Tom Ewer left his 9-5 job in 2011 to become a professional blogger, creating Leaving Work Behind and to write freelance articles for one hundred or so blogs. Tom was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about some of the fears and doubts he had before leaving his “great” job and taking the risk to become an entrepreneur. Even if you aren’t thinking of leaving your job, Tom has some great tips that he learned while going for his goal while still feeling fear and doubt. I’ve added some emphasis in the parts that jumped out at me while I was listening.
V: So, for people who haven’t read your blog, Leaving Work Behind, how did you get started with that?
T: Back in May 2011 I was in a job I really enjoyed, the job was great. I basically had an epiphany over night and realized that I didn’t want to be employed. When I was a kid I just always assumed I’d become an entrepreneur because my dad was and I realized after five years that I wasn’t. I figured what I needed to do was make money online because I needed to find something that I could do in a relatively short space of time. Because I had my full time job, I would only be able to allocate maybe a couple of hours a day to it so I started down that road and at the time I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew that I needed to hold myself accountable. So Leaving Work Behind started as basically a public accountability journal for my own journey in trying to quit my job. It’s developed a lot since that, but that was its original aim.
V: Were you afraid when you were planning this? How did you experience any fear when you were either leaving your work or creating the website?
T: Well, starting out I wasn’t really afraid because there was not really anything to be afraid of at that point because I wasn’t really taking any risks. I know a lot of people go as far as to be afraid of even launching a blog and publishing content. But in terms of being afraid generally, of course the whole concept of quitting my job, which I did in December 2011, that of course brought with it an element of uncertainty. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it outright fear, but I certainly know that a lot of people would perceive it as fear. But I think I had a very objectively useful way of handling that move in a way that kind of quelled the fear for me.
V: And what way was that?
T: Well, essentially I try to turn what is typically a very subjective and emotional decision into an as objective decision as possible. So for instance, for a lot of people, the concept of quitting your job is a very frightening one. Just in principle it’s frightening, if I’m gonna quit my job there’s risk. What if it doesn’t work? What if I don’t earn enough? The first thing I told myself was anything in life is a risk. If you stay in your job, you might get fired tomorrow. That’s the risk. You might get made redundant. You might become involved in a workplace accident of some kind and not be able to work anymore. You know there’s a million and one opportunities so the first thing I realized to help myself cope with fear is that life is all about risk. Even if you lock yourself in the house and don’t go anywhere you still might get robbed and assaulted in your own house so there is risk. It’s inherent, so I realized that because everything is risky there are just different levels of risk. Staying in my job was relatively low risk and quitting my job was relatively high risk, but they were both risks from a financial point of view. And then I flipped that on its head and said “Well, ok, what about my happiness? Let’s think about that for a minute.” And then I realized that for my own happiness, staying in my job was very high risk and then quitting my job was probably medium risk because who knows what’s going to happen when you quit your job. So that was the first thing I did, I tried to tell myself that everything in life is a risk and therefore you shouldn’t just fear quitting your job on the basis that it’s a risk because everything’s a risk. Then I tried to quantify what I was doing, so instead of making an emotional decision, I said “How much money do I need? How much money am I currently making? How much money do I need to make?” You know, all these kind of number based calculations. At the time I wasn’t making nearly enough to support myself, I could see I was making a certain amount per hour and from that I could determine that if I worked X hours I could earn enough to support myself worst case scenario. And I figure out the chances of me not being able to do that were extremely low so I thought, obviously it’s a risk quitting my job, but I feel it’s a very manageable risk. Worst case scenario I have to get a part time job, I have to make ends meet. But it’s almost a bigger risk for my own happiness or for the whole kind of “what if?” factor for me not to do it than me to actually do it.
V: That’s very helpful. In the first part of your “My Story So Far” post, you mentioned a mantra that you used. It was “Sometimes you simply have to accept the risk inherent in things and move forward regardless of fear.” That basically encapsulates what you were just talking about doing. Right?
T: I think so, yeah. Kind of separating it out on its own it can be construed in many different ways, but the kind of elevator pitch for avoiding fear that would be it for me. That sometimes, you’ve just got to suck it up because life is full of risk so best to pick a risk that might end up in something truly rewarding than to take the easiest route and just feel totally unfulfilled in your life.
V: And mentioning it as a mantra, did you put that somewhere or did you say it to yourself occasionally? What made it a mantra for you?
T: I didn’t put it up anywhere. I’m not the kind of guy who has that motivational poster on their wall to remind them although I can definitely see why that is useful. I guess I just made it a part of everything that I was doing. And this applies to everything that I do whether it be about taking risks and beating fear or being motivated or just being happy. I make a certain way of thinking drive me. So, for instance, with that I would when I’m waking up say “Look, I’ve gotta do this. I don’t have a choice. It has to happen.” I just make it part of everything that I do and every kind of relevant act that I take is done with that thought in mind. So it’s always there at the forefront of my mind, even if I’m not actually saying it to myself over and over again or reading it on the wall.
V: Do you find that the things that may have either scared you or just made you uncertain in the beginning are different now and maybe also the way you face them might be different now?
