Coffee Talk with Vanessa Michelle | You’re not selling out if you keep your 9 to 5

by Vanessa Michelle

I just inhaled two more sips of my Ethiopian brew from Akron Coffee Roasters. I’m nervous to tackle this subject, but after several conversations with a few ‘friend-preneurs’ I think it’s important I write about the 9 to 5 hustle. My nervousness is due to the fact that I’m officially admitting to being a hypocrite. As many of you know, I quit my 9 to 5 in 2017 to be a full-time entrepreneur. But I have changed my mind about the 9 to 5 hustle. 

At the start of my freelance journey, I encouraged others to take the same risk I did. I still believe in taking risks, but not risks that will leave you wondering where your next meal will come from. Quitting your 9 to 5 to pursue your passion should be carefully evaluated. Take some time right now to list the top four reasons you want to quit your job. Keep this list until the end of this story. 

In October 2017, I chose to quit my job due to emotional stress and a lack of personal time. I worked in social services. I love helping others, but listening constantly to the troubles people face was too much for me emotionally. I also felt that I was spending too much time in a cubicle and not on my dreams. So I took a leap of faith and left. 

During this time, I was freelancing, doing photography and web design, so I was making some money, but not nearly as much as I needed. After quitting my full-time gig, I gave up my apartment and most of my belongings so I could feel more centered on myself and not the world around me. I wanted to detach from everything. I went nomadic. 

All in all, If I was going to quit again, I would have slowly transitioned, been more urgent about finding a job that was in my field and networked more. I should have been on my grind and hustled harder. But in every failure and success, there are lessons to be learned. Luckily, through perseverance, integrity and grit, I’m currently a web developer full time with a small agency in Medina, Ohio. 

During that time, I had a lot of free time to think. I noticed a lot about my actions vs. my reality. I started to question my intentions, my goals and my habits.I had a lot of conversations with other entrepreneurs about owning a business and grinding for your passion. I started to work harder on developing healthier habits. I came to the realization that quitting my 9 to 5 wasn’t really that necessary. I started thinking that if it weren’t for the emotional strain, I could have stayed. 

My other reason for leaving was time. I hated that I didn’t have enough time to work on my side projects because I was tired or too busy doing something else. But my friend Dray Evans, filmmaker and muralist, made me realize that I was not managing my time efficiently. He forced me to unfold what made me ‘too’ busy or ’too’ tired. It turns out that I didn’t practice healthy time management or plan very well. A simple two hour break to rest would have been perfect after work, instead of taking the whole evening off. If I’d planned my ‘side project’ time better, I could have made a better judgement call: Was my 9 to 5 killing my time, or was I?

Side note: My friend Lindsey Jo Scott, illustrator/artist, hosts a monthly event called Side Project Sessions that you can connect with on Instagram at @sideprojectsessions_ohio. It’s a wonderful way to work independently around other hustlers.

Another reason I had for quitting my 9 to 5 was that I felt I was not in control of my life. I felt like my 9 to 5 was holding me back from being excellent. In hindsight, I realized I was excellent regardless of my circumstances. When you get a douse of entrepreneurship and you are your own boss, you start operating like a boss. And having a 9 to 5 doesn’t always give you the same independence. But it’s important to realize that we are bosses in our own right, whether we’re serving fries or running a business. You are a boss, you’re in control and you can make all your work excellent.

If you have similar reasons for wanting to leave your 9 to 5, consider something: How much are you investing in yourself, both internally and externally? Two things that are important to your well-being, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, are money and health. You need to be healthy. That requires proper nutrition.

It gets SO REAL when you are a business owner and there are things to pay for. It’s easy to get by with a few dollars for certain things like business cards or a flyer. But the more your business grows, the more it takes. For example, for my YouTube launch party, I needed money for marketing, flyers, food, greeters, videographers, photographers, venue rental, DJ, full microphone set, tickets and the list goes on. I was EXTREMELY fortunate to have a few sponsors, including Akron Honey and Audio Technica, and a few great favors from friends, including Ace Epps of Bounce Hub Innovation and Curtis Minter, Jr. at The Well. But I learned that being passionate about something is way different from being able to afford that passion. 

So, what’s my advice? Work smarter to create a system that is sustainable according to your lifestyle. Having a 9 to 5 can be used as an investment as you wait to move on to your dream job. 

Remember that list I told you to make in the beginning? Bring that back out and examine your reasons for wanting to leave your job. Ask yourself if you are doing all you can to pursue your passions. Are you really prioritizing your free time? Are you committing to the process and making healthy choices? Are you planning your evening and weekends well? Are you getting the rest you need to be great every day?

I just want a healthier route for you. I took a very hard route to entrepreneurship. I sacrificed more than I should have. I sacrificed my body, my safety and my mental health. I don’t want you to do the same. Suffering financially didn’t bring me any brownie points. It didn’t make me any more cool. 

Let’s not make it a fad to struggle as an entrepreneur. I know it’s hard to sit at someone else’s company doing things you may not want to do, but in the end, it will pay off. Have patience and know that you are on the right path. Do as much as you can while still working your 9 to 5, and leave when everything around you is sustainable. You will feel way better, and live way better, that way. Struggle ain’t cute or cool.

Vanessa Michelle is a full-time Youtuber who has created a platform for creatives everywhere!  Her journey to journalism started at the University of Akron, where she was an on-air personality and TV-Host for WZIP-FM and ZTV Akron. Vanessa has been featured in local publications as ‘The Oprah of Youtube’ and one of Akron’s most unique entrepreneurs.