How I Quit My Professional Job and Followed My True Calling

Danielle Dahl, MSML

Some advice and tips if you are struggling with where life is right now.

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Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@clarktibbs

Originally published in Write For Your Life

The path and definition of success are different for everyone. Not everyone goes to college for four years, graduates, gets the perfect job, and lives happily ever after. It can be a more arduous quest with many starts and stops, including a few ‘come to Jesus’ moments. In those moments, when you question everything, is where you can often find the strength to live happily.

I had an eclectic college experience, to say the least. While still in high school, I graduated with an AA degree. Then I enrolled as a Journalism/Mass Communications major at USF. However, I never started classes. Instead, I moved to Montana, where my mom was living in the witness protection program. She encouraged me to stay with her and enroll at a private college there that offered an Equestrian program.

If there was one thing I loved as much as writing, it was horses. At the start of this program, I was so excited to ride every day that I didn’t think about what I would do with this degree. During class one day, the professor said how several graduates wrote for equine magazines, and I thought it was a match made in heaven.

I was almost finished with my second semester of the program when my mother died in a car accident. I had to move out of my house, but couldn’t afford an apartment. At school, the counselor suggested I look into a cheaper program and use the leftover funds to live on campus. They didn’t offer a journalism degree, and I recall her asking if anything else interested me.

I was 18, grieving, and unable to process any of my traumatic childhood events, yet I scrambled to make this life choice. “I thought about being a lawyer for a few years. I even volunteered at our school’s ‘Teen Court.’ I’m also good at public speaking and debate,” I remember answering. She thought for a moment and said, “What about Political Science?” So, I started that program. But the hits just kept coming.

A fight with my grandma on the phone and the news that my boyfriend was moving back to Hawaii was more than my sleep-deprived, traumatized, grieving mind could process. I ended up spending three nights in the psych ward, where I cried for days about my mom and the father who had been absent from my life since I was five. When I got out of the hospital, I looked him up on Google (a relatively new thing back in 2002). I called twice and left two messages days apart. I had given up hope, but then later that week he called me back. Before I knew it, I was on a bus to NY.

My dad was adamant that I continue with school. So one of the first things we did was go to Columbia and meet with the admissions department. I was a transfer student with a two-year degree at 18, my grades were excellent, and my test scores were higher than average. I had enjoyed the Poli-Sci program, so I enrolled in the pre-law program with a Fall start date. It thrilled me because this was one school I had wanted to apply for that my grandma hadn’t let me. However, I would not step foot in the halls of Columbia either.

Life, marriage, kids, and work

Before school started, my boyfriend and I had resumed talking, and we realized we missed each other. It wasn’t long before I was back on a bus to Montana to stay with his mom while we saved money to fly me to Hawaii. The rest of 2002 was a blur of traveling farther than I had ever gone, realizing we couldn’t live in Hawaii without staying with his father and returning to the states. We got married at the end of the year and got pregnant at the beginning of 2003.

My husband was still trying to finish his computer science degree, and we had a newborn, so my dreams of college hit a momentary snag. He graduated four years later, and during that time, I had enrolled in an online college because that was the only way I was going to get it done while working with a toddler and a husband in school.

One of the few programs they offered that interested me was Business Administration. I had been working in retail management, so it just seemed like the most logical career choice. It was clear I wouldn’t be a journalist, or a write, or a lawyer either. It would take me years to earn that Bachelor’s degree, but I stuck with it and finally graduated in 2014.

I could stay home with the kids for the first time in our lives, and I figured what better time than this to get my Master’s degree! I was riding the high of finally having a Bachelor’s, and I had over a decade of management experience, so Management and Leadership fit the path.

We moved while I was in the middle of the program, and I went back to work. This led to another break from school. Eventually, I started a new school with a different program, and it was a much better fit. I ended up taking another break, but I was so close that after a year, I went back to finish it.

Listen to who you are

About six months into the last year of my Master’s program, I felt the need to write again. I had written fiction, poetry, and non-fiction articles when I was in high school. Writing kept me alive, and it had been my first choice for a career. Instead, here I was in my 30s, having been a manager in nearly every type of industry. I realized the only thing I liked about school was writing the giant papers. There had to be an easier way to satisfy my desire to write.

I went to a monthly writing group and started working on a memoir. I discovered Medium by accident and started writing about my childhood. I found Upwork through a Medium article, and before I knew it, I had a client. The words flowed, and I was having the time of my life, but I couldn’t write as much as I wanted because I had to go to my actual job as an operations manager. And I had four classes to finish.

I looked at my husband one day, and said, “I would be incredibly stupid to quit this program with just three classes and a Capstone left, wouldn’t I?” Gotta love him, he said, “Well, you are not stupid, but you are so close! You should finish it because it’s not like they can take it away, even if you decide to write full time.”

I listened, and I graduated, but I had lost interest in all things management. I just wanted to write, and I was struggling with how I wanted to live my life. My clients and workload were increasing on Upwork, and I consistently made some money on Medium. And then COVID-19 happened, and they furloughed me from my job.

Don’t let fear stop you

The fear that held me back from quitting my job was suddenly gone, and it had happened through no fault of my own. I was thankful I had a safety net of unemployment, but I had been gifted 40 hours to dedicate to growing my income. Could I do it? Was being a full-time writer something I could achieve? There was no time like the present to find out.

I made a schedule and wrote every day, spending each morning submitting two new proposals on Upwork. I became an editor for a publication on Medium. And when the call came for me to go back to work, I was earning what I had at my full-time job, and I wanted to keep growing my brand as a writer. I ended up going back for six weeks to help everyone adjust to the new business as usual because we had some stringent COVID-19 restrictions to work with. During that time, I questioned whether I was making the right choice.

Not only was I leaving my safe job, but I was switching career paths significantly. A course I had invested a considerable amount of money in completing. However, life is about more than that. For me, it is about believing in who you are, knowing what you’re meant to do, and having faith in the impact your life will have on someone else’s.

Pay attention to your transferable skills

My skills have not gone to waste. I can set goals, manage my time, inspire others, and plan to have a different kind of business. I even have clients for whom I write management, leadership, and productivity articles. I understand data and analytics. If the current path you are on is not fulfilling, you are not bound to it.

Look at your skill set and figure out how you can use it on a more compatible path. Sure, the quickest way from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ might be a straight line, but do any of us live lives that are that linear? I have learned something from every road that has led me to this one right here, and I am sure you have too. It is up to you what you do with that knowledge, and the path you walk from here.

I know that advice like “follow your passions and go with your gut” might sound cliche. But at the end of my day, I write articles about self-improvement, business, management, entertainment, and even politics and current events. I do not have a degree in journalism, but I am doing exactly what I knew I was meant to be doing all those years ago. You deserve to be doing what you set out to do, too, no matter how long the road is.

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Words matter. Sharing the pain and evolution found in our life stories compels others to investigate, “How they came to be who they are?” Delving into the events that shaped us as children creates a level of self-awareness each of us can use to establish enduring and essential change. I use my personal history, education as a Management professional, and training as a Life Coach to write insightful articles about leadership and teams, personal development, and everything else that pertains to growth, both professionally and personally.

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