About a year and a half ago, I had an epiphany.

I was in a job I enjoyed. The prospects were great. But I decided that I didn’t want it any more. I needed change. I seemingly became unemployable overnight.

Not one to do things by halves, I quickly set myself a goal of quitting my job by 23rd May 2012 (exactly one year after I launched my first website). I knew at the time that the goal was not rooted in any logic – I had no firm plan that would get me to where I wanted to be. But I felt that any goal was better than no goal at all.

To be perfectly honest, whilst I was determined to achieve my goal, I had absolutely no idea whether or not I would. And as it turned out, what I thought I needed to achieve in order to quit my job wasn’t what I ended up doing at all.

Fast forward to present day, and I have been running my freelancing blogging business full time for nine months. My last day of employment was 23rd December 2011. I beat my goal by exactly five months, and my blogging business currently earns me about as much as my job did in less than half the hours.

It has been a roller coaster period in my life. A time of unprecedented change. And in that time, my perspective on what it takes to quit your job and enter the world of self-employment has changed drastically.

There are six key realizations that led me to quit my job, ahead of schedule, and with confidence.

1. You Don’t Need To Replace Your “Offline” Income before Quitting

Embracing this concept was a huge step for me, and served as a catalyst to the sharp acceleration in my plans.

Most “make money online” advocates will tell you that you need to get into a position where you are matching or exceeding your “offline” income with your online endeavors before you quit your job. I blindly followed this advice for months, without realizing the sheer impracticality of it. Extremely safe advice, yes. Advice that I would pass on to anyone else? No.

For me the calculation was pretty simple. I had a couple of clients, and was being paid an equivalent hourly rate of $x (which exceeded the equivalent hourly rate at my job). I had confidence that I would be able to find more clients. Therefore, logic dictated that I would be able to earn enough money with more time. The theory was enough for me — and it could be enough for you.

I want to make a key distinction here. I am not saying that you should quit your job tomorrow with nothing to show for it. But I am saying that, given the right circumstances, you do not need to hit an income target is that not only arbitrary, but often completely unnecessary.

2. Time Is Your Most Important Asset

Why am I confident that you do not need to match or exceed your “offline” income before quitting?

Simple — time. What I call the most valuable commodity in the world.

Let’s say your job takes up 50 hours a week — 8 eight hours work per day, 1 hour for your commute, and an extra 5 hours for overtime. You sleep 8 hours a night — that’s another 40 hours gone. Before you know it, nearly 65% of your available time has been zapped away by just work and sleep. We haven’t even mentioned some pretty important things (like eating, for instance).

I am not saying it is impossible to build up a sizeable side income in the available spare time you have, but it is hard. And whilst launching a successful business is never easy, it doesn’t have to be so hard.

Look at it this way – you are currently being paid by your employer because they believe that they can profit from your input. Who’s to say that you couldn’t independently create as much value (or more) as you earn from your job, given those extra 50 hours per week?

Ultimately, many would-be entrepreneurs simply don’t have enough faith in their own abilities. Once I had confidence that I was capable, and that 150% more available time to pursue my business aims would result in ample grwoth, the decision to quit my job became a far easier one.

3. A Safety Net Is One of the Most Important Requirements

Quitting your job without a guaranteed income in place is a risk. But it is a risk you will ultimately have to take. No income is guaranteed – certainly not the income from your job.

You need to have faith in your theoretical ability to leverage your time effectively to grow a sufficient income. You don’t need to earn it; you need to have faith that you can earn it. Once you pass that psychological milestone, you will need something to fall back on, should things not go to plan. I will always strongly recommend that anyone quitting their job has a safety net.

Traditionally, this would be in the form of 3-6 (or more) months earnings, but it might be different for you. For instance, you might have the guarantee of a job waiting for you if you ever change your mind, or perhaps you could join the boomerang generation.

