Working a day job and hustling at night? Welcome! You’ve joined the ranks of the many great entrepreneurs who decided to start businesses while working full time.
Mark Cuban sold software at a local retail store before founding his software company; Sara Blakely sold fax machines door-to-door by day and worked on her ideas for Spanx by night; and Gretta Rose van Riel sold her detox teas to coworkers before she officially launched SkinnyMe Tea.
In fact, it wasn’t long ago that I was exactly where you are. I remember sitting at my computer watching the clock tick toward 6 p.m., counting down the seconds until I could go home and work on my side hustle. I took prospective client calls at lunchtime, did my research when I got home from work, and spent my weekends perfecting my sales pitches.
Little did I know at the time, my dissatisfaction with my day job was actually propelling me forward as an entrepreneur.
Why Hating Your Day Job Might Be the Best Thing to Happen to You as an Aspiring Entrepreneur
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur and you hate your day job, relax—you are in a very good position. Why? Three reasons:
- You’re more likely to eventually quit your job to start a business. If you really hate your day job, consider yourself lucky. Think about it: If someone has been saying they want to start a business for years, but they’re comfortable with their job or enjoy it, even, they’ll likely never be motivated to leave. As awful as it feels right now, hating your job will motivate you to leave as soon as you can. This means you’re way more likely to do the hard work required to start a business on the side than someone who feels comfortable at their day job.
- You have access to money to invest in your business. There’s nothing worse than quitting your day job too soon and then finding you’re out of capital (I’ve been there!). Your day job is funding your business right now.
- You are less likely to fail. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that entrepreneurs who left their day jobs in stages were 33% less likely to fail in their businesses than those who hastily quit their day jobs.
Okay, great. But what do you do in the meantime? If you have to start a business while working full time, here are some actionable ways to stay healthy and sane as you count down the days till you hand in your two weeks’ notice.
How to Cope (and Even Thrive!) at Your Day Job While You Build Your New Business
1. Find a Community of Supportive Entrepreneurs
At first, your friends and family may not be supportive of your entrepreneurial pursuits. They may be scared to hear you talk about quitting your job to start a business—that’s crazy talk to them!
This is why it’s crucial that you find a community of entrepreneurs. Not only will they provide you with support, but they will also enable you to learn from their examples. Study their businesses and extract those valuable lessons you’ll need in yours. In particular, if there’s someone who has done something similar to what you hope to achieve, ask them if they’ll be your mentor.
Where can you find these groups of supportive entrepreneurs? Here are five places to get you started:
- Meetup.com (free and paid options) – Meetup is great if you’re looking for in-person groups in your area. Search the “Career & Business” category to find a group of fellow entrepreneurs who have similar goals.
- Freelance to Freedom Project Community (free) – This is a private Facebook group for freelancers of all types, whether you’re just starting out or in your fifth year.
- The Savvy Community (paid) – Created for women entrepreneurs, this paid membership site grants you access to trainings, forums, and mastermind groups.
- Nomad List (paid) – This online community caters to digital nomads and remote workers.
2) Exercise to Relieve Stress
When you’re working 9 to 5, only to come home to work some more on your business, it is easy to cut out exercise. It seems frivolous, so you push it to the back burner. But I urge you not to do that.
The stress from going to a job you hate, coupled with the stress of starting a new business, will likely be overwhelming. Exercise can help reduce your stress levels.
A 2013 Princeton study found that exercise may increase your resilience to stress. Further, working up a sweat causes the brain to release endorphins, a chemical that is linked to positive feelings. Exercise has such a powerful effect on the brain that some psychologists use it as part of treatment for those who suffer from depression or anxiety.
As a business owner, I try to make exercise a priority. I don’t do anything complicated or time-consuming; usually, I just make it a point to run for at least 30 minutes a day.
What I’ve found most helpful in getting me to commit to exercise is to use the “don’t break the chain” method, purportedly used by comedian Jerry Seinfeld to improve his comedic material.
The idea is simple: Pick one thing you want to do, and do it every single day. Get a big calendar and pick one meaningful thing you want to do daily (for me, it was to go for a run). Every day that you complete this one task, you get to make a big “X” over it. The goal is to never have a blank day. You’ll gain a lot of motivation from seeing a continuous chain of X’s, and you’ll form a good habit.
The reason this method is so effective is that you never have to make a decision—you’ll already have decided that you will exercise every day, no matter what, so you don’t waste time in that dangerous in-between zone of deciding if you’ll do it or not (because if you get caught in that trap, you usually take the path of least resistance and decide not to exercise).
You can get a free PDF download of a 365-day at-a-glance calendar here if you’d like to print one out and physically mark through the days. Alternatively, you can use the Don’t Break The Chain! app if you’d like to keep track on your iPhone.
3) Take Breaks
As a fledgling entrepreneur with a day job, you’ll likely be burning the candle at both ends—so be careful not to burn out.
Be sure to take a break and have fun every now and then, for the sake of your health. A nine-year study by researchers at the State University of New York found that men who took frequent annual vacations were less likely to die of coronary heart disease. Another study of women in rural Wisconsin found that those who took a vacation only once in two years or once in six years were more likely to be depressed than those who took vacations twice or more per year.
To motivate yourself to take that leisure time, how about using a break as a reward for accomplishing an important business task? That way, you can kill two birds with one stone: You’re setting up incentives to grow your business faster, and you’re taking care of your health by taking regular breaks!
