On quitting: part three

10/10/2011

[Read parts 1 and 2 of this story]

I had two choices.

I could either make some noise about the situation and tap into my network of people in the company with influence, or I could roll with the punches. It was a tough call and I was battling some conflicting motivations, so I decided to enlist some help.

Seeking counsel

A mentor of mine within the company is a Senior Executive, and I decided to seek his feedback on the situation. Despite his hectic schedule, he always made time to chat. Let’s call him Craig.

I caught Craig up on the situation in Pittsburgh and how it was a little out of my control at that point. He made himself available in case he needed to “make a call” on my behalf, but I didn’t want to involve him in my episode of The Real World: Accenture.

We talked through the pros and cons of leaving, how I might be a better fit for a smaller company, and about working for Accenture in general. Craig was connected to a few guys who ran a small consulting firm in Atlanta, and offered to make an introduction.

I didn’t want to trade one hell for another, so I politely declined.

A lateral move

A few weeks back, I had seen an internal email about a group focused on social media best practices for companies. While I’m not a social media guytm per se, seeing an Accenture website running WordPress (!) was encouraging (it contained information on integrating the Facebook and Twitter APIs into projects for client engagements, developer resources, and the like).

I mentioned this group to Craig, and we talked about me moving into a new position within the company (a lot more difficult than one might imagine). We also talked about what would be involved in creating a position for me.

This made me slightly uncomfortable since I was almost certain that I would make a full transition out of the company that year regardless, and I shared with Craig that I’d feel an obligation to stick with it if they did something like that for me.

I’ll never forget his response. To paraphrase, Craig said that as influential as he’d like to think he is, and with as much value as he’d like to think he adds to the company, Accenture would still keep on trucking if he didn’t show up for work in the morning.

That really stuck with me, and I share it whenever friends who feel a sense of obligation to their company use that as a reason for staying where they are.

The inevitable

We chatted a bit more about the craziest idea: me going into business for myself full-time. Craig asked me the tough questions that any mentor would ask, and he quickly determined from my answers and conviction that I was serious about making the leap.

As a matter of fact, he stopped drawing on the white board in his office, sat down, and make himself available for whatever support I might need as I made the upcoming transition.

He knew what time it was.

Onward

I decided to take the drama as a blessing in disguise. Whereas before I felt a lack of motivation on account of my comfortable position (being able to take weeks off without pay is an odd luxury), I suddenly had all the motivation I needed.

I let my Career Counselor and HR Rep know that I intended to resign, and fired off the appropriate email. There was an eerie calm in the weeks to come, as I had prepared myself mentally for the upcoming freedom and felt a burden — years in the making — lift from my life.

The actual transition to self-employment was a bit anti-climactic. Friends I made online who caught wind of me quitting generally responded with, “that’s great man, but I thought you worked for yourself already.”

Nice.

Speaking, consulting, and joining the circus

In the weeks that followed, I transitioned quite naturally to full-time freelancing. I started getting the proper rest, cleaning up my diet, and working out on a regular basis. These changes alone gave me a new lease on life, but my freedom is what I truly relished.

Business was good. There was a steady stream of work, I was getting better every day, and I couldn’t have been more sure that I made the right decision.

My friend Mike asked me if I’d speak at an upcoming conference, that he was organizing, and I happily obliged. Attending the conference were some fine folks from The Creative Circus, who eventually hired me to redesign their site.

In an interesting turn of events, they asked me if I’d be interested in teaching a basic web design/dev course there. I had an interest in teaching and they needed the help, so I agreed. It was (mostly) great.

Meeting Seth Godin

I met Ishita through Pam Slim a few months back, and helped her with a redesign of her online magazine. (Interestingly, I helped her with another redesign of the site today.) On one of our first conversations, Ishita casually mentioned that she worked with Seth Godin and asked me if I had ever heard of him.

As a matter of fact, I had purchased tickets to see him in Atlanta. That was Ishita’s next question, and she was going to invite me to the event if I wasn’t already going.

The event rolled around, and I attended a small dinner with Seth, Ishita, and some volunteers the night before the event. To say that I was nervous would be a gross understatement, which is highly uncommon for me. I’m not into hero worship, but I had (and have) a healthy respect for Seth.

During the dinner, we all took turns sharing what we were working on, and Seth provided some feedback on how we might make it better. It was great. Ishita tells me I was super-quiet during the evening and didn’t really get into it, but I never really liked Ishita anyway.

The first domino falls

This post changed my life.

Reading it significantly altered the course of my life’s trajectory, more specifically. I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t quit my job so I could live a boring life. The day the submission was due (well…the wee hours of the morning, technically), I sat down at my computer and cranked away on my submission.

The questions were ridiculous, and I had a great time applying. I didn’t have any experience in the publishing industry, but I didn’t consider that to be a bad thing. I checked my application for typos, took a deep breath, and clicked Submit.

You all know the punchline by now: I was hired and moved to NYC less than a month later. My life has been a roller-coaster since then, in the best possible way.

Meanwhile, in Harlem…

I’ve been finished with The Domino Project for four months now, and I work full-time on 1) helping authors sell more books online, and 2) making websites faster.

This has been an improbable journey, and I don’t even recognize my life anymore. I’m planning my first international trip (that’s right, I’ve never left the country), I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, and I have the freedom to come and go as I please.

The adventure has been much less about quitting my job as it has to do with living life. I have friends who are killing it in Corporate America, and they love what they do. It wasn’t a good fit for me, and I’ve had countless discussions with people who experienced the misery that I did.

My passion for freedom and the desire for others to be liberated from the confines of a miserable existence is culminating in the Free Minds Movement, where Pam and I are thinking through how to tackle the issue head-on.

I don’t know what these next few months are going to look like, but I see some bright days ahead.

[Read parts 1 and 2 of this story]