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Outsmart the Hustle

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“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

– T. S. Eliot

The truth is that I was pretty miserable in my days of marketing and selling corporate software solutions.

Was I successful? Yes and no I suppose.

Anyone looking at things from the outside would think that I had it pretty good. I made a 6-figure income, had great benefits, and I got to wine and dine clients regularly.

But I was feeling pretty empty on the inside. I had been doing this for almost 14 years.

I knew deep down that I had more to give. I knew that my mind and body were made to create and teach and build and explore. And instead, I had been sitting in conference rooms, sitting on airplanes, and sitting at my laptop answering emails all day.

I also knew deep down that people are not made to endure soul-sucking occupations where we must sit in fluorescently-lighted boxes taking orders to do things so boring we want to cry.

It’s a fact that we have been socialized to relinquish our joy for 8 or 10 hours a day in exchange for a sum of money just big enough that it keeps us chained to a miserable existence.

One of the things I’ve always known is that it’s almost impossible for me to achieve my full potential by working for someone else.

While I’ve enjoyed some aspects of my corporate jobs, I’ve always known that I could only be truly fulfilled by creating a meaningful business of my own. I crave the freedom and autonomy of setting my own hours and working on things that excite and inspire me.

The day that everything changed

A little over a year ago, I was asked to join a conference call with a senior manager that I had only spoken with once before.

I thought to myself, “this seems strange.”

I joined the conference call and I was told, “Congratulations on your successful quarter and thank you for your contribution. Unfortunately, the company is consolidating resources and your services will no longer be needed. We’re restructuring things and your last day of employment will be August 16th.”

After countless hours of hard work, dedication, and time away from home, the demise of my “good” job was summed up by a 10-minute phone call with someone that I barely knew.

My first thought was, “Are you shitting me? I just had the best sales quarter in almost 4 years and you’re letting me go?!”

My second thought was, “I really don’t want to be doing this work right now. This is not what I signed up for. Every day I spend at this job, I lose a part of my soul. I’ve been dreading the weekly flights to cities that I’d rather not visit to talk to people about software that I really don’t care about. I’m not meant for the corporate life anymore. I want to create something meaningful. I want to create something that others are going to use. I want to do things that I’m good at. Hallelujah! I’m free.”

And so I began going down the path of creating my own work.

You can learn more about my layoff experience and entrepreneurial journey from my recent discussion on the How To Quit Work podcast.

I want to quit my job. Have I gone mad?

Many of the people that I’ve spoken with over the last year have expressed interest in quitting their job and doing more meaningful work. So why don’t more people do it?

That’s a complicated question to answer. There are many factors involved. Things like risk tolerance, savings account balance, current lifestyle expenses, debt, and whether or not you’ve already started a side hustle.

And then there’s the emotional side of things. After all, shouldn’t you feel great about having a good job? Shouldn’t you feel lucky that you’re not unemployed or struggling to make ends meet? And what would your friends and family think if you quit your job?

The unspoken truth

Forbes Magazine recently revealed that the majority of Americans are unhappy with their jobs. The research indicated that 52.3% of us are unhappy with our work.

It doesn’t feel that bad at first, but over time, a subtle unease will eat away at your soul. Many of us are just buying time. We know that we are being called to do something bigger. And we know that there is a price we’re paying for not giving ourselves fully to more meaningful work. Yet we continue doing something familiar so that we don’t have to face the unknown.

For me, I knew that if I stayed on my current path much longer, I would slowly tune out my desires until they finally faded away for good.

Fortunately, I was given the “golden boot” and forced into a decision to strike out on my own or go look for another corporate job.

Why didn’t I leave earlier?

I ask myself this question often. And the real reason is that I was too scared and I didn’t have a plan. I felt paralyzed. Stuck in space. Too comfortably numb to consider other options.

But things started to shift in late 2011.

I hired a coach and began acting on a strong impulse from within. I started blogging about what interested me. I started reaching out to people that were doing the kinds of work that I found fascinating.

I started reading everything I could get my hands on about entrepreneurship, unconventional work and lifestyle design. I simplified my life and expenses. I started a project on the side where I could begin to experiment with my creativity and I even managed to find a couple of paying clients.

I was taking the steps that would lead to the exit from my corporate job. I just didn’t realize that my exit would be planned for me.

The day I got laid off was a huge eye-opener for me. I was equally shocked and relieved. And I was so thankful that I had already started a side hustle and began planning my corporate exit strategy.

I had made some fundamental shifts in my life that allowed me to choose whether I wanted to get another corporate job or keep pursuing the business that I had started on the side.

Making these shifts before I was laid off allowed me to…

  • Identify my personal leaving terms and know how close I was to achieving them.
  • Start generating a side income.
  • Build a healthy savings to cover expenses and create a safety net.
  • Simplify and reduce my expenses.
  • Find new creative sources of income.
  • Leave my job behind with confidence.

Without doing these things, I would probably be back working at another corporate job today.

Why this matters

This process for exiting a job or a career can be daunting and filled with overwhelm and uncertainty. The kind that wakes you up at night in a cold sweat.

And the best way to reduce that overwhelm and uncertainty is to have a plan for exiting a job on your own terms.

There are so many amazing and talented people out there that are not doing the things they were born to do. I know this because I’ve talked to over a hundred of them. And it frustrates the hell out of me that more people don’t feel prepared to take on the challenge of pursuing the work that makes them come alive.

I know that more people, having more meaning, and creating more value will have a tremendous ripple effect. A very good one!

That’s why I’ve decided to lead a very small group of people through a pilot program early next year (2015). I don’t have all of the details right now but I’m planning to offer an online workshop that will focus on building an exit plan from your job while starting a meaningful business on the side.

This project will be based on the specific things I did to prepare for leaving corporate as well as the things I wished I would have known or done differently. It will be highly practical, highly personal and very results focused.

And just to be clear, I’m not a hater of corporate jobs. I have many close friends that thrive in this environment. But I also know that a few of you are ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

If you’re interested in receiving details about the beta program, please email me directly at michael@michaelknouse.com and request to be added to the interest list.

Live bravely,


Question: What is your #1 concern about making a successful exit from your job?

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