PART ONE: Before the Jump
It’s Time for a Change
Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to make an assumption about you: Life is not how you thought it would be.
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but your experience is actually pretty common, especially among people our age (the not-so-recent graduates, twentysomethings, and young professionals of the world). There’s even a sociological term for it: quarter-life crisis. That’s right—you don’t have to wait until midlife to have a crisis of your own anymore. And, unlike in the crises of midlife, you probably don’t have nearly enough money just yet to distract yourself with a shiny new sports car, plastic surgery, or a set of golf clubs.
The quarter-life crisis—characterized by insecurities, disappointments, loneliness, and depression—typically strikes twenty- and thirtysomethings shortly after they enter the “real world.” In fact, a recent study by the Depression Alliance (like the Avengers, only really sad) found that a third of all people in their twenties feel depressed.
Why? All sorts of reasons, but it all boils down to a feeling that your life is on the wrong track. You’re drifting toward a distant shore you have no desire to reach while your real dreams fade further and further into the unreachable distance.
Which is confusing and, honestly, just doesn’t seem fair. You really aren’t asking for much: You just want a job that combines your passions and skills, provides a reasonable income, and allows you to spend time with people you love. And the dead-end, soul-deadening job you’ve been clocking into for the last few years isn’t exactly all you’d hoped and dreamed for yourself. Work isn’t your life, you say, yet (like it or not) it takes up a pretty big chunk of it—about 33 percent big. So … why are you spending a third of your life doing something you never wanted to?
You’ve barely lived three decades and you’re already wracked with regrets.
Maybe you don’t even hate the work itself. You may even like your boss and consider many of your colleagues your friends. What you hate is that forty, fifty, sixty hours of your week don’t feel anything like the few hours you get every now and again when you find time to do the thing you really love. You hate that you have to lay your dreams aside every Monday morning.
Still, you probably have your reasons for staying in that job that’s making you miserable: You need a steady paycheck and health insurance, or you’d rather tough it out in a bad situation you’re familiar with than risk something new. I get it. But here’s my advice for you:
You can quit, you know. It’s okay. Forget what you’ve heard about winners never quitting, because that’s just not true. Smart people quit the right things at the right time. And, let’s be honest, how’s the whole “sticking it out” approach working for you? Do you feel like a winner right now? Or completely defeated?
Here are three all-too-common signs that it’s high time to call it quits and move on:
Don’t worry, you’re not alone—most surveys over the last three years agree that less than 40 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work. Generally, the numbers are even worse for those under the age of twenty-five, where we’re posting the lowest job satisfaction rates since 1987. In other cheery news, worker unhappiness has shown a consistent upward trend in that time. Now, maybe you’re unhappy because you’re just a grouchy person; but I believe most people are unhappy because they’re just not doing what they know they should be.
Another prime indicator is boredom. A report from the Conference Board found only half the U.S. workforce even finds their job interesting. To me, that’s shocking and sad. But let’s face it: A lot of boring stuff happens at most companies, which means you’re probably asked to work on a lot of it. The fact that the work is relatively easy or that it pays a lot doesn’t really compensate after a while, and you start to feel like you’re wasting your time. If your work doesn’t challenge you or make good use of your strengths, I think it’s time to go.
As many as a third of all American workers feel like their careers have reached a dead end. You could even be content with your pay grade and indifferent to “climbing the corporate ladder” and still feel like there’s no room for you to grow. If you’ve learned everything you can, contributed everything you have to contribute, and continue to clock in only because you don’t know what else to do or where to go, start planning your exit.
There are a thousand other subtle signs it’s time for a change, but one of them in particular is my favorite and, really, the heartbeat behind this book.
One of the best reasons to change directions—to Jump Ship, so to speak—is because you know there’s something you actually care about.
If you’re more excited about your hobby than you are about your job, look for a job related to your hobby. If you have a gift or a skill that makes your heart sing like Taylor Swift every time you use it, get paid for using that gift. If you’ve always dreamed of owning an animal shelter or working as a Hollywood makeup artist—and you’ve got the talent for these things—drop what you’re doing and start pursuing it now. It’s going to take a while to earn success, so why not start earning it now?
