Leaving the safe path

Leaving the safe path

I quit my job. This post is my attempt to explain why. Maybe you’ll understand, maybe you won’t.

Too often, we tell ourselves or are told by others to take the safe path. There is enough risk in our lives already without willingly adding more. But the safe path rarely takes us where we want to go.

Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and I think we all know you’ll never hear “accountant” or “business analyst” or “marketing consultant”. But then adulthood comes along and stamps on all our toys. Under threat of poverty, fear of failure, physical reality or even family pressure we put aside our dreams in favour of the safe path. It’s the first great compromise in our lives and ends up defining much of what we become later.

It’s true that a staggeringly large number of university graduates never work in their field of study. All those enthusiastic arts degrees beaten back by financial reality. How many English Lit graduates wind up reducing their passion for Larkin or Orwell or Pinter to a battered paperback in their suit pocket for the bus ride to work in a city office block? How many art students bemoan how their unfinished canvases have to sit a while longer in the cluttered garage while they start another sixty hour week to meet the tight deadline on the client’s latest marketing campaign?

Some fight back. Short stories written on lunch breaks. Novels written at 2am with the hope that caffeine will carry them to a desk in the morning. Free time, family and lifestyle put on hold to squeeze in those extra few hours — minutes, even — where creativity is eked out in tiny increments.

Your lifelong goal, your childhood dream, your… you-ness, squeezed into the rapidly shrinking spaces in your life.

No time to think. No time to write. No time to create.

So I quit.

Yes, I’m still available for content marketing, blogging, copywriting, consulting and more. But on my terms. There are offers floating across my desk and I’ve already turned some down. Why? Because they replace what I’ve left with more of the same. That’s why I’m now taking freelance consulting and writing work to give me more freedom to choose what I do while freeing up some time in my week for my own dreams.

Of course, if someone were to offer me a really cool FT gig, I’d consider it. But there are three rules. Does the job inspire me? Will it leave enough time in my life to do other things, in particular that novel that’s been overlooked for too long? Is it a step forward to my personal goals?

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be… was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.

Neil Gaiman: Commencement Address 18 May 2012

It’s time for me to find the next step on the way towards my particular mountain. Time to use my marketing, writing and online skills to get me a little bit closer to where I want — or rather, need — to be.

It’s a risky proposition grabbing the wheel of my career, desperately hoping I don’t drive it straight into the gutter.

I’ve loosened the safety harness. I’ve taken the leap. Maybe I’ve misjudged and there is no net waiting to catch me. Maybe I’ll pick myself up off the rocks, broken and beaten, only to painfully crawl back up the safe path, marketing someone else’s dreams instead of mine once more. Maybe I’ll wind up back on the 8:05 bus with Orwell in my suit pocket, unfinished scraps of prose on my iPad.

“Maybe,” I think to myself.

But another thought keeps me going.

“Maybe not.”


  1. Good luck Jonathan! I think taking the leap is the hardest step. You’ve done it now so onwards and upwards. I couldn’t imagine living any other way. It is hard but it is so worth it. By the way I loved your piece in Eighty Nine.

    • Kimota says:

      Thanks Krissy. And it’s partly because I want to do more than just a single short story every 12 months or so that I need to find a better balance. Having all the ideas but no energy to write is extremely frustrating.

  2. Congratulations Jonathan. Those of us who’ve taken this step before know exactly what you’re talking about.

    Grab that wheel and steer your career in the direction you want it to go at the pace you feel is right and via the route you feel you need to take. No doubt you’ll make a success of it.

    Good on you and all the best.

  3. Good on you, Jonathan, and I wish you joy and success in your new endeavours.

    I can’t help but call you out on something in your post, though:

    “Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and I think we all know you’ll never hear “accountant” or “business analyst” or “marketing consultant””

    Ask any child what they want to eat, and you’ll never hear “Tournedos Rossini” or “Lobster Thermidor” or “Rye and spelt wholemeal wood-fire bread with triple cream Brie”.

