Why 'Don't Quit Your Day Job' Is The Worst Advice Someone Can Give You

by Joe Chambrello

If you are a recent post grad, or Gen-Yer that has been in the “real world,” for a few years now, maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t quit your day job.” This phrase could have been uttered by anyone, from a friend or coworker to a sibling or parent.

Maybe the act, or conversation preceding that phrase was made in jest, and therefore, it was an appropriate statement to conclude the interaction. Maybe it wasn’t.

Maybe whatever triggered that phrase – that loaded, entrepreneurial-mocking, spirit-crushing phrase – was a legitimate idea seeking some valid feedback. Maybe it was a cry for support in a risky career move.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Your self-confidence has already been reduced and your insecurities have been confirmed. How long has this been going on?

Why does that phrase, “Don’t quit your day job,” pour out so naturally for some people? By the way, I absolutely despise that phrase and the terms “real world,” and “real job.” What the f*ck does that even mean nowadays? Anyway, let’s explore…

You can do anything you want to do!

Bring yourself back to third, maybe fourth, grade. We were all asked to respond to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Man, that question seemed so trivial at the time compared to the more relevant question, “What do you want to do at recess in an hour?”

I mean we weren’t actually expected to figure out what our end game was, and what exactly needed to be on our résumé to get there.

It was just an initial spark for us to start thinking about our developing skills, interests and passions, and to use this knowledge as a catalyst towards achieving a dream. Whoa, that’s heavy. I think kickball; kickball is what I want to do at recess.

The point is that we had endless options -- the sky was the limit! We could dream big, do anything we wanted to do, be anything we wanted to be! Fast-forward to now. Are you what you wrote down that day in fourth grade?

Okay, we were sporadic, imaginative, preadolescents who didn’t even pick out our own clothes yet, and seriously, we just wanted to play kickball at recess.

What about eighth grade? This question was surely addressed again. Except now, you had time to develop some sense of self; you had a better idea of how society works and what you may be capable of contributing to it.

Also, you were about to enter high school, which means more choices in class selection, career direction and, ultimately, more control of your own life…no pressure!

What should you be doing?

Not to worry; the world is your oyster! You could grab the bull by the horns...cliché after cliché! Maybe the answer to that looming question has changed a bit at this point. What do you want to be when you grow up? You have a different, more realistic answer but continue feeling ambitious.

Back to now -- you are at least where you envisioned being when you entered high school, right? Why not? Probably because it’s at this time when the limitless question becomes a more limited, “What should you be doing?” You understand that each decision has more of an immediate and direct effect on your future.

At this time, you start receiving advice from outside sources, such as coaches, parents and guidance counselors. You are unsure of what the “correct” answers are and don’t feel encouraged to tread a unique path, or to push forward with an entrepreneurial spirit.

The pressure of wanting to reassure those authoritative figures in your life that you are in a direction toward something secure sinks in. You conform. You have a new goal: take the most assured, conventional route to achieving full-time employment.

You probably coasted along, padding the résumé with the typical sports, clubs, honors and community service, while pairing that with some decent test scores so you could get into college…because, duh, that was the next checkpoint.

What do you need to be doing?

I was a junior in high school, almost at that college checkpoint. I had to focus and get good SAT scores or I might fall short of my goal. I quit my senior year of football in order to ensure that this didn’t happen. In fourth grade I wrote, “I want to be a professional football player.”

Wow, my first big dream was officially by the wayside. But this HAD to be done. I couldn’t risk being thrown off the most assured, conventional route to achieving full-time employment. Is it possible I felt accomplished enough in not being considered a slacker that I missed an opportunity to dream bigger?

Ok, that sounded corny. I digress. It was just tough; there was so much social and societal pressure to continue moving forward towards the new goal!

I’ve made it to the college checkpoint. I have more important decisions to make. What will I major in, and what extra courses will I choose? I’m not sure; I feel like I haven’t been truly thinking on my own for a while now.

As long as I just make a decision and stick to it, I will still be on the most assured, conventional route towards achieving full-time employment. Plus, once I’m safely there and settled, that’s when I can take some time to reassess and explore opportunities. Right?

What am I truly passionate about? What do I have a strong interest in? I may have lost some sense of this along the way, but I was sure to pick it back up in college. In the meantime, I can pad my résumé with clubs, internships, community service, and pair that with a good GPA so I can reach the final goal…

What do you need to be doing?

I was right; the system is foolproof -- I am fully employed! It’s not what I had originally hoped and dreamed of, but now that I’m safely here, I can take some time to reassess and explore some opportun…oh please, just stop!

Why haven’t I made moves yet, and why start now? Probably because the most assured, conventional path towards achieving full-time employment is more powerful than I anticipated and extremely difficult to stray from once you're on it.

Plus, knowing I had this insurance allowed me to have a lot of fun along the way. Now, what I should be doing has turned into what I need to be doing. Now it’s, like, a matter of survival and living; I’m in the real world now (someone kick me in the shin). Yes, this minor detail makes that “Jerry McGuire” moment a little tougher to fathom.

Final Thoughts and Advice

First, for those that really figured it out along the way and have found happiness and fulfillment in your jobs, we commend and envy you. For the rest of us, now IS the time to reassess and explore. Seriously, what do you want to be when you grow up?

If you don’t act soon, you’ll continue on this vicious cycle, and eventually find yourself condescendingly advising some hopeful post-grad to not quit his or her day job. Why the f*ck not? So I can feel miserable and unfulfilled with my work? Sorry, I’d rather risk pursuing something that makes me happy if I’m putting so much damn time into it, anyway.

Note: If your day job is currently something you don’t love, but you know is absolutely necessary in order to achieve a position you eventually want to be in, that’s different (just don’t lie to yourself). We will all experience bumps in the road on our journeys, which is perfectly fine, as long as it’s a journey worth bumping for (or whatever).

Otherwise, my advice is to quit your day job -- just not yet. Take time to start thinking creatively and independently again. Analyze your own happiness, figure out what makes you tick, and go after it!

Start with small steps. Trial and error is fine while you still have your day job; it’s why you haven’t quit yet. As soon as you get that gut feeling and build enough confidence, make the leap! Continue grinding daily, celebrating rarely, and making necessary sacrifices -- this includes social life.

Right now I’m guessing your social life is “like the only thing keeping you going” at a job you have no passion for. Start approaching it as a necessary break from the tireless work you put into something you DO have passion for. I promise you, it’s much more rewarding.

I don’t bring you this advice from the stage of the People’s Choice Awards; it’s coming from the trenches. We’ve had enough of conventional and safe; it’s time for a change.

What are we going to do now that we’re here? Well, right now, I’m late for indoor kickball, and that’s seriously all I’ve ever wanted to do.

Top Photo Credit: USA Networks/Suits