Walking into work on Monday and wishing you were “anywhere else” is one thing. Ordinary discontent, maybe. But walking into work on Monday and wishing you were writing, speaking, cooking, gardening, decorating, designing, strategizing, building, investing, or teaching—some specific desire that wells up inside you and pulls at the corners of your mind—is something else entirely. That is a dream longing to be lived.
I Believe That You Were Born with a Purpose
You were created to make something of your life that no other person on the planet or in the history of the world ever could. If you don’t do it, it might never be done. And you, and only you, know what that thing is. This is your dream, and if you don’t bring your dream to life, your dream dies with you.
I dare you to deny that it’s true. Deep in your heart, you know that this thing—this dream—lives within you. And you have to pursue it. You have to at least try. The fact that you haven’t tried is, I believe, why you’re so bummed out and discouraged about your life right now. The life you were born to live remains unlived within you.
It’s important that you hear this: It’s not too late to pursue your dream. And, nine times out of ten, it’s probably possible to get paid for it, too. I’m not saying you’ll get rich (although you may). But having the whole world means nothing if you gain it at the expense of your soul.
I know that sounds serious, but that’s because I take all this pretty seriously. I’ve seen what a difference it can make in a person’s life when they’re working a job that makes them come alive. Many of my friends and peers have made the jump. I’ve helped dozens of people like you make the jump and documented the process to encourage others to do the same.
So many people in your shoes do nothing. Remember how I said earlier that fewer than 40 percent of Americans report feeling satisfied with their jobs? Another study done in early 2012 by Accenture found that 70 percent of unhappy employees planned to stay put. If you’re a normal human being, raised with school counselors telling you exactly what grades would get you which scholarships and which college programs would get you which careers, you probably have trouble cutting through all the stuff programmed into you. You might not feel like you have permission to just abandon the norm, Jump Ship, and go after your dreams.
After all, according to tradition and honor …
Captains Go Down with Their Ships
Or so the saying goes. Turns out that there’s actually a lot of legend and misinformation surrounding the whole idea. And, for the sake of this metaphor, there are a few other things we ought to clarify.
There was an embarrassing and rather tragic incident in January 2012 where the Costa Concordia, a 4,200 passenger Italian cruise ship, ran aground off the coast of Italy when a combination of “human error” and “violations” of the company’s safety guidelines brought the vessel too close to shore. Basically, the captain was an idiot. To make matters worse, he was one of the first persons to abandon ship, leaving the crew and passengers behind in chaos. He later claimed that he had “left the ship accidentally” after tripping and falling into a rescue craft. Poor man. From his story, I suspect he has a long history of similar misfortunes; I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that, as a child, his dog often ate his homework.
Following this incident, however, there was a sudden interest in the old phrase “a captain goes down with his ship,” where it comes from and whether it has any basis in law.
It’s a noble concept. It is thought that the whole idea derives from the medieval ideal of chivalry, which (to oversimplify) basically teaches that people of high station or power have the moral obligation to look after those who are disadvantaged. Anyway, there are a bunch of stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of captains who, when their vessels were in distress, put themselves in danger to evacuate the passengers and personnel. Captain Smith of the doomed RMS Titanic is probably the captain who most people associate with this expression, although the idea predates him (and there’s some debate about the good captain’s actual conduct as the ship went down). There is also a rather famous story about a Japanese admiral in World War II who insisted on going down with his sinking aircraft carrier rather than be rescued.
The principle is clear: The captain will be the last person to leave the ship alive prior to its sinking or destruction, and, if unable to rescue his crew and passengers, the captain will not evacuate himself.
The idea sounds noble—and it is. But in the context of your work and your dreams, your personal moral obligation is most certainly not to go down with the ship. In fact, it is one of the most compelling reasons to make the jump.
Why do I say this? Two reasons: (1) each and every one of you is a captain; (2) none of you is on your own ship.
This ship you’re on, this job you work for, this company you work for, isn’t your ship. Whether or not it goes down at sea is not your concern or responsibility. You’re just a passenger.
