Not too long ago (last year), I was getting shuffled back and forth across the country meeting with clients and managing architectural build projects as I was running the design department at an innovative little company here in LA. It was a great position, I worked on some amazing projects with some incredibly talented people, and I learned a ton in the 4 years that I spent at that job.
At some point, however, I decided I wanted more out of my career. I wanted to be able to pursue my own passion projects, truly call my own shots professionally, and gain more flexibility with my work schedule to allow for more travel, pursuit of hobbies, exercise, and everything else I had been neglecting for years. Six figure salary or not, working 60+ hour workweeks in a constant state of stress was just no longer cutting it for me. It was time to feel 110% passionate about my work and on my own terms.
So on those flights that seemed to happen at least twice a month, my head was (literally) in the clouds dreaming about starting up my own creative venture and blog. Not a bad view, right? I started buying book after book hoping to be pointed in the right direction. Turns out, many of them were quite inspiring & informative. And ultimately, these books gave me the confidence to believe that taking the leap was the right decision for me (it's not for everyone) and that I (probably) wouldn't fall flat on my face while doing it.
The 4-Hour Workweek was definitely the gateway book that got me to start imaging another way of working that didn't involve being chained to a desk at an office (do you know how hard that is in LA when the weather is always beautiful and there's so much to explore out there?). Tim Ferriss really turned my way of thinking upside down with this one. While some of his ideas, like outsourcing tasks overseas, were a little too extreme for me, other ideas were really compelling.
For instance, he walks you through "dreamlining," where you basically start thinking about the life you want to lead 6 months to a year from now. Once you've narrowed down your goals, you work backward to create incremental steps towards achieving them. The whole exercise really helps to establish what's personally important to you and to define a game plan for moving forward. I've "dreamlined" a few times now and it's really helped me to focus on my goals while also keeping me accountable for their progress.
This book also made me remember a mantra that I had when I started taking risks in high school (which consequently really paid off): "what's the worst that could happen?" It's easy to hold back from stepping outside our comfort zones assuming we'll end up in some super desperate state if things fail; but, oftentimes, even the "worst case" is less bad than what we initially imagine.
Another exercise this book walks you through is understanding your budget and how certain life moves impact it. I started realizing how freelancing was actually more attainable than it seemed. Traveling around the world and working from anywhere? This book convinced me that a life on the move would be totally doable...although bicoastal living is more my speed.
Most of all, this book made me start believing that I could change the way I was living with a little bit of courage and ingenuity.
I read Knowing Your Value quite a while back when I had already taken on a lot more responsibility at work without a pay increase. It got me really fired up about about the pay gap between men and women in the workplace and also opened my eyes to the circumstances surrounding my own situation.
Mika Brzezinski helps to identify many of the reasons why women often fail to get the raises that their male peers do and offers a lot of advice to help navigate through the professional world.
This booked armed me with some great tactics to work towards getting paid what I was worth; however, I ultimately got tired of putting up the good fight to get compensated appropriately. This was perhaps once of the biggest motivators for wanting to leave my 9-5. I knew that the only way to truly control the fate of my salary was to be my own boss.
While reading many of these books, I realized that the reason why I hadn't left my job yet was because there was no other 9-5 job out there that really excited me. The last thing I felt like doing was working in another office. And then I got to thinking, what if I could just work for myself? What would I even do?
Click Millionaires got me to consider what I really enjoy and how I ultimately want to spend my time. At a point when all of my work felt like drudgery, the thought of pursuing new types of passion projects directly related to my interests got me excited! And if I could manage to have more than 15 PTO days a year to travel (especially back to the East Coast to visit my family), even better.
This book introduced me to new ways of making revenue outside of what I've always done - architectural & interior design. It really inspired me to look into blogging, developing e-books, and publishing informative content online. I had already been writing and laying out project summaries, proposals, and marketing materials as part of my job. Why not repurpose those skills for topics that truly interest me?
The $100 Startup built upon the advice of the other books I had been reading to convince me that starting up my own venture was the way to go. It gave me a better understanding of how I could make money doing work directly related to my interests and how that work could also benefit other people.
This book touches on crucial topics like establishing who your target customer will be and determining which ideas you should pursue first. I've found that, at any given time, I have a list of 15-20 projects I'd like to initiate. This book helped me to evaluate them against different factors to narrow down which efforts to focus on right off the bat.
The $100 Startup, like many other books mentioned in this entry, is filled with chapters that are useful at different points in the freelance journey. For instance, there's a section that discusses the ideal way to launch a product. Well, when I was first starting out, I really didn't even know what products I was going to sell so I quickly skimmed past that information. Now that I'm much closer to introducing my line, it's time to revisit that chapter.
