Tomorrow marks one year of ditching the daily grind.
My last day as a full-time employee in corporate America was August 5, 2016, and I can honestly say without any hesitation that the time since handing in my employee ID badge has easily been the best year of my life. Even though I’d been looking forward to and planning for the day my creative and productive energies would no longer waste away in cubicle hell, the abrupt finality at the age of 34 happened mostly by chance.
My wife, who is active duty military, was reassigned to a base overseas and I was more or less forced to quit my job. At least that’s how it appeared from the outside, giving me the perfect cover to implement my new career plan, one in which I’d never work a traditional full-time job ever again.
I had wanted this for years, but didn’t have the courage to give up a borderline six-figure salary, especially with three kids under 10 still under our roof. Although we’d had a good handle on our money for years and I knew we could easily pull it off financially, it still didn’t seem logical.
Thankfully the move gave me a convenient excuse to leave a perfectly good career and start fresh.
One of the toughest, and sometimes awkward, parts of this whole process has been interacting with others, including family. Several times I’ve gotten, “So what do you do all day, just sit around?”
This bothered me a lot at first, and still does to a degree.
People just don’t seem to grasp the non-traditional work or freelance lifestyle. I’d even get a bit defensive. It almost felt like people were accusing me of mooching off my wife, which is definitely not the case.
When most of your work is done remotely, it’s easy to look like you’re just hanging out all day. In reality, I feel like this is the busiest and most productive I’ve ever been. And work has actually been fun.
I spent a ton of time early on toiling under the radar building small freelance income streams and making connections in the Air Force Reserve world that are beginning to really pay off.
I’ve completed several interesting projects, while maintaining the flexibility to manage my time however I want during the day. By applying a project-based freelance mentality to my work, I’ve been able to avoid all the office politics and day to day drudgery I used to hate.
In October, I’ll begin teaching math as an adjunct at one of the universities on base, something I’ve always envisioned myself doing. This will give me four separate work-related income streams (AF Reserve, teaching, technical/academic editing, writing) to go along with two passive income streams (dividends, private real estate lending).
To some this may seem crazy, but I actually enjoy bouncing back and forth between various projects/clients/employers. Every day is a new challenge, something to look forward to.
There are some slow days where I don’t do much. The only downside to this is that I don’t make money during these times. But it sure beats going to work every day!
The flexibility to take on whatever projects I want whenever I want has been amazing. It really has invigorated my outlook toward working. I honestly give my best effort now and I can’t say I always did so in my previous life.
I’m continually surprised by the unique opportunities that seem to present themselves out of nowhere. During the last year, I’ve worked with clients in New Zealand, India, and China. I’ve spent three weeks in Germany and flown back to the US another three times for the Air Force. Now I’m working remotely on a couple projects that’ll finish up at the end of September.
Editing academic and technical papers has greatly improved my writing. I’ve learned that I really enjoy refining others people’s work. There’s a sense of instant gratification when you take a paper that was poorly written and turn it into something worthy of journal publication.
Everything I’ve done so far has built off my strengths and interests. I was a good but not great engineer with a propensity for writing. Combining the two has given me the chance write and edit technically-oriented articles and papers. It’s also helped me get the work I’m currently doing for the military.
No matter what your interests and strengths are, I’m sure you can find a way to make money off them through non-traditional means. There’s more out there than you could ever imagine.
No More Steady Paychecks
After leaving my corporate job and moving to a new country, it took several months for me to settle in. Now I feel like I’m hitting my stride. I’ve learned where to find the work I want and how to pace myself so it stays fresh and fun.
For transparency, here’s my income over the last year. As you can tell, it has been all over the place and is trending upwards. Last August includes my final traditional pay check, along with sold back PTO, and some reserve pay. It represents slightly less than what I used to make in a normal month.
My current income is nowhere near its former levels, and that’s fine with me. I’m happy averaging $3–4K a month with an occasional big month thrown in. I don’t think maintaining this will be much of a problem moving forward, though I’m sure to have an occasional month or two under $1K.
I’ll likely continue working at this pace, with slower and busier periods sprinkled in, until the kids are done with high school. By that time, Mrs. DTG should be retired from active duty. She’s free to get out sooner if she likes. We don’t necessarily need the money, but the padding doesn’t hurt and she enjoys her job as a physical therapist.
It’s Not All About Work
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that my first year of ditching the daily grind has been all about finding more meaningful work. C’mon, we’re in Europe and are taking full advantage of this experience!
Earlier this week, we returned to England after a weeklong stay in the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain but located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco. Spring break was spent cruising the Mediterranean with stops in Italy, France, and Spain. And Christmas break brought us to the Netherlands. In between, we’ve had numerous road and day trips throughout most of southern England.
To close out the year, we have trips planned to France, Belgium, Scotland, and Denmark. We’re hoping to make it to Wales, northern England, Ireland, and Portugal next year.
Typing this all out makes it feel like a fantasy, yet this is our new normal. The biggest things that allowed this to happen were a serendipitous overseas work assignment, considerable savings aided by years of good money decisions while making above average incomes, and a willingness to try something different. With any luck and skillful maneuvering, the coming years will continue treat us with amazing opportunities and experiences.
And in case you were wondering, no, I can never imagine going back to being a traditional employee ever again!