You see, no one has ever suggested a captain go down with just any old ship, like it’s their duty as captains to climb aboard the first doomed vessel they see and proudly drown. No one calls that fool a hero. Captains are expected to go down with their ship. Ultimately, this phrase is about taking personal responsibility for those under your care, not about staying needlessly in a hopeless situation. It’s about doing everything you can—even if it costs you your life—to protect and save what has been entrusted to you. But sometimes you’re just a passenger on someone else’s ship, and from where you sit, it doesn’t look good. Or the captain is steering in a direction you never wanted to go. Or you’re under attack from pirates. Get out. Save yourself.
But really, when I’m telling you to Jump Ship, I’m not simply encouraging you to save yourself. This isn’t a book about how to be a selfish brat that doesn’t give a rip about the thousands of people drowning around you. In fact, by the end of all this, you’ll be in excellent condition to pull all kinds of people out of the ocean. It’s just that, right now, you have a bigger concern.
Your Ship Is in Trouble
It might be a perfectly sound vessel on a straight course. But it’s going to someplace you just don’t want to go. It’s someone else’s ship, and it’s working great for them. The problem is that while you’ve been taking a ride on someone else’s ship, your own vessel drifts toward a rocky coastline with no one at the helm. The ship I’m talking about—the ship you should be concerned about—is the one you were born to command. It’s time to get your ship together. (Forgive me.)
The ship you command is the U.S.S. One and Only Life. Where are you steering her? For that matter, are you steering at all? Or are you stowing away in third class—given up on your “one and only life”—and surrendered the tiller to others or let her drift along wherever the current takes her?
What too many people do is simply leap from sinking ship to sinking ship, looking for happiness in other people’s dreams. They know they’re headed the wrong way—they can tell something isn’t right—but they just think quitting is the answer. They need a fresh start, that’s all.
The other day I heard someone say that quitting your job is the new American Dream. I hope it isn’t. Quitting all by itself is a stupid goal and an empty dream. Sometimes the way people talk about retirement has the same hollow feel—like work is just this sad, awful thing you have to spend all your life doing until maybe finally you have enough money to quit and enjoy doing nothing for a few years before your body stops working. Ugh. Depressing, right?
I think older generations helped shape these attitudes. Not that it’s your parents’ fault that you hate your job. It’s a cultural thing. For generations and generations, people have been stewing in their regrets and passing down faulty thinking. How often have you heard someone say to a young person who’s preparing to travel internationally or volunteer with a cause they believe in something along the lines of “Enjoy it while you can” or “Get it out of your system while you’re young”? As if everything fun is off-limits once you enter the workforce. No more travel to Europe or volunteering overseas or learning new things once you’re a grown-up. Grown-ups have to be practical—and apparently unhappy—until they retire and prepare to die. Oh, what fun.
Maybe it’s somehow comforting to older people to think that they “couldn’t” pursue their dreams once they were older. It makes a great excuse. After all, if they didn’t have a choice but to settle down, they can’t help it that they didn’t live their dream. It’s easier to believe—and teach, consciously or not—that idealism is for kids or that living your dream is a childhood fantasy than it is to face the possibility that they abandoned their dreams.
I don’t want this strong statement to be seen as speculation. I continually see this sort of thinking again and again.
Don’t make the fatal mistake of clinging to beliefs about yourself and your circumstances that simply don’t match reality. Hear me: You are not locked in. Your fate isn’t sealed. That feeling of being trapped in a downward spiral is an illusion. You can break free, you can find and make a living doing what you love, and I can show you the way.
It’s your choice to follow.
If your ship has run aground, if you’re off course, as the captain of your life you have to take responsibility for righting the ship and changing direction. Maybe you’ve been jumping from deck to deck chasing other people’s dreams all over the sea for the last ten years; you could be miles from your own ship right now, and it’ll be an adventure just to find her, let alone take the wheel. But you’re the captain. You have to jump.
