I get asked for career advice from a lot of young aspiring entrepreneurs, most of whom are working in stuffy corporate jobs which provide a nice paycheck but little else in terms of creativity and fulfillment. The first thing I say right off the bat is to not under any circumstance quit your day job. Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the entire world and for most people money goes out a lot quicker than it comes in. If you think you are unhappy in your day job now, then just wait until you don’t have that paycheck coming in. Any stress that you might have felt in your life always gets magnified when you have financial constraints.
The honest truth is that following your passion is only about 1/10th of what you need to succeed. Take it from someone who dropped out of college to do just that – Ryan Holiday. Holiday is an author and media strategist and the former director of marketing for American Apparel. He’s written six books on topics ranging from marketing to stoicism including his most recent one called Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts.
Holiday made the decision to drop out of school after securing a full-time job offer and realizing that he had a unique opportunity to jump start his career earlier than his peers. The concept of dropping out of college is not wildly popular in Asian culture. And while it is not as discouraged in Western culture (case studies like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg help) it certainly isn’t encouraged either.
“The purpose of going to school is to secure some employment or advantage in this field that you’re pursuing. I reject the idea that one’s parents can let them do anything. At 18, you’re an adult. You can make your own decisions, and you have to be able to own the consequences.The consequence of my decision was that my parents were very upset. It made a very difficult thing even harder,” says Holiday.
In the end it was a calculated risk, but one that paid off. After landing an opportunity to work with international best selling author Robert Greene, he soon landed a job at American Apparel quickly climbing the ranks to become the Head of Marketing at the age of 22 proving that a college degree wasn’t only thing that is needed to get ahead in life.
You don’t need to burn the boats
The good news is that you don’t need to drop out of school or quit your day job to make meaningful changes in your life. As admirable as Holiday’s journey was, there are many ways to progress if you are feeling stuck at the moment. As someone who has worked at large financial institutions for the first decade of my career, I can relate to the feeling of being miserable and unfulfilled in a corporate job. Instead of doing something drastic, try to take that miserable situation and turn it into something productive.
One of the chapters in Holiday’s previous book called Ego Is The Enemy is titled “Alive Time Or Dead Time”. Holiday credits this concept to his mentor Robert Greene and in the book he recounts the story of Malcolm X who was by all counts a criminal that deserved to go to jail. But instead of sitting around feeling sorry for himself, Malcolm X used his time to read, learn and be productive which was directly responsible for the greatness he achieved after prison. Malcolm X chose his prison time to be “alive time” and not “dead time.”
If you hate every minute of your job but try to find some constructive way to leverage your situation you will continue to make forward progress towards your goal. If your job is demanding and requires your full attention during the 9 am – 5 pm window then get your side hustle on and be productive during the 5 pm – 9 am window.
“I think that if you’re really good at what you do, you don’t need to quit your job to have things on the sides because it doesn’t require the full breadth of your capacity in the way that might for someone who’s not quite as good as that same occupation,” says Holiday.
Stoicism will help you endure
Holiday explains stoicism as a practical philosophy that we can use in our everyday lives. The basic premise is that we as human beings don’t control the world around us, we only control how we respond to the world around us. On first hear this might sound extremely discouraging and powerless to the forces outside of our control. However, upon further study you will realize just how empowering this concept is. It is a unique way of re-framing your mind and how you react to situations in life. Regardless of how bad your boss is or what adversity the world throws your way, you have the power to choose how you react to it and that power is ultimately your freedom.