T: Yeah, massively so. And I think this is something that a lot of people who are afraid of certain things can benefit from. The first thing is that generally speaking if you want to achieve something there is at least one other person out there, probably hundreds and thousands, that have achieved the equivalent of what you want to achieve with less resources available to them, with less opportunity and probably less personal intelligence, experience, whatever you want to call it. What you’re trying to do is not a miracle, it’s probably been done before and it’s probably been done by someone who has less resources available to them both materially and mentally so there’s nothing crazy about what you’re trying to do. And to build upon that I would say that whatever you are trying to achieve in the grand scale of human achievement is this tiny, tiny drop in the ocean. I don’t want to put people down on their goals because that’s meant to be a positive statement. It’s meant to be that no matter how challenging you feel your goal is, in reality, it’s actually tiny and if you can make it tiny, if you can recognize it for what it is then that can really help you to lose a little bit of the fear of trying to do it and the fear of failure. That’s certainly what I do these days, for instance, when I was trying to quit my job at the time there was a voice in my head that said “No, no, you can’t do this.” To be honest, I probably experienced doubt a lot more than fear. So there would be a voice saying “You’re not meant to be this person who quits their job and starts a successful online business. This isn’t you.” So you’ve got that continuing voice in your head. The difference for me now is that when I look up to a similar goal relative to where I am now, say to make two hundred thousand dollars in a year, instead of a voice in my head saying “Oh, you can’t do that. That’s not possible.” The voice is instead saying “Why not?” If you actually go and look at the percentage of the population of the US, the top five percent make above one hundred and thirty thousand. And I say to myself, “Why the hell can’t I be in the top five percent? You know, that’s a big number. That’s hundreds of thousands of people. What is stopping me from being one of them? Am I too stupid? Am I not experienced enough? You know, what can stop me?” And the answer I invariably give myself is “Screw that! I can do that! No problem.” And to take that attitude and to say, for instance, say I want to earn more than 50% of the population, which is maybe thirty five thousand dollars or something like that. If you can kind of frame it in the context of “I believe I am more capable than half the people in the country” then it suddenly becomes a far easier proposition.
V: So what would you say to someone who was not stepping forward into living their dream because they’re afraid?
T: Most people have excuses. The excuse is typically “I don’t have time.” Whether that’s in the form of: because of my kids, because of my job, because of X, Y, Z, that’s usually an excuse. It’s actually hiding something else which is often fear. But sometimes they do honestly feel like they don’t have enough time. The first thing I say is that, similarly to what I said previously, there is someone out there with less time and resources available to them that have achieved what you want to achieve. So don’t tell me you don’t have time, you tell me one of two things. You either say “I don’t want this enough” which is fine. If you don’t want it enough than fair enough, if you’re happy to kind of stick at what you’re doing and accept the status quo then more strength to you. So you either say that or you admit that you’re afraid or you admit that you doubt yourself. Make that honest admission to yourself and the people around you. And I find that if you admit that to yourself, that can take a big weight off your shoulders. If you can say, “I am afraid” then that’s kind of like the first step in the right direction. And once you’ve admitted that you’re afraid, you then have to ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen? If I try and do this, what can I lose?” And if the answer is “I can lose fifty grand” then yeah, you might want to think twice about doing what you’re trying to do. But if the answer is “I could lose a lot of time trying to do this thing and it not work out. I could get de-motivated by failure. It could make me feel like I’ll never succeed.” Then I say that’s not a good enough reason. There are very few things in the world, when it comes down to it, that are a good enough reason not to try and chase what you really want to achieve in life. Fear and doubt are the biggest ones, but the great thing is that they’re actually in your head. They’re not real. They’re these mental concepts just within your brain and they can dissipate tomorrow or they can grow stronger but they’re not real, physical things. As far as I’m aware, you’re typically far more equipped to cope with the fear.
V: So, is there anything else about fear or doubt that you’d like to share?
T: Well, first of all, they are inevitable. Anyone who tries to avoid it is missing the point. Fear is not there to be avoided, it’s there to be managed and fear can be a good thing. Fear stops us from walking out in front of a bus. Fear stops us from buying a hundred thousand dollars worth of lottery tickets in the hopes of winning ten million. It’s useful. So it’s not about defeating it, it’s about managing it and it’s about recognizing when it’s useful to you and when it’s not. And if you’re trying to do something where the worst possible outcome is you fail, but you don’t actually and nothing truly monumental happens then you have to recognize that the fear is not productive. And if you can do that then you really have won half the battle regardless of what you’re trying to do. I find that when it comes to succeeding in anything, whether it’s building a business or trying to achieve a specific achievement, if you can put fear in its place and persist then that success will almost inevitably come to you if your goal is reasonable enough. Persistence really is the key. If you can manage your fear and just continue to persist for weeks, months, years, however long it takes; persistence almost always ends in success. The only thing that will stop you from succeeding, ninety-five percent of the time, is stopping. So if you don’t let your fear get the best of you and you allow yourself to persist and believe that that can ultimately help you to succeed then you almost definitely will.
SO, what did you think of Tom’s story and thoughts about fear and doubt? What jumped out at you? Have a similar story? Please share in the comments below. I’ll be posting another interview next Wednesday so make sure to check back next week and follow me on Facebook and Twitter in the mean time for updates, inspiration and sharing.
If you want to learn more about Tom visit him at his website, Leaving Work Behind.