“Taking The Leap” Doesn’t Have To Mean Quitting Your Job — Here’s What I Did Instead

Since I graduated from college, I’ve been lucky enough to have always had a salaried job. In fact, I’ve never been unemployed for longer than a couple of weeks. There is no denying the comfort of a salary. You get the same paycheck, at the same time, every month, no matter what. Not to mention the perks that come with a salary! Health benefits, paid time off, paid sick leave – it’s gravy, baby.

Starting off salaried

My first job out of college was awesome. I worked for the University of Oregon in the Brain Development Lab and thought I was living large with my $28k salary. I had great work life balance and 4 weeks of paid vacation each year, plus super comprehensive health insurance! Life was good, except that I was obscenely bored in my role and quickly learning the public sector was not for me.

I’ve been a food blogger since my sophomore year of college (2010, what?!), and was falling more in love with cooking each day. And if I loved food, that meant I should work in a restaurant, right? Right! So, when my boyfriend got a job that moved us home to Portland, I decided I should find a job in a restaurant.

Consistent money, unlimited hours

Against all odds, with no restaurant experience, I landed a salaried gig as an assistant manager at an Italian restaurant that paid more than $10k/year more than my last job! The base weekly hours were 50, I usually worked 60, and I worked nights and weekends, which meant I rarely saw my boyfriend, friends, or family. My first taste of the dangers of a salaried role: there’s no overtime and there’s no limit to the number of hours you can work.

A salary means always being on the clock

Once I realized that loving cooking didn’t mean I should be working in restaurants, I went in search of a job in digital marketing, a field I was somehow finding the time to side hustle. After a year or so of searching, I landed my first job as a Digital Marketing Specialist at a local startup. And, you guessed it, it was salaried (and again came with a pay bump).

At first, it was a change that brought huge relief. No nights and weekends? No twice weekly doubles? Yes! But a startup is a beast all its own.

I loved my work. I don’t think I’m alone in having spent your twenties searching for the field you’re “meant” to work in. My instincts for marketing were spot on and I had a blast doing it. I was lucky enough to build the company’s digital marketing program from the ground up, and I knew I was good at it.

But working at a startup is hard. It means always having your laptop on you. You’re sick? Great, you can work from your couch. You’re traveling for work? Perfect, you can work on the plane, in the car, and at the hotel before you go to bed. You’re on vacation? Oh, we won’t bother you! Except about this one thing, because it’s really important. In fact, can you just keep an eye on email?

Not to mention, you own your role entirely, which is both a blessing and a curse. I learned so much and developed as a marketer more than I ever could have imagined in just a couple of years, but during that time I was doing the work of 3 people thanks to being chronically understaffed. It was scary to have all that on my shoulders and I came home exhausted each day.

A year and a half in, I asked for a raise – and was denied. Technically, I was told to wait until my review, which was a full 7 months later. This really sucked, and this was when it became clear the stress and time were not worth it. I had no time or energy for my blog, the side hustles I so loved, or even just my husband.

Going part-time is an option?

A few months into my job search, the restaurant I worked for previously reached out to me. They had a job opening. It was for a part-time marketing position. Was I interested?

At first, it was a hard no. Part-time? Hourly? No benefits? No paid leave? Talk about financial insecurity. But I’d toyed with the idea of going out completely on my own to do freelance marketing full time, which was far scarier.

After lots of thinking, I decided this could be just the transition I needed. The position was well-supported, and therefore light on stress. I would be expected to work 25-30 hours a week, which would mean free time for freelancing (or whatever I wanted). I was able to negotiate a great hourly rate. It was a company I knew and liked, and I got along well with the woman who would be my boss.

Taking the half-leap

So I took it. And holy crap, I’m glad I did. Here’s why:

  1. I make more money than I did at my salaried job. When I was denied a raise at the startup, my boss gave me some frank shoulda-coulda-woulda advice: negotiate hard when you first start somewhere. I was so young when I was hired, I truly didn’t know any better. So, I applied this advice when I accepted the position with my new role. Even working only 30 hours a week, my paychecks are bigger than they were when I was salaried. Not to mention, I’ve had time to seriously expand my side hustles. In fact, in March my post-tax income will be more than $2,000 more than while I was at my salaried job.
  2. I don’t resent my job. In my hourly role, I feel like I am in control of my time, and I don’t resent my employer the way I have in the past. It’s fine when last minute projects come along, because I am paid for those extra hours! I’m also lucky to have very flexible hours and an understanding boss, so I am fully in control of my time. Since I am hourly, though, I’m still very motivated to make sure I’m getting enough hours to make those paychecks work for my budget.
  3. I have so much more creative energy. I’ve always been the type of person who’s doing 13498357932 things on the side. Even though my day job was technically a step down in my career trajectory, I’m doing tasks that are easy and I’m confident doing, and I still have energy at the end of a work day to do my own thing.
  4. I have so much more time. In the year since I’ve officially been part-time, I’ve expanded my freelance marketing side hustle, finally been able to blog consistently, opened an Airbnb with my mom, and written a freaking cookbook. THE POWER OF TIME.
  5. My work-life balance is finally in check. For the first time ever, I don’t regularly come home from work crying. My mom always says she’s happy she has to ask how my job is going because I never talk about it, instead of me calling her to unload about the horrible things that happened that day. My husband doesn’t have to see me suffer in work that isn’t making me happy.

Admittedly, I do have one thing fellow freelancers may not: a spouse with excellent health care that I’m covered on at no cost. They may not pay teachers well, but this is a perk I’m so grateful for.

I also don’t have paid vacation, which sucks, but I’ve learned to plan for it, and in Oregon, hourly workers can accrue paid sick time.

There’s a third option

Most side-hustlers see their options as full-time corporate job OR finally going out on their own. But there is a third, less scary option! Go part-time. Ideally in a field that complements your side hustle. When I tell potential clients about my day job, it only gives me further credibility because it’s a company they recognize and it forces me to keep my marketing skills sharp. My side hustles also make me better at my day job.

It’s the perfect safety net. During months when I have a ton of client work, I cut back on my day job a bit. If client work or side projects are slow, I work more hours. I don’t have the same risks as your typical freelancer, and that makes me feel confident and secure. I don’t suffer from the stress of feast and famine. In fact, nowadays, I have very little stress in my life at all.

Chelsea Cole is from Portland, Oregon and is the food blogger behind A Duck’s Oven, cookbook author of “Everyday Sous Vide: It’s All French to Me”, a digital marketer by day, and the co-owner of City Stay Vacations, a vacation rental company, with her mom. You can find her website at aducksoven.com and on Instagram at @aducksoven.

Image via Unsplash

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