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“Don’t Quit Your Day Job” vs. “Follow Your Dreams”

February 15, 2015
(image via Wikimedia)

(image via Wikimedia)

“Next month, I’m quitting my job and writing for a year,” a friend of mine said at a party.

He’s not really a friend.  He’s the husband of a coworker of my wife.  I hardly know the guy, but I don’t have a lot of friends, so I just say he’s my friend.

Anyway, his wife is going to support him while he sits around and writes a novel all day every day for a year.  It’s been a dream of his all his life to be a writer, and for a year he gets to live his dream.  He says maybe he’ll be successful and get to continue living his dream.  He has a good job now, and he knows they won’t hold it for him, so after a year (if he’s not successful writing), he’ll have to start sending out resumes and get ready for interviews.

Of course, I’m jealous.  I’d love to quit my job and simply write, but there’s no way my wife would go for it.  I’d never ask her.  My wife and I have the same philosophy: you never mess with guaranteed income.

But when my wife talked to my friend, she spent almost ten minutes telling him how much she admired him for following his passion.  I kept my mouth shut.  If I tried to quit my job and write for a year, she’d kick me out and change the locks.  She expects me to work.  I don’t blame her.  I expect me to work too.

My friend doesn’t know about my blog or my ebooks.  I could have given him some advice, told him how difficult it is to get income from just writing, especially if nobody knows who you are.  But I hesitated.  I don’t know how good of a writer he is.  He’s a smart guy, so he might have out-of-this-world talent, and I don’t know.  Also, he networks and might know people in publishing.  I was tempted to ask him if he knew anybody in publishing, but then if I told him about my blog after I asked him about his contacts in publishing (if he had any), it might have looked like I was trying to leach off his connections.

Plus, he could have taken my advice the wrong way.  He could have thought to himself, who the hell is this guy, just another schmuck who claims to have a blog?  I didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all who doesn’t know that much, so I didn’t say anything.  But I nodded with great enthusiasm as others encouraged him.

This experience could end badly for the married couple, I thought.  The wife could end up resenting my friend’s year of writing if it’s unsuccessful by their standards.  On the other hand, if my friend is successful, then he may divorce his wife, just as many famous people do once they make the transition from normal to famous.  In either case, divorce is a strong possibility, and the children will be hurt the worst.  They really should think about the children.  Yeah, they don’t have any children, but still!  You should always think of the children, even if you don’t have any.

As I stood there silently, I could have said something like “It’s good to follow your dreams,” but that sounds kind of trite and insincere.  I’d rather say nothing than sound insincere.  Maybe I should have spoken honestly to my friend about his chances of becoming a successful writer in one year.  That’s what a true friend would do, I think.  But I didn’t think it would have been wise for me to tell him not to quit his day job because his mind was already made up, and when that happens, it’s best to help the friend to succeed, rather than to second-guess himself.  So instead of saying, “For God’s sake, don’t quit your day job,” I kept quiet and thought of some practical non-writing advice for him.

* Keep the house clean while his wife works.

* Do the grocery shopping.

*Avoid writing while his wife is home.

* Get up at the same time as his wife on her work days.

*Keep the porn use to 30 minutes or less a day.  (I don’t condone watching porn when he’s supposed to be writing and his wife’s at work, but he’s 30, so it’s going to happen.  And it’s better than watching it when she’s at home.)

*****

I know I preach about waiting six months to have an opinion, but I’m not being hypocritical here.  It might sound like I have an opinion, but I don’t.  This is merely my initial reaction.  An initial reaction is not the same thing as an opinion.  I’m still open-minded enough to change the course of my thoughts after an initial reaction.  It’s tough to change an opinion.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait a year to form an opinion about this.

*****

What do you think?  Is it a good idea to quit a well-paying job to write for a year?  Should I have implored him not to quit his job, or was I right to stay away from that issue?  Should I give him my practical advice when I see him again next week?  Would you quit your job to follow your dream if your spouse offered?  Is it okay to have an opinion about this situation without knowing ahead of time what will happen?

*****

If you’re sticking with your day job, or even if you’re following your dreams, you need to say things in a polite, professional way.

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42 Comments
  1. I didn’t quit my day job so much as never find one out of graduate school, but I’m in a similar place, with an amazing spouse, of course. I think if you’re looking to start making a solid living at writing within a year of starting, you’d better be pretty good. But I would feel similarly, I would have no idea what to say. “Keep your day job” and “follow your dream” sometimes seem like equally useless pieces of advice.

  2. well if he’s confident enough to think about doing this and crazy enough to really do it then you should’t stop him 🙂 let him dream a little. We never know when the dream comes true 🙂

  3. seanwittyone permalink

    Why just a year? I’d say to quit whatever well-paying day job, that ultimately lacks gratification at the end of the day, forever. You can’t rely on one novel or one year to make or break your dreams. Following them is going to most likely result in failure before success. The best hope, if you really want to pursue your dreams, is to not give up. Even if that involves eating beans and rice for the rest of your life alone. That could be an experience and a struggle to write about on its own. Twenty years from now, he won’t have that old dried up novel sitting in the cob webs of his brain, stale and unmotivated. He went and cleared that shit out when he had the chance.