So somewhere in the middle of reading all of these books on how to leave a steady salary in pursuit of independence, I also read Thrive by Arianna Huffington. And, wow, did it make me realize how toxic my 9-5 life had really become. In the year before I quit my job, I had never been so exhausted, so stressed, and so unhealthy. I was entirely burned out.
As my grandma used to always say, "stress will kill you" and this book was a helpful reminder of that message. When we're overworked, we don't get a break from technology, we don't exercise, we don't put the right food into our bodies, we deprive ourselves of sleep, we don't get out to enjoy the world around us, we neglect important relationships, and we certainly don't get enough of a mental break. Essentially, we pay a huge price...and for what? This book is an excellent reminder that no job should make you neglect yourself, your life, and the people that mean so much to you.
Of all of the books I read, Creative, Inc. offered the most straightforward guide to starting a creative freelance business. This book walks you step-by-step through processes like establishing your business name and setting up a business bank account. It really helped me with things like determining my freelance rate and coming up with the forms I use for client proposals and invoices. There's also great advice about branding (one of the things I was so excited to do for myself) and establishing best practices while working on your own.
Ultimately, Creative, Inc. is packed with SO many recommendations and resources needed at just about any point along the way. So really what I'm saying is, if any of you want to feel like you've got a good friend to hold your hand and help you navigate through the new world of starting your own business, this is the book for you.
Since I knew I wanted to start my own blog, I turned to Blog, Inc. Similar to Creative, Inc., it walked me through just about everything I needed to know. Even if you already have a blog, you'll probably find a ton more tips to help you improve what you're doing (I swear I've earmarked every other page).
This book helped me start thinking about the look & feel of my blog as well as the content that I would feature on it. It also helped me realize that the best content is not necessarily what you think readers want to read, but instead what you are personally excited to share. I've since found that whenever I'm really excited about a topic, not only can I write endlessly, but I also end up getting a ton of traffic to my site.
Since I'm trying to blog daily, I also like how this book gives a lot of insight into the different types of posts that you can feature. I'm constantly trying to figure out what I'll write about next so this introduced me to a slew of possibilities to inspire new content.
Blog, Inc. also made me realize that I should infuse some of my personal life into my blog and social media accounts. After keeping my life outside of work so private for so long, this has been one of my biggest struggles. While I was in a leadership role at my 9-5, I knew clients were Googling my credentials (thanks LinkedIn for the heads-up) so I became overly cautious about not posting anything "unprofessional" online. Now that I've left, I'm slowly getting more comfortable with putting myself and my personal life out there in the blogosphere. Hi!
On a similar note, this book helps to navigate and understand the benefits of the social aspects of establishing an online presence. I've got to say, interacting with everyone online, through Instagram, on Facebook, etc. has been one of my favorite parts of starting up Modern Tiki Lounge. I feel like I've made a whole new community of friends!
Even if you're not looking to make a huge career change but know that something needs to give in your life, The Desire Map provides a great guide for identifying what to do. Of all of the books I read, it provided the best soul-searching workbook I could really ask for. It asks questions that dig deep and help you really identify #1 what's currently wrong and #2 what could make your life better. It also taps into what you're truly talented at doing and what really makes you happy.
I feel like I know myself pretty well and I already spend a lot of time sorting through my brain but this book really helped me put things down on paper to gain greater clarity about what I should do next.
One exercise involved making a bunch of lists and whittling down the words that best described how I wanted to feel. This is what I chose: happy, free, accomplished, engaged, energized, at peace, creatively expressive, inspired, purposefully guided, growing expansively, and appreciated. At my 9-5, all of those things were missing. I knew it was time to make a big change.
In the middle of reading all of these books and dreaming of what my life could be like if I left my 9-5, I made this (kind of random) list:
Since quitting my job, I've managed to work just about all of those things into my life. Many have actually become central to my new work (design consulting, blogging, and product designing) and, honestly, I couldn't be happier.
Thinking of taking the leap too? Definitely pick up some of the above books and do your research ahead of time. There are plenty of free articles online and lots of blog and business oriented boards up on Pinterest too. If it's possible to get the ball rolling before you leave your steady paycheck, it's worth doing. In my case, I was too busy to really start anything until after I left my job, which was a risk I was willing to take. It's also worth saving all the money you can in advance. Full disclosure: I took out a substantial loan through Kabbage to make sure I didn't fall flat on my face financially.
Know of any other books that are great for people looking to start blogs, their own creative companies, etc? Please share!
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