Quitters: I Left My Agency Job to Start My Own Web Design Company

You'd never guess a lady this eats lunch in the bathtub. Oh, the perks of working from home!
You’d never guess a lady this eats lunch in the bathtub. Oh, the perks of working from home!

I met Michelle in college, where we both learned the art of journalism & strategic communications between Badger football games and pitchers of beer at the KK (or maybe that was just me… nah, I’ll bet it was her, too). We recently reconnected due to the fact that we both threw ourselves headlong into the blogging and entrepreneurial biz. We talk about finding the courage to leave your job, dealing with guilt and why you might want to take her advice with a grain of salt. 

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Let’s get down to business: What did you quit & why?

I quit my seven-year agency job as a web designer to start my own web design company, Hello Blu Studio, and grow my second business, Rosy Blu.

There are a lot of reasons I did it. I mostly wanted the lifestyle change of being in control over my time and exactly how I spend it. I felt I had outgrown my position, and was ready for a new challenge. I’m also planning ahead for having a family, and want complete control over the balance of working/making money versus being a mom.

I first had the idea to work for myself nearly three years ago, but really started planning for it in earnest the first part of this year. I celebrated my first day of self-employment on August 18.

What did your life feel like before you quit?

Crammed full, and constantly frustrated, overwhelmed and stressed. I had switched to part time the previous fall to help alleviate my overwhelm at work and give me space from feeling burned out (you never know until you ask), which was helpful, but I still felt overbooked and unfulfilled.

I’ve been running Rosy Blu for over three years, and started putting the wheels in motion for Hello Blu Studio this spring, so for six months I was working 25 hours a week at my day job on top of running one business and putting the foundation in place for another. I had to say no to a lot of things in order to stay sane, which comes with guilt and a feeling of missing out, and even after saying no to things, I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends.

What pushed you to quit? Was it a specific moment, a constant internal nagging or something else?

It was constant internal nagging, growing more desperate over time. There was nothing inherently wrong with the job itself, but I could just feel it wasn’t a fit for me anymore, and the longer I stayed, the more agitated I became about it. I think I was deeply affected by how stagnant that part of my life was, and it got to a point where I simply couldn’t help making a change, because I was so miserable and unsatisfied.

The hardest part about quitting?

For me, it was having the patience to not go crazy between the time I decided to quit, to the day I was able to actually do it. I had financial and logistical reasons why I couldn’t quit right away, so there were exhausting months of working nights and weekends in addition to my regular job to get momentum going.

Plus, the more you develop the idea of where you’re going, the more miserable your current situation seems in comparison. Which is necessary, I think, because otherwise you might never actually pull the trigger, but it feels awful when you’re in it.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for my former employer, so even though the position was no longer a good fit for me, I still was conscious of not wanting to take advantage of them. It was wearing to reconcile the frustrated feeling of wanting to quit, with the reality that I owed them good work while I still chose to receive paychecks from them. It wore me out, but I worked very hard to keep from phoning it in at that job, right up until the end.

Quitting can be emotionally taxing. Who or what helped you cope?

My husband was and is an angel. He listened to me ruminate about my problems and aspirations over and over and OVER while I was working my way up to this, made me feel better when I was doubting myself and gave me practical ideas when I had run out of solutions. It was his idea for me to switch to part time. And I don’t take for granted what a huge risk he agreed to in encouraging me to pursue this change.

Another thing that has helped me cope is using my worst frustration to motivate me to take action. One of my favorite mantras is the African proverb, “When you pray, move your feet.” Every time I had a particularly bad day, or was feeling frustrated by not being able to quit yet, I’d use the feeling—of stagnation, or anger, or disappointment—as fuel to take one more step toward what I wanted. It’s important to pray (or dream, or hope, or whatever) for a way out of a situation that doesn’t work for you, but you also need to do something about it. You have to constantly do your part to make your own success inevitable.

One more that made a huge difference in coping was appreciating what I already had going for me. I got tired of constantly striving toward a goal I knew I needed to wait for, and I sought ways to feel more content and satisfied right away. I actually put together the practices I used that helped me to create my Love What You Have email course, because there are a million reasons why people get in the habit of feeling that constant dissatisfaction, even if it’s not about their job. It’s still a focus of my life, because loving what you have changes absolutely everything.

Was quitting scary for you? Why or why not?

It was so terrifying. Even knowing deeply that I was making the right decision, there’s so much to be scared of when you’re confronting the unknown.

In addition, there’s a little-known aspect of entrepreneurship I’ve found to be true, which is that starting a business and selling your own stuff makes you confront a whole bunch of fear baggage you didn’t know you had. Learning to put a price tag on your service or product and standing confidently behind it means working through self-worth and “impostor complex” issues. Another huge one is learning the critical distinction between constructive negative feedback and negative feedback from someone who’s not going to like what you do no matter what—and not letting either one convince you that you suck and need to quit.

How did you feel immediately after you quit?

Equal parts relieved and terrified. Amazed at how many opportunities fell into place, even in the very first week, that I could never have predicted. There was also that feeling of seeing my bank account temporarily drain down to the double digits. That feeling wasn’t so great.

The feeling of going from a set daily routine to no routine at all was surprisingly unsettling. I was mostly thrilled to have finally achieved the goal I’d been working toward for so long, but it’s still hard to describe the transition as smooth.

How do you feel now? Any regrets?

The bank account has stabilized, thank heavens. I am still sure I made the right decision. I’m slowly adjusting the lack of external routine, and am learning what a good routine looks like for me, which feels wonderful and liberating.

If there had been a way to arrive at my goal of self-employment without getting burned out and exhausted, I would love to know what that was. But I’m kind of making up for it by being able to take naps or breaks in the middle of the day now, if I want, or eating lunch in the bathtub, which I do frequently. It’s really, really fun to be in the part of the process where the hard work is paying off.

I learned from all the choices I made along the way, so no, I don’t really have any regrets.

How has quitting changed your life?

I’ve gone miles on the path of learning to trust myself, and I’m also a lot more reverent about powers at work that I can’t see. A lot of opportunities fell into place to make this possible that I can’t take credit for—even just the number of friends and acquaintances who know me and like me, who have referred work to me and filled up my client docket makes me feel awe and gratitude for how supported I am by the people around me.

The concept of creating my own reality is HUGE, now that I have near-complete control over what every single day looks like. Mostly in a good way, but also a little ominous. (For example, what if I accidentally and irrevocably screw it all up?)

Advice to someone who’s thinking of quitting?

Take everyone else’s advice with a grain of salt. There are billions of tips and words of wisdom on the internet. Some might be helpful, some of them are obviously wrong for you; others are less obviously wrong for you. I spent a lot of time trying to set my path up based on what someone else’s experience had shown, only to realize that no matter how similar their situation, there are nuances that throw certainty into the wind.

Be open to experimenting, and don’t be afraid to reject advice that’s not right for you (or recognize when it’s time to stop asking for advice and do something).

My best advice, I guess, is to learn to follow your intuition, even if there’s no outside advice to support it. You’re creating a new path, after all.

Also, you are amazing, so take good care of yourself along the way.

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Michelle Urbick is the founder of Rosy Blu  (for creating order + ease at home) and Hello Blu Studio (for web marketing like a human). Her newest book, 101 ways to make SPACE in your day, will be available in January 2014. Her favorite thing to do is eat lunch in the bathtub. You can find her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Check out other Quitters here.

PS If you want to share your quitting story, email me at heyeleanorproject@gmail.com. Things I’d love to hear about: quitting a significant romantic relationship, giving up being an elite athlete, dropping out of med school/law school/doctorate program… and whatever else you’re quitting!

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