Why I Quit My Job To Do What I Love, And Why You Should Too

I just quit my full time job of six years as a video producer at a local college. A decent salary, good benefits, and the security that came with it… all gone. I'm now focusing on my dream project called Ascending India (our film trailer is what’s featured) and I might go broke trying to make it. Read on and I’ll tell you why I couldn’t be more excited, and why you might want to consider trying to make your dream project happen too.

I had been trying to get more adventure and documentary work, so if I were hired to produce a compelling story about rock climbing, that also takes places in a foreign country, I’d have my dream job. I finally decided to stop waiting for it to happen, and make it happen myself.

Some of you might be familiar with another writer on this website named Mike Kelley. I’ve never met the guy in person, but we’ve had a few conversations about travel and photography. What prompted these discussions was an article where Mike was interviewed about self-funding an Iceland photography trip. Here's an example of one of his photos:

fstoppers-mike-kelley-iceland

Mike's concept was simple. To paraphrase his idea, I'll put it like this:
“Why should I wait for someone to hire me for a dream project? Why can’t I just go do my dream project, on my own dime and time, and sate my creative soul while at the same time adding to my portfolio EXACTLY the kind of work I’d like to get paid for?”

A seed was planted, and over the next year, it slowly began to sprout in me.

Remember the old Career Advisor in high school who would ask you what you would do if you had all the money in the world? And then your answer should point you in the right direction for a career? I used to scoff at this (because I was 16 and I clearly knew everything) but as with many lessons learned in life, I see now that it made a lot of sense.

Think about those personal projects that you might work on in your spare time. The projects that really invigorate you, the stories you yearn to share, and people you actually like to work with. Everyone wants to do this and get paid, so it's the career goal of most. And sure enough, there are a few that get to that level. But instead of waiting for the “big break”, why not give it to yourself? This kind of thinking can create some serious change in your life. Damn you Mike Kelley. I quit my job, took on my dream project, and am now moving to Colorado. This is what my condo has looked like for the last month:

fstoppers-quit-your-job-condo

Opportunities and circumstances started to move in favor of a big change for me in the last year, and I began to see that I was ready to take the plunge. I handed in my resignation at my full time job just a couple of weeks ago. I encourage you to do the same. Besides what Mike Kelley suggested, here's some further insight I've learned that might help you prepare yourself mentally, and financially, to go for it yourself.

You’ll need to have saved some money.

All those boring corporate headshots you’ve been taking? You loathe weddings but the money is good? Tired of smelling like cigarettes and booze after stripping all night? Do it and deal with it… but only for a while. Save up some cash, just like you might for a vacation. When the time is right, use that money to self-fund your dream project. The money from the last 4 years of freelancing has gone right back into my business, buying new gear and setting myself up to chase a dream project.

Get creative.

Mike Kelley made deals to trade photos for places to crash. I'm working with local businesses to get gear for fundraisers. I'm also trying to crowdfund for the first time... which could be a HUGE boost to the project. Chances are, whatever your creative aspirations are, there are people willing to support your art and work with you for something other than money in return.

Getting there might not be as simple as Point A to Point B.

A good friend of mine Joshua Pardon (who coincidentally just left town last month to pursue his own new career adventures) turned me on to another concept which played a role in the plan to get my dream gig. On the way to a shoot one night, I explained to him that I was applying for jobs in Colorado and Utah, trying to get hired as an editor or director with some of the adventure production companies out there. I had not gotten many responses back, so was struggling coming to terms with moving out there without a secure job.

Joshua’s advice was this: It doesn’t have to be a 1 step process. Going from the safe, full-time job at a college in Michigan to making adventure films in the mountains is quite a leap… who’s to say that it won’t take 2, 3, or even 4 steps to get there? For example, moving out West and taking up whatever work I can find (hopefully not as the greeter at Wal-Mart) could be step 1. Then meeting local producers and getting some freelance work out there doing the boring stuff I do now could be step 2, and actually meeting folks in person and attending interviews rather than just Skyping could be step 3. Step 4, profit (aka getting the dream gig).

Everyone's path is different.

Mike Kelley went to Iceland for a couple weeks and took some AMAZING photos, while having the time of his life, and not making a dime. In a few months, I’ll hopefully be on a plane to India, where I will seek to tell the story of rock climbing development there. It's possible that this largely unknown sport could shift the culture of the youth in India to take more of an interest in the environment and their own personal growth. I'm not sure what your dream project might be, but I'd encourage you to really consider pursing what you love. Picture very related: (this is the Holstee Manifesto, if you've never seen it before. Credit goes to them for the photo below.)

fstoppers-The_Holstee_Manifesto

Worried about going broke?

Keep some money stashed in case everything crashes and burns. If you're creative and cunning enough to make a cool project happen, you can probably get back on your feet too. Having friends and family support you doesn't hurt either. I'm fortunate to have an amazingly supportive group of friends, and a girlfriend I somehow tricked into supporting my unemployed self out in Colorado, in case I do spend all of my savings.

I know my project is going to take about a year to produce, and likely cost me more than a year's salary for all the travel expenses, insurance, flights, vaccinations, lodging, meals, gear, marketing, designs, etc. I'm prepared to do what I can to make it happen though. When my project is finished, I will have gained so much knowledge and experience that is directly related to the work I want to do. Plus, I’ll have an incredible portfolio piece that lets clients know exactly what work I can do. So I might go completely broke, but I don’t imagine that I’ll say that way. Worst case scenario: I go broke doing something that was absolutely incredible and fulfilling.

