Do you feel that?
That little tugging sensation on your heart?
You’re not sure what, but something is pulling you to change. Not in a confess-your-sins-oh-ye-sinners way, but to shift directions, to embrace your calling, to finally do what you were put here to do:
You feel the ideas inside you. You sense them straining to escape. You know your job is to set them free, firing them like a cannon into a world in desperate need of them.
But you’re afraid.
You’re afraid of quitting your job and living without a safety net. You’re afraid of the concerned, disapproving looks your friends will give you when you tell them you’re giving it all up to write for a living. You’re afraid of not having enough money for food, of the power being cut off, of watching your family shivering and hungry, all because of your “selfishness”.
And most of all?
You’re afraid you’re wrong about yourself.
Maybe that tugging sensation you feel is just an illusion. Maybe your ideas are crap. Maybe you’re just a fool with delusions of grandeur, and this whole fantasy of becoming a writer is just that: a fantasy.
So, you do nothing.
You cower in your safe little job. You learn how to start a blog or a novel or a screenplay. You drown your dreams with junk food or booze or shopping sprees, all the while telling yourself you’re doing the right thing.
But are you?
“No,” a little voice whispers inside of you. “No, this is all very, very wrong.”
The suffocation of your soul
Have you ever watched a fish suffocate?
You go fishing one day with your rod and reel, hook a fish, and reel it in, dragging it out of the water so you can get a better look at your catch. It’s lying on land, its gills pumping furiously, its eyes bulging, its mouth opening and closing in silent screams. Every once in a while, it flips around, trying to work its way back into the water, but it’s no use; the poor thing is hooked.
Minutes pass, and you can see the strength slipping out of it. It fights less and less, its eyes dull, and eventually, it goes still.
It’s horrible. It’s also strangely familiar.
When I was working in real estate, I had persistent nightmares about suffocating. I would wake up, covered in sweat, taking deep, ragged breaths. It got so bad I couldn’t bear to wear turtleneck shirts, because I could feel them tightening around my neck.
In retrospect, the reason why was obvious. My subconscious was trying to warn me that I was suffocating, just like a fish.
Hooked by money, I’d been pulled into a world in which I didn’t belong. Sure, I still wrote stories and dabbled with blogs, both equivalent of trying to slip back into the water, but a part of me was also fading away. After three years, friends actually commented about how my eyes were dull, my skin pallid, my energy low.
I was dying inside, and a part of me even knew it, but I was also trapped.
Born with a degenerative disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I’d slowly lost the ability to move anything but my face. My medical bills at the time were a staggering $120,000 a year, and I was paying them, but only because of the outrageous money I was earning doing real estate finance work over the phone. If I’d lost my job, I would’ve been forced to move into a nursing home – a death sentence of the worst kind.
So, every time a new real estate deal came along, I swallowed the bait. Hook, line, and sinker.
I told myself I was being smart. I told myself I would build my writing career on the side. I told myself I would save up a nice little nest egg, and then I would quit.
But it never happened.
Boredom sucked the creativity right out of me. Instead of going home to write, I went home and watched movies, played World of Warcraft, and yelled at the referees on Monday Night Football.
I was comfortable. Not happy, no, but my bills were paid, I lived in a half-million dollar condo, and I could afford all the distractions money could buy.
It was killing me, but I didn’t care. Because you see, the most dangerous predators aren’t violent beasts with razor claws and pointy teeth; they’re men in suits with sparkly smiles and big promises. They make you feel happy and warm and secure, and before you know it, you’ve fallen asleep. That’s how they get you.
They would have gotten me, no doubt about it, but I was lucky. I got hit by a car.
The gift of tragedy
The first thing I remember is the smell of smoke.
I opened my eyes, trying to figure out where the smell was coming from, but one of them was full of blood. With one eye, I looked around, slowly realizing I was lying underneath the dashboard, and instead of sitting in my wheelchair, I was pinned underneath it.
And I couldn’t feel my legs. Oh God, I’m paralyzed, I thought, but then I noticed the flames licking out of the air conditioning vents, and it seemed unimportant.