    Does this mean we should aspire to a diet of deep fried chicken nuggets and chips? That children cannot conceive of the fulfilment one may encounter in a job that isn’t train driver, astronaut, surgeon, author or film star is quite irrelevant to what positive a person can derive from having a “boring sounding” position.

    • Kimota says:

      Heh. I know what you are saying, but I’m not sure the parallel stands. Of course there are those who do find satisfaction with being an accountant or whatever. I’m still a marketing consultant after all. I’m just recognising that how I was working was still a compromise to what I had once dreamed and was preventing me from moving any closer.

      Even those of us who enjoy a good brie, etc, still hang onto our childhood fixations for a simple cheese on toast as well. Had it yesterday. Most adults will still have days where their choice for lunch may be chicken nuggets and chips or whatever their simple food of choice is. We never compromise those tastes, just broaden and add to them. But the same doesn’t always apply for our lifestyle dreams which can become constricted instead.

      Of course, I’m not advocating we should all become firemen, film star or astronauts. But we can still find those parts of our lives where whatever attracted us to those jobs has a place. Volunteer fire brigade, amateur dramatics or astronomy, for example.

      And in one of my previous guises as an employment consultant, I always advised jobseekers to use their skills to get closer to their field of interest. Can’t be a brain surgeon but still fascinated with the medical profession? There are hundreds of related roles in hospitals; from cleaners to admin to drivers to various levels of nursing. Most of the time when people say they are unhappy with their job, it’s the environment not the skills that puts them off. A secretary for a trucking company is very different to a secretary in a television station. Hence why I’m still using my skills, but in ways that get me closer to my dreams.

      So you can have your brie on wood-fire bread and still enjoy it as cheese on toast. 🙂

  4. Very thoughtful piece Jonno. You are attempting what millions are too scared to contemplate! I admire your attitude! See you soon for a beer!

  5. Good on you mate, the best of luck with your new endeavors (i.e. living the dream!)

  6. Gloria says:

    I really admire you and your choice.
    I will come back to this post every once in a while and use it as an inspiration to pursue my dream and welcome the risk.

    Hope you’ll reach your mountain and will have fun during the journey 🙂

  7. Venessa says:

    Congrats Jonathon!
    Bold move! Wish you all the best!
    This post reminds me of a section of a movie in “up-in-the-air”. http://youtu.be/TkX-TPaodoM
    “How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?”

    I think we have all felt like that at one time or another, take courage to make a change.
    Go You!


    • Kimota says:

      Oh absolutely! And great choice of clip (probably one of the few great moments in an otherwise mediocre film). I spent ten years counselling unemployed people to think in exactly the same way; that the right job may not be the best paid job or even the most reputable job — it’s the one that gives you the happiest life, the best balance and the greatest sense that you *choose* to do this because you want to.

  8. Nigel says:

    Good luck Jonathan, make the dream your reality.

  9. Good one mate. I’ll keep my ear to the ground for something good. Maybe I’ll even have something myself I can send your way… (I get way too much property and financial copy, though, so ‘cool’ might be a long shot! 😉

  10. Great move – life is too short to be safe 🙂 (an if you live in Australia there is always a safety net of sorts) – ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ – I chucked in the 9-5 job, did the sea/tree change, write every day. plenty of time for family and friends and loving it!

  11. good luck Jonathan

    I’m glad you didn’t use the Steve Jobs valedictorian speech as your example, BTW!

    Dude, there is no safety harness, and security is an illusion, and yes, the road less travelled is populated with fewer comforts but, man, I remember the thrill I got from those roads the best!

  12. Hey Mate, great read. Scarily inspiring. But, I’m going to keep myself chained for a while yet. Best of luck for the future, I hope it works out like the best scotch you’ve ever drunk!

  13. Having read your post, Johnathan, I’m intrigued to know what work you’re looking for and what work your turning down. Please share.