So if you’ve accomplished a big goal for your business this month, spend one weekend going out of town for a real vacation. It might feel like it’s wasted time that could’ve been spent on your fledgling business, but it’s an investment in your health and well-being, which ultimately is an investment in your new business.
But taking a break doesn’t have to mean taking a vacation. You need to incorporate restful breaks into your workday too.
Here’s one way I do it. I just started using the Productivity Planner. In it, you can write down one way to reward yourself for using the planner for five days a week.
The Productivity Planner is also designed for use with the Pomodoro Technique to strategically build in breaks throughout your workday. To do this, you finish 25 minutes of uninterrupted work (called one Pomodoro) and then take a five-minute break before completing another.
The idea is that you will be more productive by taking more frequent breaks. You could also try the 50/10 Rule, where you work for 50 minutes and then take a 10-minute break.
4) Make the Most of Your Day Job—It’ll Pay Off Later
Listen, I know what it’s like to hardly be able to drag yourself out of bed in the morning to go to work. But I urge you not to waste time at your day job. Look at it this way: Your day job grants you two things you’ll desperately need as a founder:
Your paycheck provides capital for your business.
Every founder knows that those first few months (maybe even years) after starting your business are lean.
Case in point: Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice, didn’t get a salary from her business until three years after its launch. It might be a while before you’re bringing in a steady salary for yourself. The great advantage to building a business while you’re working a day job is you continue to bring in a predictable paycheck while you work on your business.
Your day job is training for your business.
Just because you don’t want to be at work doesn’t mean you should throw away your time there. Look at this as valuable training. Is there something new you want to learn? Let your boss know! You might be able to take on new projects or talk to coworkers on other teams.
Shark Tank investor and FUBU founder Daymond John worked at Red Lobster for years while he built his business. He told Business Insider that he used his day job as an opportunity to learn how businesses work; he even studied the restaurant’s quarterly reports to determine what made the business profitable.
When I was at my day job, I spent a lot of time working side-by-side with the design team. I took an interest in their work and asked questions. That paid off. When I started offering freelance digital marketing services, many of my clients needed help with small design jobs related to their marketing campaigns, and I knew how to help them thanks to what I’d learned from my former coworkers.
5) Change Your Attitude
If you can’t change your situation, it may be time to change your attitude. I don’t mean to sound glib; it’s true. Science proves it. One study found that those who practiced “loving-kindness meditation” (where a person directs thoughts of caring towards self and others) saw an increase in daily positive emotions, which in turn led to feeling purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms. Research shows that negative emotions cause you to think narrowly, whereas positive emotions expand your thinking and allow you to see more possibilities.
You can see the implications this has for your business, right? If you practice cultivating positive thoughts, you are way more likely to be creative in approaching the ways to grow your new business. You can start to see more possibilities, instead of getting stuck in the dead-end negative thinking of assuming your business will fail or you’ll never leave your job.
Don’t let the word “meditation” intimidate you. It’s actually way simpler than it sounds. An app I’ve used is Headspace. It’s free (with paid upgrades for full access), and it guides you through the process of meditating in short bursts—perfect for beginners.
One thing that really helped me when I was feeling down about going to the office was to write down my “statement of purpose” for that day. I would simply type my reason for being at my desk that day, and whenever I felt like I couldn’t stand another second at my day job, I would open the tab of that document and reread it. That simple tactic helped me reframe my perspective from one of hopelessness (”There’s no point in being here”) to one of purpose (“I have a reason for being here, and I’m not going to squander it”).
Maybe your statement of purpose is, “I am at my job today because this is how I fund my new business.” Or maybe it’s, “I am at my job today because my coworkers are relying on me to coordinate the next product launch.” Whatever it is, there is a reason you have a day job. Reminding yourself of your reason will help push you through those hard days.
To reiterate just how powerful it is to reframe your perspective, I want to relate a story from Don Joseph Goewey, which he shares in his book, The End of Stress. Goewey was diagnosed with a brain tumor that had to be removed. In the days leading up to the surgery, he was so stressed out about it he would wake up in the middle of the night in terror. And then one day, he forced himself to consider, “which was worse: the dire problems that might happen to me in the future, or the abject fear that was happening in me every day.” He decided that “fear was worse.”
So think about that when you find yourself stuck in the cycle of stressing out over your job and the uncertain future of your business. Will worrying about it help at all? Will it make the outcomes more favorable? No. In fact, it just ruins your chances of enjoying what you have right now.
Your Day Job Can Lift You Up, Not Drag You Down
If you’re feeling stuck at your day job and are eager to quit so you can work on your business, just remember, you’re not alone. Hoards of entrepreneurs before you were forced to start a business while working full time.
Look at your current position as a stepping stone to your next venture. Do a good job at your day job. You never know how that relationship might continue after you become an entrepreneur. (My boss ended up becoming my first client!)
You can also learn a lot from your day job. Bringing it back to Mark Cuban, he got his business idea (and his first clients) thanks to his day job as a software salesman. He noticed that many of the store’s customers didn’t know how to install the software they purchased, so he started a company that helped with the installation step.
Outside of your day job, be sure to find a group of entrepreneurs to support your business goals, and remember to take frequent breaks to recharge your batteries, exercise to let off steam, and train your brain to frame the situation in a positive way.
Right now, you might count yourself among the many who hate their day jobs, but soon, you’ll be able to count yourself among those who love their thriving businesses.
How have you coped with an unfulfilling day job while building your business? Share your story in the comments below! You just might inspire an aspiring entrepreneur.