“Jon? Where are you? JON!”
My longtime nurse, Ron Sargent, was sitting in the driver’s seat, bruised and bloody but alive. He looked around wildly, yelling my name.
“I’m down here,” I said.
He looked down. “Oh, Jesus,” he whispered. Then he noticed the flames too.
He jumped out of the van, scrambled to the other side and pulled open the shattered door. He glanced up at the fire, shrunk back, and then looked at me. For a moment, I thought he was going to leave me, but then his eyes went hard, and he lunged underneath the flames.
He grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled. I screamed, pain finally flooding into my legs. He pulled again, harder, and I felt my legs cracking and popping. I screamed again as I toppled onto the pavement.
I looked up at Ron and noticed something smoking. “Your hair’s on fire!”
He pulled his shirt over his head and put out the flames. Then we just sat there looking at each other, him with singed hair and a blackened ear, me with a pair of crushed legs and a five-inch cut across my forehead.
The paramedics arrived and hauled us off to the hospital. I learned that I had 17 broken bones, a concussion, and worrisome bruising around my abdomen, but I wasn’t paralyzed, thank God. Doctors spent the next month trying to put me back together, and I finally left the hospital in a lower body cast that must’ve weighed 100 pounds.
The man who hit me never went to jail. As it turns out, he wasn’t on drugs or alcohol; he was just late for work at Wendy’s and decided to cross a busy intersection going 85 miles an hour. Apparently, that’s not a crime, despite him nearly killing five people (including me).
But I was never angry about it. On the contrary, I felt like I’d been given a gift.
Coming so close to death woke up something inside of me. Food tasted better, colors were brighter, and all the crap cluttering my condo seemed a lot less important than it used to be.
Gradually, a rebelliousness took hold. To the dismay of my caregivers, I refused to shave or cut my hair. I stopped wearing suits. I wheeled around outside like a lunatic, cracking jokes and winking at girls and thinking in silence for hours upon hours on end.
Six months later, when the casts finally came off, I went into work and quit.
I didn’t have a plan. I just had learned the difference between living and dying, and this wasn’t living. If I ended up getting hauled off to a nursing home, so be it, but I was done with the real estate business. I didn’t care what it cost me.
And it cost me everything.
The courage to leap into the darkness
You know how people say you should follow your passions, and everything will be okay?
Well, it’s a bunch of bullshit.
After quitting my real estate job, I got kicked out of my apartment, lost my nurses, and had to beg friends and family to take care of me. Life was most certainly NOT okay.
In the middle of it all though, I found myself tinkering on the computer, writing down lessons I’d learned from billionaires about personal finance. I shared them with one of my best friends at the time, a Bank of America executive named Jason Hilliard, and he said, “Holy crap, this is good. You need to start a blog.”
“Nah, I can’t do that,” I said. “I’m so broke I’m living with my mother. How could I teach anyone else about personal finance?”
He laughed. “So what? Most entrepreneurs lose everything at some point during their lives. You’ll have it all back again in a year or two, though. You just need to stop your little pity party and remember how totally awesome you are.”
And he was right.
We tell ourselves we’re not qualified to write about a topic. We tell ourselves we need to accomplish X, Y and Z before we can pursue our dreams. We tell ourselves we need to prepare, be smart, maximize our opportunities, and not make any mistakes.
The truth, though?
We’re just scared. When you’ve been doing something else your entire life, and suddenly you have the opportunity to change everything, making excuses is easier than leaping into the darkness with absolutely no idea where you will land.
At first, I froze up too. Sure, I finally had time to write, but I was so depressed about everything, I couldn’t see how anyone would value what I had to say. Thankfully, I had a good friend to snap me out of it.
After mulling over our conversation for a couple days, I started a personal finance blog called On Moneymaking, and within two months, I was averaging over 2,000 visitors a day and got nominated for the best business/money blog in the world. Offers started pouring in to buy the blog, and I sold it for $10,000… after writing only 11 posts.