I know it’s scary. If you had already overcome your fears, you’d already be living your dream. You’d be writing this book, not reading it. But, believe it or not, being scared is another sign that it’s time to jump. It’s okay to be scared. Change is scary! But think about this: If you stay put and change nothing, where will you be in ten, twenty, fifty years from now? If you suspect you’ll wake up in the middle of a midlife crisis wracked with regret, dreaming about what could have been and saying things like, “I wish I’d…,” “It’s too late,” and “If only,” do yourself a favor and take the risk. There comes a time when the risks of staying outweigh the risks of going. The fact that you’re scared to try it is a pretty good sign that you want it really badly.
You’re probably itching to jump, and you’re probably wishing I’d hurry up and drop some knowledge on you that will magically reveal everything you need to know. Maybe you’re tempted to skip this whole first section and sink your teeth into the seven steps.
I have some unpopular, counterintuitive, and seemingly contradictory advice for you first.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job … Yet
Honestly, that’s probably one of the worst things you can do right now. You may feel ready to Jump Ship, but you’re not prepared to. How do I know? If you were, you would have done so already.
Seeing that you haven’t, it would seem prudent to take advantage of this moment to prepare for the jump. If you learn to start dreaming the right way and wait to quit at the right time, your day job could even be your ally in this crazy adventure.
What you’re considering is extremely difficult. Seven steps might sound simple enough, but look around you for a second and ask yourself how many people you know are actually living their dreams. Jumping isn’t normal. It isn’t natural. You are on the edge of something extraordinary. And it will be really, really, really, really hard.
So, back away from the rail for a second; we don’t want you just throwing yourself overboard and hoping for the best. There will come a time—probably long before you feel “ready”—when you’ll have to make the leap. But until you have something to jump for or toward, you’re jumping into free fall, and, if you don’t unload some baggage first, you’ll sink like a rock in the open ocean.
Spoiler alert: Jumping isn’t the first step. Dreams take planning, purpose, and progress to succeed.
You’ve heard it said that “success comes when preparation meets opportunity.” The opportunity to quit will always be there. It takes a little more patience to wait for the right time to jump for your dream, and quite a bit of work—some physical, but a lot of it mental—before you’re actually prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.
I hate to say this, but …
This Book Might NOT Help You
There’s a reason I didn’t just open this book by diving into the seven steps. The fact of the matter is that these seven steps won’t help you at all if we don’t address a few core things up front. There’s a chance they could just make everything worse and make you even more miserable.
My fear is that you’ll read this book and gain some useful info … and then do nothing. That would be awful. I mean, either way, my family thanks you for buying the book and all, but, seriously, what a waste! Not only would you still be in the same unhappy situation you were when you started, but on top of that you’d know exactly what you needed to do to change it. You’d be without excuses, and you’d know it. I wouldn’t wish that guilt and shame on anyone.
So, I have to ask you (and I will ask you again): Are you serious about this? If you’re not willing to quit being a passenger on someone else’s boat and claim command of your life, please don’t bother reading any further.
I don’t have time for people who only want to talk. I’ve spent far too many wasted hours in conversations, sharing lunches or coffee with people who I can immediately see—almost like my own personal spidey-sense—will never have the guts to carry out their grandiose plan. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a person paint a weak and undefined vision for the future, with little to no passion and no defined goals as I nod my head and look straight into their heart, suspecting with incredible accuracy that they don’t have the guts to pull it off. These people are more in love with the image in their head than they are with seeing it become a reality in their lives.
So let’s cut to the chase. Do you have the guts? If not, go read something else. Save yourself some time. And I mean that honestly. This book is only going to frustrate you even further if you don’t have the deep desire to change your own future. You know the phrase “ignorance is bliss”? Well, this is your moment to happily choose your own ignorance.
On the other hand, if you feel you’ve got the guts to pull this off, if you’re tired of all the “easy solutions” on the market and are determined to take risks and put in the work, let’s do this.
I want you to jump, I really do. But here’s the truth: The only people who jump are the people who want to. The only thing that matters is that you want to jump.
If you’re willing, if you want to learn how, then read on. It’s a long journey, but it’s worth it, and I’ll help you find the way.
Copyright © 2013 by Josh Shipp