step closer to our dreams.
After working my fatal Christmas shift, I made two very important decisions: look for employment again in the corporate world so that I could support myself better until Ready to Stare sales picked up and design my first ever t-shirt -- two decisions which have allowed me to be at the point again now where I can say goodbye to corporate employment; hopefully this time for good.
For Laura, that moment of destiny came when she applied to be a sales associate at a local lingerie boutique.
She says, “The owner asked me why I wanted to work in the shop when I had so much other experience already. I was willing to work my way back up, but she let me skip ahead and gave me the opportunity to work in the studio on the marketing end. It was the break I desperately needed and I never would've gotten it had I deemed myself overqualified or too good for entry-level.”
While Jonnita never ended up serving lattes, she did end up working full-time again; this time at a loan store with a retail schedule.
“I promise, I did not go looking for this job, it found me,” she says. “But, the crazy part is, I was happier there than at my 9-5, and I was not working in my field again! Maybe it was the work environment that gave me a sense of peace. I knew I only wanted to be there temporarily, so I used my free time to put time into Yur Storee. This time, I had a plan. I knew I would work this job, try to save money, and relocate to another state.”
Since Laura and I re-located right after we quit Groupon, we had to deal with the realities of leaving behind our comfort zones in our work and personal lives.
“The first year was really difficult. I had planned to return to Chicago after a year in California, but I quickly realized that the timeline itself was stifling. I had a hard time finding a job and an apartment and I was out in a new place all by myself - it just felt very overwhelming at times,” Laura says.
While Atlanta ultimately was not the right fit for me, Laura not only found a way to survive in San Francisco; she found a way to thrive! Fulltime, she now works in media relations and social media at an art college while writing and interviewing rockstars, selling vintage on Etsy and occasionally modeling on the side.
“I've interviewed Kate Nash, Sharon Jones, Johnathan Rice and Josh Caterer (Smoking Popes) and Braid,” she says. “I'm so happy with where I am. With both jobs, I help young artists find the recognition they deserve and speak to legends. I'm surrounded by inspiring personalities all of the time, which is awesome, because I've still got so much that I want to achieve!”
Jonnita too has found a similar satisfaction in a new city. Jonnita moved to New York about two months ago. She is currently promoting her book, Five Ways to Get Your Ideas out of Your Head, and writing as much as possible.
As for me, I am leaving behind my steady paycheck for the second time much wiser than I was the first time. Ready to Stare will have its first ever studio outside the house and I will be supplementing my business with freelance writing -- a job that not only pays more than minimum wage unlike my two-month stint at Starbucks but is also what I went to school to do. I will be living in the city I grew up in where I know more than one person and this time around, I believe more in myself, the brand I've built and my talent.
One of the things I realized while talking to Jonnita and Laura about their experiences post-Groupon is that it’s foolish to believe that even with a plan that everything will fall into place. It’s during that period of time when you struggle the most that you’ll find your true strength as long as you stay positive and open to the process.
“Life is going to throw you a ton of circumstances, but you have to adapt to maneuvering around them,” Jonnita says. “I always keep in mind that circumstances are temporary, and it's just molding me for the next phase of life. This is also a time of discovery. Be open to trying new things, or even taking on different career opportunities. You never know what kind of doors can open for you, when you look outside the box.”
Laura stresses how important it is to not focus on the negative while struggling.
“Wallowing in your misery gets you nowhere, so I hustled HARD,” she says. “I still do. And you know something? It pays off. I'm still exhausted, but I sleep tight knowing I earned it.”
I have been called brave a lot over the past year since I left Groupon. Leaving behind a steady paycheck and company sponsored health insurance definitely requires guts. You need to be armed with the mindset that there are no mistakes; only learning lessons.
I love the way Jonnita framed this challenge perfectly. She called quitting her job the beginning of her fearless journey.
She says, “I am a firm believer that the world is already in perfect order. So, the decision I made at that time was destiny. That leap of faith really taught me how to not be attached to material things, especially a job. Life is about taking risks at any given moment to achieve something greater.”
I couldn't agree with her more.
This post was originally published on October 24, 2014.