  4. Interesting post. Thanks for sharing it.

    RachelBeingChatty.com

  5. great post.

  6. If you’re young, chances are you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You may think you do, but think about how few of us are prodigies. Are you really that good? My advice is to work and save as much as you can. Write whenever you can to hone the muscle, experience as much life as you can, then quit the job cause life is short and chase the dragon. What’s the worst that can happen? You work a job that you hate, that causes you to hate yourself and everyone around you, or fail to achieve your dream? If I did the latter, it would take the mortician a study set of pliers to change the hysterical grin on my face.

  7. I am firmly in the “Keep your day job” camp, but that may just be because I already have a pretty good (and good-paying) job and have absolutely no idea what to write about every day for a year.
    And if this guy really is a good writer, he’d be just as good a writer writing nights and weekend – come on, they don’t have any children, it’s not like he’d have much to do.
    And worst comes to worst, he could limit his porn-watching from 30 minutes to 15 minutes a day for a year, and that’s would free up 90 hours of time for the writing – that’s equivalent to taking a two-week vacation off work!

  8. At the other end of the chronological spectrum: being the ‘steady income’ in our household, whist OH rins a seasonal business, I plan to return to Uni to do a degree or such in the type of subject that sits in ‘the heart’ camp. It’ll be last thing before retiring full.. but if it is successful, maybe I’ll make a million? Who knows?

  9. I say if his wife income can support the family then why not? He might or might not make it.. Living your dream is hard to do as a grown up especially when your married, but if you have a supporting spouse anything is possible…

  10. It sounds like a crazy idea to me. If I had quit my job a year ago to write full time I would have starved to death by now. (On the other hand, I don’t have a spouse so that would have been really stoopid of me!)

    Maybe this man’s spouse wants him to spend 30 minutes a day watching porn so that he will generate another “50 Shades” type of phenomenon and they can laugh together all the way to the bank. If that happens we’ll all be green with envy that we didn’t think of it first…

  11. Follow your dreams but take your brain with you.
    Don’t quit job but go for time credit instead or here where I am there is a thing called “loopbaanonderbreking” roughly translated “career break” which actually mean taking a year or more so off but still being paid.

  12. I’d definitely leave my job to write full time, if I could. But I enjoy traveling and buying nice things too much, so I’ll have to content with the day job and writing whenever I can, which is more frequent than you’d thing. Honestly, it isn’t that hard. I mean I got myself a nice 80% job, so I don’t work Mondays, but still make enough income to have a nice life.
    So I really can’t see why he’d quit a secure source of income, when he could be a writer AND earn money with the day job, because let’s face it, it’s really hard making a decent income from writing.

  13. I’m all for taking a writing break when you can. I’ve been lucky enough to get a few small breaks. I didn’t become an amazing published or produced writer but I definitely got much happier. When I have to work, I steal my writing time from other parts of my schedule – like sleep – and get to feel like I’ve won a little something for myself.

    Love the to do list. If your partner is picking up the tab, definitely do all the shopping and cooking and cleaning.

    • I’m retired. It’s finally time to try new things, and writing is definitely one of them. With the self-publishing options out there, and my new found free time, I’ve created a masterpiece (babyboomerreflections.com) albeit in my own mind. It should come out in April or May. At that point, I’ll know whether I was smart to keep my day job or I wasted all that time working.

  14. Many, many years ago I was at a dinner with my then wife and another couple. A discussion came up about a mutual friend who was doing well as an attorney. We were all in our thirties at the time. Our mutual friend, single, worked in banking law and hated it. He was good at it, but he hated it with a passion. He wanted to quit the job and go to baking school to learn how to be a baking chef.

    My ex, myself, and the wife of the other couple all agreed that our friend should follow his heart. But the husband of the other couple got visibly angry at the “foolishness” of our friend’s thinking. I remember him going off on such a long, hostile rant. It was obvious that he too was unhappy in his job, probably harbored similar escape fantasies, but was too locked into the handcuffs of practicalities. There was that long silence at the table before we finally got onto a different topic. The next day the wife of the other couple called to apologize for her husband’s behavior.

    Our mutual friend never did leave his job, though he did find something other than banking law in which to eventually focus. And he can bake a damn good pastry or two.

    I always think of that moment at the restaurant when something like this comes up about other people. In the end, my view is always that people still should follow their hearts and dreams.

  15. nicolewruns permalink

    I’d love to quit my job to stay home with my young kids and write full-time, but it just isn’t practical. The chances of me becoming “famous” are pretty slim. Maybe, if I eventually finish my book and it takes off, I could quit my day job to stay home and write a second book. I think you were right to keep your initial reaction and most advice to yourself, but I agree that this is probably going to be a very difficult path for your friend and his marriage. 🙂

  16. Kate Conroy permalink

    I think you were right to keep quiet — let him make his own mistakes. A better idea for him would be to keep his job and just try to write more in his free time.

