Note: I have put off writing this article for a while because I was afraid it would sound tone deaf with the current state of the world. I'm a straight white cis male coming from a classic nuclear family. While my family struggled to make ends meet when I was a kid, I have since had a lucrative career in software development thanks to college supported by grant money, scholarships, and a mentally supportive and loving family. While I have earned much of my success, I also had a seriously good head start and continue to get better treatment than peers outside my demographic. I am aware of "perks" I receive for the hand I have been dealt and continue to do what I can to bring a more equitable environment for others through sponsorship/mentorship, political donations, and the occasional unofficial scholarship.
Back in October, I suddenly decided to quit my job without having another one lined up so I could take a few months off. While I have always wanted to do this, I didn't know exactly when. Of course, my timing couldn't have been any more ridiculous. Who would quit their job in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic? I was surrounded by risk, seeing as I would have no health insurance if I was infected, the job market was worrisome, and U.S. politics were as heated as ever. On top of that was the guilt I felt for being so privileged (see note above) to take this time off while others were being forcefully unemployed, needing government support to stay afloat, or even dying. That said, I wanted to feel the fear and risk and force myself into self-honesty, decision, and action. Aside from external issues in the world, these last few months have been the most alive I have felt in years.
Why Be Unemployed?
While there were plenty of risks, there were a host of good reasons to do this now. For one, I had finally agreed to begin a medication targeting my anxiety and depression. I'd fought doctors/therapists for years since I didn't want medication, but had repeatedly been told something was just off in my head and any more therapy was redundant. Within a couple weeks of taking the meds, I finally had the energy and will to take flight. In addition, I had an incredibly good support system from my family and my wonderful partner. They not only supported me, but encouraged me to take this chance. If they hadn't been pushing me, I'm not sure I ever would have taken the plunge. Plus I needed to do this before there were little children running around taking up all of my free time.
Thankfully I didn't go into unemployment totally unprepared. My primary goal was to figure out what I want to do. There would be no external pressures, no people to please, and no projects to complete. I would be in control of every minute of every day of my life. It sounds simple enough, but I gave myself a very short timeline of only three months. In this time, I wanted to explore what it would take to create my own business, make an online course, and dig deeper into investments.
Run a Business
For years I had pleaded and begged for the time to start my own business. Now, I finally had the time to do so and there were no excuses. If I did it, I did it. If I didn't, it's because I didn't want to. I looked at the effort, time, and risk involved so I could take a good honest look at if I was capable and willing. While I determined that I was capable, I just wasn't willing. I'd rather not work incredibly long hours for the next several years with the risk that it wouldn't pay out, especially considering that it would likely bleed into time I had earmarked for my family and future children. For once, I could just let this "goal" go. I had no excuse not to do it, except that I just didn't want to...and that's okay. I felt a huge weight lift off of my chest.
Create an Online Course
I've always loved school, there's just something about the impartment of knowledge that gets me going. This fed into my stints as an after school staff where I guided young kids, my time mentoring software developers, and even that one time I was lucky enough to guest lecture at ASU. It seemed like a natural transition to make an online course to share my knowledge. I imagined this wouldn't be too difficult, but boy was I wrong. That market is oversaturated, particularly in the English speaking world. Any topic I could choose to teach, I'd be competing against the big dogs, leaving me with an ROI so low it wasn't worth the effort. Plus it didn't sound too fun. This would be a one-sided experience as opposed to the interactive experience I love which comes with live mentorship. So there we go. I checked off another "dream" of mine as something that wasn't feasible and didn't live up to my fantasy; one more weight lifted.
I was first introduced to investments through my grandparents who set up an account for me when I was still a kid. Sadly, most of that money was eaten by the 2008 recession, but since then I have learned more and placed my own bets. While I have had other losses (saw one symbol drop to zero suddenly), I have mostly had wins (thanks big tech). I also purchased a house seeing that as a relatively safe long term investment, especially considering I would live there long term or rent it out. For me, this was a fun game of numbers, somewhat like all those idle exponential gain games that are so popular. Considering that I already did this for fun (and profit), it was clear this was a path I wanted to double down on. I'd already wanted to diversify my investments since almost everything I had was in big tech and the house. Noting the house as my single largest investment and one that came with maintenance costs made it an easy scape goat for liquidation. I sold that bad boy and have since invested the profits in a variety of different ETFs and mutual funds, thus guaranteeing my diversification. In theory this should also be more lucrative than the house, while being more liquid. I'll continue to watch the market and place different bets as I accrue more wealth. With the house sold and a decision to invest more, one more weight was lifted and my path was chosen.
Ultimately, this time off allowed me to be honest with myself and focus on my strengths instead of some predetermined goals/dreams I had accepted as the de facto life path. I was able to remove the stress of things I thought I wanted and replace them with things I actually wanted. Plus, this mental freedom helped me give permission to myself to explore long neglected hobbies such as wood burning/carving (see header image) or Lego that were put on the sideline because I thought I should be spending all my free time being "productive."
With all that, the final decision I had to make was whether investment was something I would do part time or as a side gig. That was easy. I still love technology and want to get back to work as well. Luckily, the software job market is doing just fine so I have plenty of options.