    • Kimota says:

      What I’ve been turning down is the work that merely repeats what I’ve already done. Why leave one cloud company to go work the same job at another or similar with no significant difference? I’ve pretty much written about web servers of one shade or another for different companies for over five years. Not exactly a step forward or inspiring to do it again.

      Also, I’ve turned down jobs where it became obvious it would just be bad news. Why take jobs writing white papers for companies that can’t even answer basic questions around tone, buyer personae and content strategy and are unwilling to be educated? And then want it asap and oh, your rates are a little high. Why write something that’s doomed to fail and then be blamed for it’s failure, while copping stress and a low fee at the same time?

      So yes I’m picking jobs to work with people who at least get the fundamentals, understand strategy and tactics are not the same thing, don’t think the answer to every problem is a Facebook page, and gets that quality takes time and costs a little more.

      And then I hope to have a day to myself each week to work on my own projects: the novel, my articles and other work for the Content Marketing Institute, this blog, etc.

      I swear, I saw a job advertised on Seek last week for a social media manager that listed a huge number of responsibilities along with “design and implement a full social media strategy” with reporting and accountabilities. And then tagged the role as entry level with a $50k salary. #facepalm

  14. mal damkar says:

    awesome Jonathan – go for it. And I loved brie as a child. Also Job’s speech was just after he knew he was dying so it probably isnt; best example, but it is probably what a lot of people think when it too late. Good on you for not waiting until its too late.

    • Content writing/copywriting doesn’t compare with novel writing, which is the pinnacle for most writers. I wish you well in your pursuit. I’m journeying along the same road. Maybe one day we’ll bump into each other in a bookshop that carries our works. You never know.

      • Jonathan Crossfield says:

        I wouldn’t go so far as saying content/copywriting doesn’t compare with novel writing. It’s like saying taxi driving doesn’t compare with Formula 1. Both require similar skills at a base level but are fundamentally different beyond that. Having said that, many aspiring novelists I’ve met could do worse than spend a few years working as a copywriter or journalist, as many of our best writers once did. It’s the best apprenticeship in the language, tools and rhetorical structures any writer could ask for.

  15. Congrats on making the decision Jonathan. I look forward to hearing about your adventures and collaborating with you on future projects!

  16. Hi Jonathan. I started a reply yesterday but then it all disappeared so this is Take 2. Congratulations on making the bold move. It can be both scary and exciting. I took a similar step early this year leaving a secure job after 17 years. Anyway, I left to spend qualty time with my elderly mum and to pursue my own writing career. My perspective changed when my dad passed away 2 years ago, then did another swerve upon the unexpected passing of my sister,18 months ago. You can’t live with ‘what ifs’. Family, friends, loved ones, compassion, and following dreams and passions are paramount. If you are happy, this will cast a lovely veil over those closest to you. If you believe it is the right thing for you, then it is. Anyway, all the best Jonathan. And I absolutely look forward to reading your best selling novel/s.

  17. Jonathan,
    Thank you for the inspirational post. I took the same step as you about a month ago, quitting my job of 18 years (which was a career I had never really had much interest in, it just kind of ‘happened’ and then became ‘secure’ financially) to work on my own writing, freelance copywriting, and someday…my real dream…to travel on my adventures and write about it for a living.
    It is hard (at least for me) to stay the course and not buckle in the name of security – I have accepted a part-time job ‘just in case’, which I start in about a month, and wonder if I should have just gone for it and not opted for that safety net. But I suppose only time will tell – I am hoping that working just 3 days a week (writing) for someone else will allow me to fully concentrate on my other, more personal projects the rest of the week. At least an improvement from a 40+ hour work week doing something I had no desire to do at all!
    Congratulations on taking that step, and good luck! I look forward to reading your future posts.

  18. Hi Jonathan, you were right – I love it! Good on you… You’ve obviously worked hard to get to the position where you can do this. Best of luck and keep us updated