If that wasn’t crazy enough, I then received an email from Brian Clark over at Copyblogger, inviting me to become an Associate Editor. In the space of two months, I went from unemployed and living with my mother to helping manage one of the most popular blogs in the world.
The more I write, the more I realize building a career as a writer isn’t about smarts or talent or even discipline. It’s about guts.
You never know if people will like what you write. You never know if you’re good enough to make a living from it. You never know if your entire life will fall apart, and you’ll end up sleeping on your mother’s couch, gorging yourself on Ben & Jerry’s and watching Three Stooges reruns all day.
But it doesn’t matter.
Real writers take the leap.
Am I saying you have to quit your job?
Yeah, I am.
Unless you’re already getting paid to write, that is. In that case, get down on your knees and thank God for being so lucky, because lots of writers would kill for a job like that.
You need to stop treating writing as a hobby and start thinking of it as a profession. In other words, not something you do on the side, but the center of your life, the reason you exist.
Somehow, someway, you’ve gotten sucked into a world where you don’t belong. Instead of trying to fit in, it’s time to start planning your exit.
Not in the distant future, either. Write your resignation letter today, and date it for one year from now.
If you really have moxie, give the letter to a friend, and tell them to mail it for you in one year. Under no circumstances are they to listen to you if you try and talk them out of it. The letter is going in the mail, and you have one year to prepare.
Because you see, there’s never a moment where you have certainty. There’s never a moment where it’s clear it’ll all work out. There’s never a moment where you’ll feel safe enough to jump.
You just have to do it. Here’s how:
- Ruthlessly cut expenses. Get rid of cable TV, your cell phone, eating out, going to the movies, and anything else not absolutely necessary to keep you alive.
- Find a part-time gig. Maybe you do freelance blogging, little articles for your local newspaper, or direct mail for small businesses. You won’t make much in the beginning, but it’s something to keep you going while you make the transition.
- Construct a fallback plan for when everything goes to hell. Who can you move in with? Which bills will you stop paying first? You need to know the answers to these types of questions, because there’s a good chance it’ll happen.
It is, but whoop-de-do. So is everything else worth achieving.
You either do it, or you die a coward
That’s harsh, I know, but listen:
You know what you’re supposed to do. You can feel it. The same part of you that looks at your job and tells you it’s wrong is also reading this post with you right now and whispering, “Go. Go. Go.”
When will you listen?
You might say, “Jon, you don’t understand; you don’t have kids.”
It’s true. I don’t.
But I do understand needing to take care of your family. When I quit my job, both of my parents were unemployed, and I was terrified I was going to pull us all under.
Initially, it was rough. Not only was I just barely hanging on, but I also had to help my father fill out the paperwork to get food stamps, because I wasn’t even making enough to keep food on the table.
He didn’t blame me, though. On the contrary, he watched how hard I worked, writing from dawn until dusk, and he left me a little note that read, “Go for it, son. You’re my hero. Maybe the only one I have left.” I have the note hanging on my wall.
In my opinion, one of the greatest tragedies of our profession is how many writers use their job as an excuse to never pursue their dreams. Sure, they know it’s killing them, but they look at their family and their bills, and they think they’re being responsible.
But that’s a perversion of the word.
Responsible is taking the gift God gave you and doing something with it.
Responsible is finally publishing that blog or book or screenplay, not for fame or riches, but because you know it’ll touch people.
Responsible is not just telling your kids to pursue their dreams, but pursuing yours too, so they can look at you and realize it truly is possible.
Fast forward five years, and not only am I supporting myself through my writing, but I also take care of both parents, six full-time employees, and a toothless, 11-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. All in all, it costs $31,000 a month – a sum I’m more than able to pay.
Oh, and I’m doing it from a wheelchair. Without being able to move anything but my face.
So, your excuses? They’re just that: excuses.
You were put here to write. Your family and friends want you to write. Millions of people out there need you to write.
SO WRITE, GOD DAMN IT!
And to hell with anything that gets in your way.