My father quit his lucrative sales job when he was 23. He had just bought a house with my pregnant mother. It was a terrifying decision. But the sales company practically begged him to stay, and told him in no uncertain terms that a job was waiting for him should he ever change his mind. That was his safety net. He didn’t go back, nor did he ever look back.

My safety net was more tangible – savings. I wouldn’t have made the leap had I not already built up a considerable nest egg. After all, I knew that I would not be making enough money at the outset, and probably not for a few months thereafter. My financial safety net was not only necessary to prevent bankruptcy, but also for me to act like I was running a profitable business. The worst thing you can do during a business’ formative months is make decisions based upon financial pressure. For those two reasons, having a safety net is a must.

4. If You Really Want It, You Have No Choice

I’m not crazy, but I am making the perhaps controversial suggestion that you take risks. Calculated risks, but risks nonetheless.

What ultimately tipped me over the edge and made it clear to me that I could no longer simply wait for a “safer” time to quit was the realization that I simply wasn’t happy. I was treading water. I was no longer enjoying my work. To be perfectly honest with you, I was miserable.

Your own personal happiness should be one of the most important things in your life. That may sound selfish, and perhaps it is. But if you are not happy, you will not be well-equipped to help those around you, so you could consider such a prioritization as both selfish and selfless.

Perhaps you’re not sure that quitting your job is the right thing to do. Perhaps you will never be sure. With that to one side, perhaps your burning desire for change is too great to refuse any more. Life is too short to be miserable.

That was certainly the attitude I adopted in making the decision to quit my job. I was walking away from fantastic prospects, job security, autonomy, flexible hours, and a number of other perks. My friends and family thought I was crazy for quitting (I think they still do). But all of those benefits paled in comparison to a simple assessment of my happiness.

Regardless of how beneficial staying in that job may have been to my career, it was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life (or for another week). Therefore, I had no choice but to leave.

5. Sacrifice Will Be Necessary (or Preferred?)

Now we get to practical considerations. Here’s a thought – maybe you don’t need to earn as much as you do from your job in the short term, or even in the long term. Maybe you throw your money away on a huge number of unnecessary creature comforts and material items.

Just perhaps, happiness in doing what you want with those 50 hours of your life every single week is more important than that deluxe satellite package, or your shiny new car. I managed to knock 30% (that’s right, nearly a third) off my monthly outgoings just through a reevaluation of what was really important to me. The sacrifice I made in order to quit my job was remarkably easy, because I could see the bigger picture.

Even if you are set on replacing your “offline” income before taking the plunge, you could be a lot closer to your target than you think if you make some bearable cuts. And what if you don’t want to make those material sacrifices? Simple – it just means that you don’t want freedom as much as you might. There is nothing at all wrong with that, but it can help to put things in perspective for you.

6. Nothing Galvanizes You More Than Fear

This is perhaps my most controversial point.

I have a firm belief — regardless of how seriously you treat your side hustle, you would treat it a damn sight more seriously if it became your main source of income.

Don’t get me wrong – you shouldn’t be terrified of leaving your job. If you are, perhaps it isn’t time to quit yet. But you should be scared. I’m not sure how on earth you couldn’t be. But that fear is what will drive you to do more than you thought you were capable of.

I had what I would call a healthy level of fear when I quit my job. I wasn’t earning enough to cover my outgoings. If my business wasn’t successful, the mere passing of time would see me approach bankruptcy before long. If I didn’t succeed, I would have to go out and look for a job — probably a job that was far worse than the one that had made me miserable. If that kind of scenario hadn’t galvanized me into action, I don’t know what would have.

Embrace the fear, and use it to your advantage.

What Is Stopping You?

If you dream of leaving your job one day, I want you to ask yourself what is stopping you. With all of the above points in mind, the answer might now surprise you.

Photo by Jack Batchelor

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is the owner of Leaving Work Behind, a blog for anyone interested in quitting their job and building a better life for themselves. He shares everything (both his successes and his failures) related to his online businesses. Find out more about Tom here.