  17. Reblogged this on themonkseal.

  18. I’m with you: don’t quit the guaranteed income. He can still write while working; there’s nothing to stop him from doing so. Plus, I fear the wife will become resentful that he stays home earning nothing while she works. Even reasonable people get jealous and irritated.

  19. Chaos in Light permalink

    Reblogged this on Chaos in Light and commented:
    We all think it, I know I do – what are your thoughts?

  20. Oh dear! I would love to quit my job and write everyday, but our household couldn’t survive on only one income :-(. I do fear for this man as it is very hard to make money out of writing, also I don’t know of many couples with only one bread winner not suffering from resentment at some level. Hopefully he succeeds and can teach us all a thing or two :-).

  21. I think if that was my friend, I would envy him but there would be a lot of red flags going up. For one thing, most people, if given a whole year to write, would end up wasting a lot of that time since as you know, writing takes a ton of discipline. Plus, unless he’s been writing for years already, even a whole year of writing probably won’t be enough to be publishable. I know it wouldn’t have been for me. I’ve been writing for 9 years and I don’t know if that’s enough yet. Of course, everyone is different. Good luck to him, I suppose.

  22. I dream of quitting my job and being something else every two hours. But being Indian, I’m wired to opt for stability and security. Not having a steady job would, I don’t know, unhinge me. So if I saw someone taking a year off work, I’d be both jealous and skeptical.

    As for whether you should’ve warned your friend, I think the answer is no. Quite frankly, unless you’re really close to a person, there’s no right way to tell them that they should rethink their decision. So maybe you should just leave them to their own devices!

  23. An old story in a new setting. Writers never has the luxury of finding readers until recently when the Internet opened to amateurs. Unless you were professional with an agent of a publisher or worked for a paper or a magazine, you starved when writing. There is even less money in writing today than there was years ago. However, if you are truly a writer, you still write. SEE:
    http://kennethharperfinton.me/2015/01/09/the-writers-dilemma/

  24. I think the dream here is more quitting a job for a year. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to do that at least once? Not have to worry about waking up early or be on someone else’s time. Yes, he will be doing something he loves, but you can do everything you love while doing something you NEED. That is a large jump just up and quitting. But I wish him well! Very bold to do something like that!
    I feel everyone envies him, writer or not.

  25. Anonymous permalink

    If writing has always being the first love..
    Hold strong to that dream and quit the damn job..
    #JustSaying
    Great work you are doing on here..
    Thanks
    Just followed your blog hope you return the favour #bless

  26. If you’re single, do what you love. If you’re married, do what she loves (and do what you love when she’s in the middle of loving what you’re doing).

  27. Reblogged this on L.P.'s and commented:
    There’s a story of someone who was making $60,000 + per annum and, because he sold a short story, he was going to quit his job. After all, he was now a writer.
    Yes, do what you love, but you may want to consider being comfortable as you love what you do.
    -lp

  28. I quit mine three years ago and thought I would be productive and write more. But things arise and chores have to get done and you trim your luxuries with one income, and the dream doesn’t always come true. But hey, it’s better than working like a chump. 🙂

  29. He should quit his job and strive to make a big hit on his book.Remember who wrote Harry Potter?

  30. Reblogged this on Names Starting With 'Z' and commented:
    I found this article in Disfunctional Literacy, a blog I follow. It discusses a question that many indie authors ask themselves at one time in their lives. Should I quit my job and just write?

  31. Clare Xanthos permalink

    Despite your well-founded reservations, I think you were right not to cast doubt on his aspirations. People have done this to me in the past (with regard to different goals) and it was extremely frustrating. In my case, I went on to prove the doubters wrong on every “unrealistic” goal.

  32. I think it depends on the person. For me, I don’t think I would quit the job until I have income coming in. It makes more sense to be exhausted from writing and working for a year then from being completely broke because I’m just learning a new field.

  33. hallemeckl permalink

    Although I am working two jobs, I can relate a lot to your friend. I’m taking a break from going to college so I can pursue a writing/blogging career. I believe if it is a dream your friend is trying to pursue, then he should go for it. I am all about chasing dreams and chasing what makes a person happy in life, even if that means setting everything aside for however long in order to pursue whatever it is they’re searching for or trying to become. Sometimes it’s necessary to set everything aside and start fresh. Sometimes it’s a lesson learned, and sometimes it’s a dream achieved.

  34. I really enjoyed this post. Your insight to the subject is most refreshing.

  35. I don’t trust any writer who DOESN’T have a day job. How can you write about life if you don’t actively live in it? Many famous writers had day jobs. Keep your day job and write in your spare time. Quitting a good job to write is stupid. Life isn’t a Disney movie. “Follow your dreams” is stupid advice because if everyone did that, who would pick up the garbage or clean the toilets?

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