“I have decided to leave the firm,” I said. “To write novels.”
In John Grisham’s famous book, The Firm, saying something like that could get you killed. I did not quite expect that level of risk when I said it, but I at least braced myself for people to look at me like I was crazy. In fact, the response went like this: a moment of surprise, quickly replaced by an enthusiastic (if bewildered) smile. Most people don’t walk away from a safe and steady career path. I recently did, and everyone was delighted. They wished me the best as I stepped off the beaten path and onto a far riskier one.
After much thought, I’ve identified 10 important reasons why.
The 10 Reasons
Everyone wants to pursue their dreams, so they draw inspiration from others who do it.
By leaving the beaten path, you cease being a threat to its winner-take-all program. In most career ladders, this means more junior people can rise up in your position, and nobody has to decide whether, when, and how to promote you.
We really like being spectators of high-risk activities. Say what you will about the Roman Colosseum, the NFL, and the modern news cycle, but they reveal something fundamental about us: we can’t get enough of watching people do dangerous things.
For those who have stayed on the beaten path, it makes them proud of their own commitment and sticking with it. And, they might think as they clap you on the shoulder, “I’m glad I’ve got my steady paycheck!”
If you are leaving the beaten path to create something new, people love to imagine what it might be. For example, if you are writing novels like I am, your former colleagues will want to make sure their doppelgängers will be treated well. No one wants to see a character who resembles them get shot, or maybe worse...play the villain.
We want the world to be full of people loving what they do, rather than working just to get more stuff. Now, you are one more person making that a reality. (This post wouldn’t be complete without a shoutout to Mr. Money Mustache, so I’ll quote him here: “Looking at many of society’s highest achievers right now, the world leaders and founders of the most productive companies, I see mostly people who have already made it. And yet are still working because it means something to them.”)
We love seeing people do something bold and courageous, because we all fear something and courage is contagious.
We crave honesty, so when you open up about your dreams, others can do the same. This removes you from the run-of-the-mill pleasantries and small talk that are, sadly, ubiquitous in the professional working world. Instead of “how’s the weather?” at the water cooler, you will be asked “what inspires you?”
It is good to see quality skills being put to other productive uses. When others in your line of work learn that you have been equipped with skills and tools to pursue your dreams, they will be glad to hear that they, too, might learn a craft for wherever the future leads. (Like learning to write well while lawyering, design well while advertising, or code well while programming.)
Maybe your colleagues are also planning to leave the beaten path, and they are happy to have the camaraderie. They might not tell you this if they thought you were fully committed to the well-beaten path. But now that you’re leaving it, you get to join the secret club of those who forge their own way. (This could even help you find the kind of secret friendships that, as C.S. Lewis says, “no Inner Ring can ever have.”)
So what do all these warm fuzzies add up to?
This is my first Monday entirely off the beaten path. Last week at this time I was tying my wingtips and walking down the predictable road of school and work and career. Today I wear no shoes and the frontier is boundless. I feel like the crowd on the dock has broken a bottle of champagne against my hull, and now I am ready and eager for the journey into unchartered waters.
There’s more to share about what all this means, but as an author, I’d rather “show not tell.” One thing is certain: there will be more writing!