Still not sure about cutting loose?

Life is supposed to be an adventure. Go live it.

I’m off to Colorado in just a few weeks, without a job, but with a backup plan and a support system in place should my path crumble before me. This project I have on my hands has enormous potential, and it will feed my creative soul well into 2014. It's worth the risk, and I'm excited for the adventure.

If any of you have cut and run to chase your dreams, I would love to hear about how that worked out for you, and what you learned along the way. Also, if you’d like to support my dream chasing, please take 2 minutes out of your day and look at my Kickstarter for Ascending India. Thanks for reading.

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23 Comments

Gosh I would love to! But unfortunately, I have a baby daughter who needs a secure stream of income. More power to you, brother! =)

Love this. SUPER inspiring. Keep living life man!

Inspirational and motivational, what a great article. Good look on your adventures, Mike! -Tabbatha

Zach Sutton's picture

Another great article. Consider me motivated.

Do it before...houses, kids, child support, alimony, life commitments...

I wish I was young. Enjoy!!

Savi You's picture

yep, unfortunately most of us only realize we want to do this after life has taken over.

This is terrible! I'm going to do everything in my power to raise my kids with this knowledge. They must find their passion and dreams before they settle down.

Have a plan for distributing the film early on... applying to film festivals is not a distribution plan. Develop the Kickstarter community that you build. Update often, blog about your experiences good or bad. Get the film done as quickly as possible, don't get bogged down by perfection. Good luck.

David Geffin's picture

Nice article Mike! Was in similar place to you when i moved from London to NYC last year. It's scary but at the same time you truly feel like you're living. Best of luck to you, the project sounds amazing (and let me know if you want any tips on India, we spent a month there last year).

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Dave- I definitely feel alive. We should chat, would love to hear about your work in India.

I did something similar, backpacked around the world, but with one mistake: I went with the woman I loved. I needed to go, she didn't, but she was willing to go with me. I'm married to a different woman today... I don't recommend that. If you have a journey in your soul, you may have to do it alone. Often what you are looking for is in you, you can distract the journey with others.

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Interesting advice. I could easily see how focusing on an intensive project, or embarking on a journey like yours requires a lot of focus, and doesn't leave much time for developing close relationships with people, or sleep.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I can't imagine being away from my love for more than a week - so she'd have to come otherwise my distraction would be that she wasn't by my side...!

True, if I'm photographing a market or on a photographic day out project, then I'll be sending her off to buy shoes, (why do women need so many shoes...? ha...) or inviting her to explore on her own for a bit so that I can concentrate - but a journey not shared is just extra miles on the clock for me.

Get out while you can, and beware the gilded cage of high income jobs that pay way too much to abandon for what you love. There are far worse problems to have, but it does keep you from living your dream.

Agreed! I just made the same jump 2 weeks ago and left my job of 5 years to persue photography full time and launch a photography ebook I've been writing called Hacking Photography. Since then I've landed my first commercial photography job for a big footwear company I love, lined up shoots for local companies I like, and its all lined up. The biggest fear is fear itself. Great write up, I'll share the kickstarter campaign. Good luck!

Mike Wilkinson's picture

That's awesome dude! It's amazing what you can accomplish when motivated by your passions. Good luck and thanks for the share!!

Loved the article as I'm in something very similar, but in a mission capacity - capturing the lives that are being changed all around the world and sharing my faith in Jesus. So, I've started to do some photography to get my name out there and do just as recommend and doing weddings/headshots/portraits etc to make money and save up. Life is short, live for more than just sitting behind a desk or doing someone else's dream or work. While being single - it's much easier - but even if you are married/relationship - what a way to take your relationship (if like minded) on an adventure!

I agree, I'd love to but then the reality hits back: It's almost impossible to get enough money to live with photographing.

You don't know what people deal with in their lives to tell them what to do. Worry about your own life.

Hi Mike!

I agree with you. Why would we wait someone to hire us for doing what we love, instead of hiring us ourselves?

I'm planning to do that: Make a living from my blog and quit my job.

Funny thing, I just packed everything I truly needed into my truck (camera, snowboard, surfboard, some tools, a sleeping bag, couple changes of cloths) and took off to Lake Tahoe for the winter. And what after I don't know, my girl is here with me, and we're chasing dreams. I'm hard after a passion for filming extreme sports, shes happy to enjoy nature and the yoga scene here in the mountains. Just cut loose, no place to go back too, making it happen. we've got a seasonal job and a couple bucks... any its working. There is so much opportunity everywhere, everything is a stepping stone to the next thing, and I'm sure that I will be able to fulfill my hopes of filming all winter. She'll find people passionate that she can relate too. And truth of the matter is, once you get into your car and start making that drive, you've already succeeded. It will be true for you as well! Good luck man.

Awesome. i m into a situation, well, i dont know what i will do in
coming days. but i want to get out of this job hell. from last 3 years i
m working in IT, everyday is like i am bored/fed up/frustrated with it
now. but because of money i cant quit my job. no one understand from
what i am going through. they feel i am just reasoning to run away from
job.

this might sound funny, BUT .. I have made up my
mind to join full time Gym. i am impressed by one of my friend who
transformed from 0 to a hulk. i mean happy hulk.

so i am all set to start my

What a great story. I left my job in November to join a startup and focus on building my blog with co-founder. Everyone has to come to the decision on their own terms but I realized when it was the right decision I knew it whole heartedly- no looking back! Read my story here... http://www.thesinglediaries.com/mydiaries/i-quit-my-job-to-follow-my-dre...