Not Starting Without an Exit Strategy
Escape Hatch, by Sam, W on Flickr (CC-A licensed)

I feel like I’ve been talking with a lot of people lately about finding work. I mean, I think of it as finding work. Some of the people I’ve been talking with call it figuring out what they want to be when they grow up, or finding their passion, or getting paid to do something they believe in.

Whatever you call it, I’ve been there.

I told one friend, though I don’t think Twitter afforded me enough words and I’m not sure I made my point productively, that when I gave up trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I finally got happy.

That was the day I accepted that I’m interested in too many things to pick just one, or just one path. That was the day I started simply to look for what I wanted to do next.

He implied, though I’m not sure he meant to, that I had the luxury of not needing to get paid. For a short time after I sold, that was true. But for the most part, I live the glamourous life one lives when one is married to a PhD student. (Read: It ain’t glamourous and I have to help pay the bills.)

In the years since I sold, I’ve made money editing books, freelance writing, copywriting, consulting, blogging, leading workshops and speaking. In the coming year, I plan to make money doing some or all of those things and also teaching and doing some fun things with video. And hopefully writing another book.

On Tuesday I listened to a great video conversation between Danielle Maveal, who recently left her position with Etsy to pursue, well, she’s very publicly and awesomely exploring what she’ll pursue next, and Michelle Ward, whose work I discovered because of this conversation. Michelle is a coach – she calls herself the When I Grow Up coach, and I hope she doesn’t take offense to the wee detail that I got happy when I stopped trying to figure that out. You can see the recording of the conversation here.

While Danielle and Michelle talked about how to approach the question of whether it’s time to quit your job (I love saying quit in this context, because I’ve slayed my “I’m a quitter” demon – they used the phrase “get fired”), there was text chat going on amongst the viewers. At one point, I mentioned in chat that I’ve learned I always need an exit strategy when I begin a new project. This is because I get bored fast. Super fast. With lightening speed.

Not a weakness, a strength!

I’m a great starter, I’m a visionary thinker, I paint in broad strokes, yada yada. So I never, ever look for a long-term job anymore. I look for a job that either has a concrete end date that’s not too far from when it starts, or that will involve an appropriate time for me to quit without leaving anyone, well, screwed.

And I don’t lie anymore. I don’t tell potential clients that I’m going to drink their Kool-Aid. I don’t imply I’m a long-term team player with an eye on a pension and a gold watch. I don’t keep quiet when long-term plans come up. I say something like this:

“I believe in what you’re doing, and I think I’m here talking to you right now because you think I can help you achieve it. I am overwhelmed with eagerness to help you do it in X, Y and Z ways. But after <insert project-specific time-frame>, I will lose steam and become a pain-in-the-ass lump of dead weight for you to try to nudge along. This is precisely because I possess the qualities you desire, as an energetic and industrious <starter, brainstormer, writer, whatever>. The flip-side is that <X time from now> you’re going to need me off your team and I’m going to need to go start something else.”

I don’t imply to potential clients that their project will be the only one I work on, because I need to be doing several different types of work at any given time so I don’t get bored. I’ve found that just because it seems like the vast majority of people in the world are perfectly happy going to the same job day after day, year after year, they still respect this quirk I have, and they respect me for being upfront about it.

I used to fear that being this way meant I was an egomaniac. But it doesn’t. It just means I know myself and I know what I need to be happy and productive in my work. And you know? Sometimes I don’t get hired. Sometimes people think I might be a rogue (not in a good way). Sometimes my lack of enthusiasm for work I don’t believe in makes people think there’s something wrong with me and not the work (yeah, right!). But when I do get hired, I know I’m going to love the work precisely because I already know it’ll end.

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Robin (noteverstill)

Random fact: Michelle Ward is married to my first boyfriend. Small world, right?And I’m the same way *at* work — I like to keep 3-4 diverse projects running concurrently at all times.


Wait what?! Are you Jewish Robin from Niagara Falls?! I have you to thank that Luke knows Hanukkah comes with presents….


OK, Luke wanted me to make sure you knew that *he* never called you Jewish Robin – he so didn’t! But because I’m Jewish and Luke is barely Jewish, I automatically classified you as Jewish Robin because it seems like you were the first Jewish person he knew that actually taught him things about his religion (thank you!). We know there’s more to you than that!

Jaime Guthals

I think you’ve missed your real calling as a life coach. You’ve always been such an inspiration to me and I admire your open, honest, no bullshit approach to work and relationships. Thanks for all the advice you’ve dished out to me over the last couple weeks. –JG


No offense taken! My secret is that it’s soooooo not about Growing Up – not in a buttoned-up, librarian, behave-yourself way. Instead, it’s about keeping the fun/ease/play in your life and making it into your grown-up career. Win-win!

And have you picked up The Renaissance Soul yet? You must you must you must!

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