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4 Reasons to Quit Your Job...and Become a Free Agent

Are you a quitter? If things aren’t going the way you want them to, do you just quit?

I do. I’m a quitter. You name it, I’ve probably quit it. Jobs. Relationships. Religions. A Career. As my favorite Chicago Booth professors of Freakonomics profess in The Upside of Quitting, we often put too much emphasis on sunk costs – time, money, or sweat equity that we’ve invested in something – and not enough emphasis on opportunity cost – other initiatives you could be doing in the future – when evaluating whether to stick it out.

Quitting is hard, but I’ve been glad I did every time. During and immediately after undergrad, I was an orchestral musician. I ran a music contracting business while playing regularly with orchestras such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Milwaukee Symphony. My sunk costs were significant; for years, I had invested 4-8 hours a day of practicing, performing, and auditioning to get where I was. But I was 23 and bored, performing my 64th rendition of Beethoven 5. Despite the sunk costs, I quit because the opportunity cost of failing to do something new, challenging, and different every day was just too high.

Like so many others, I have also traded the perceived stability of a full-time job for the life of a free agent, working as an entrepreneur while opportunistically pursuing consulting engagements. I hope to never look back.

What’s the right moment to quit? Well, as Ryan Babineaux and John Krumbotz suggest, it’s when you sense the opportunity to align your career with your passions. It’s when you droop your shoulders in the morning as you gear up to head into the office. And it’s when you are determined to control your own destiny.

Obviously, quitting should not be a response to setbacks. Rather, it is a more strategic decision to value opportunity cost over sunk cost. Those of you that face setbacks in a full-time position that is aligned with your passions and long-term goals will rightly disregard these suggestions. For everyone else, here are four reasons to quit!

1. You Can Improve Your Balance – Balance is always something we all strive for, particularly of the work/life variety. Being a free agent isn’t always less work. In fact, unpaid business development effort can often lead to more work. The difference is that work is done your own terms. If you have children, you may be able to do that work after young kids have gone to bed or while school-aged kids are at school. You may be able to do it from home or from a coffee shop. There can be a level of flexibility that few if any full-time employers will offer.

2. It Will Make You More Creative – When your experiences are more diverse, your brain has that many more opportunity to make interesting connections among those experiences. Those connections, as Steve Jobs said, are truly what drive creativity. "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while." Instead of working with the same cast of characters confronting the same set of issues, the free agent regularly has new clients and new challenges to tackle with his or her unique skillset. This diversity of experience engenders creative connections.

3. You Can Trade Politics for Performance - As Daniel Pink indicated in Free Agent Nation, many a free agent has left corporate positions, put off by distasteful political maneuvering and title jockeying. The free agent’s career is determined not by corporate ladder-climbing, but by building relationships and delivering value for clients.

4. Invest Not Thy Whole Wad – For all the shortcomings of a full-time position, at least it’s stable, right? At least there is a guaranteed income stream, right? Well, Daniel Pink also rightfully argues that this may be a false sense of security. In investing terms, it is like investing in a single stock rather than diversifying across a portfolio of stocks. No matter how strong that stock may look on the surface, there is always a risk that that single stock (ahem, Enron) isn’t as bullet-proof as it may seem. Similarly, a network of multiple clients provides the free agent gentler ups-and-downs than the potentially dramatic downside of a single position at a single company.

Talent Response can support you on your journey to become a free agent by presenting consulting opportunities that fit with your skillset, lowering the search costs of work. If you’re interested in learning more, view our open positions and join our network of management consultants.

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