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A Pep Talk on Breaking Free

by Gigi Griffis Oct 22, 2012
A shot of motivation to become a writer, quit your job, start a business, and travel the world.

FIRST, EVERYONE will tell you it’s impossible. That’s just part of the process. Ignore them. Almost anything is possible if you go about it the right way.

When you’re sitting on your dormitory floor crying your eyes out because you can’t figure out whether it’s irresponsible to change your major to English or not, remember that. Remember that this decision isn’t the crux of everything else in your life. You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to fail. Most things in life can be shifted and redone.

So, do what you want. Because it’s your life. Not your dad’s. Not your grandmother’s. Not the naysayers’.

When you do change your major, you’ll love it. You’ll be much happier. You’ll gain just a little independence. You’ll learn that risks often pay off.

And when you graduate from college and it’s challenging to find a paying writing gig, don’t let the rejection get to you. Take that sales job and slyly work your way into the marketing department by taking on the writing projects no one else wants. Land yourself a few freelance gigs as they come. Don’t worry too much about the money. Do some charity work on a pro-bono basis. Build your skills. Pay attention to what really good writers are doing. Learn from them. Write something every day.

After a year in that sales job, go ahead and quit. Take a chance. Take a trip to Europe. Kayak in Cinque Terre. Go to a real Italian opera. Bike along the Danube.

When you’re walking along the canals of Venice, your stomach churning with indecision and the fear that maybe they’re all right — maybe you’ll never be paid to write full-time — remind yourself that it would be far worse not to try than to try and fail. At least if you try and fail you can learn something and try again.

Go back to the States and start your new life in Colorado; start banging down the doors of those ad agencies you want to work for. Beg, borrow, plead, and take a pay cut if you have to. It’s okay. You’ll make more money soon.

Prove yourself like crazy during your probationary period. Then ask for a raise. You’ll get it — and you’re worth it. (In fact, in three years, you’ll be running two departments.) When you see a need in the agency, fill it. Grow the demand for good writing. Build relationships with the clients. Keep championing the value you bring to the table.

When there’s a project outside your expertise, volunteer for it. Talk to the accountant. Help the designers. Gain an understanding of customer service. Learn HTML. Shadow the sales team. You’ll need it when you decide to start your business.

After six months of planning, you’ll be ready.

And save your pennies. Be frugal. Be ready for opportunity to come knocking.

Three years in, when your two departments are getting big and you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to quit, to strike off on your own. That nervous-fearful-excited mashup deep in your gut is perfectly normal. You’re allowed to be scared.

Take all that knowledge, those relationships, the skills you’ve built up — and move forward. Name your business something that inspires you. Tell everyone you meet what you’re doing. To succeed in anything, you’ll need people. Advocates. Friends. Supporters. Financial backers. Fans. Whatever flavor, people make or break ideas.

When you do quit your job and you’re sitting on a restaurant patio amazed at what you’ve just done, have a glass of bubbly. Don’t forget to celebrate the journey. Celebrate the milestones.

Join networking groups. Email your friends. Print your business cards. Pay someone to build you a really dynamic website. Write every day.

After your first year, when you have a bunch of new clients, pop another bottle. Keep moving forward.

And while you’re shaking your head at the critics, remember never to burn bridges. Treat them with kindness and kindly excuse yourself from their criticisms.

Because at the end of that first year of business, when you’ve built a successful professional meetup group and developed a client base and broken even on your expenses and started writing for publications in your field…after all that, you won’t be quite so afraid of taking chances.

So, it’s time for your next adventure. It’s time to travel the world.

Spend the next six months working hard, saving, being frugal, getting new clients, preparing them for your remote working status. Do a test run: Work from Belize for a week. Show initiative. Be reliable.

Sell your things. Rent out your car. Stop your cell service. Get all your dog’s travel paperwork. Shed your comfort zone, your expectations. And keep ignoring the critics. They’ll tell you that it can’t be done. But by now you know better.

After six months of planning, you’ll be ready. And the feeling when you walk off that first plane in Manchester will be worth all the to-do lists and the patience you’ve had to practice. You’re really doing this thing.

Later, when you’re sitting in Belgium having a cup of tea, listening to the ebb and flow of Dutch all around you, thinking about where you are now…

Don’t forget to thank everyone who helped you get here. The friends who encouraged you. The clients who stuck with you. The fans who read your work. Take a moment to thank yourself. You’ve worked hard. You’ve fought for yourself. You’ve told your stories, published your book, built a business, hit the road. You’ve really done something here. It’s time to pat yourself on the back. Celebrate your successes. Love thyself.

They said it couldn’t be done. You proved that it can. And that’s worth celebrating.

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