I sat on a chair opposite my wife, having run the numbers for the thousandth time.
“I think I can leave if I have 15 clients, but…” I started to say, but Christina cut me off.
“If you leave and it doesn’t work, I can always go back to work,” she said. “I know you can do this.”
For some reason, that is the moment that I knew I could leave my full time job. To understand the gravity of this decision, I have to back up a few years.
The Back Story
In 2009, I started a counseling practice called Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City. It started as a side gig to pay off student loans. I learned a few things about business in private practice and started blogging about it in 2012. Then I launched a podcast called Practice of the Practice.
But 2012 was a rough year. Our first daughter had heart surgery, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and my wife had a miscarriage. It’s the kind of year that no one wishes on anyone. But I kept seeing clients, I kept blogging, and I kept podcasting. It was a distraction that was needed.
But, 2012 also reinforced how a family’s trajectory can quickly take a turn. It reinforced my biggest fears: there won’t be enough money, I’m going to fail, and I’m not going to have enough time to be a father.
At that time, a full time job with all the benefits made the most sense. My wife was staying home with the kids (we had a second in 2014) and reliability in income was more important than going after my big ideas.
But as Mental Wellness Counseling grew, we were serving more people. Practice of the Practice was slowly getting national recognition. But I was still more of a napreneur (an entrepreneur that works during kid’s naps).
What would happen if I put full time effort into this business, instead of just 10-12 hour per week? But more importantly, what kind of father, friend, and husband could I be to those who I cared about most?
Could I really structure my ideal life?
So immediately after our second daughter was born, I used the full FMLA to test out working 20 hours per week at my “full time job” and time at my business. My thought was that I could see if this idea might actually grow and then go after my dream.
What I quickly discovered was that a mixture of potential and panic started to grow.
Let’s start with the potential. I saw potential in taking reasonable next steps in my private practice and consulting. Also, I saw that I could design my schedule differently to match my family.
When I had been working in 2012 I had to continually ask myself:
“Why am I blogging when my daughter is about to have heart surgery?”
“Why am I podcasting when I’m going through cancer treatment?”
“Why am I not at home?”
With a side gig counseling and consulting practice the real question was, “What is the very best use of my time?”
So instead of getting bogged down by email, emergencies, and everyone else’s agenda, I was able to focus on the single biggest use of my time. Then I outsourced almost everything else with technology solutions or virtual assistants.
While still in this testing time, I had four virtual assistants: one in Texas, one in Chicago, one in the Philippines, and one in South Africa.
As I saw the potential it also started to lead to some panic.
At a full-time job the risk isn’t entirely on me. If the bottom falls out, this is on my shoulders. But then the narration started to shift, “What evidence is there that I will fail?”
I thought, “Would I rather regret not leaving and giving it a shot, or leaving and failing? Which one is harder to live with?”
Beyond the business potential and panic was the impact on my family. I began taking Wednesdays off for a mid-week break. I saw the income continued to rise and so did the impact on helping the community through counseling. The podcast grew too.
Toward the end of my FMLA I made a decision to leave. I had run the numbers at such detail that I actually turned it into a “How to Leave Your Job Calculator” on my website. That’s where we started. Christina had heard me over analyze the financial situation.
There was something about her being with me and say that I wasn’t alone.
As we’ve entered this entrepreneurial journey, it’s been important to have a framework for organizing movement forward. As someone who is self-employed, it’s easy to always be in “idea mode.” To not turn it off.
There’s a lot of hustle that goes into a successful business, but to be a successful father, husband, and human, I’ve had to identify that framework.
For me it was first examining the kind of life I wanted to live. I want to be a present father that can play with my kids. But also, they need to understand that the world does not revolve around them.
As a husband I want to be supportive and encouraging of my wife’s goals, while not giving up my big ideas to improve the world.
One big way that we continue to find that balance is to do experiments to see if it improves our family. Similar to the FMLA experiment, in the summer of 2016 I tried to take Fridays off. I also decided not to check email or work social media on the weekend. Then in the summer of 2017 I started taking Mondays off.
As an experiment, there was very little risk. If the numbers drops, I can just go back to working Mondays and Fridays. But what happened was that my time was more efficient, focused, and clear. Every day feels like a sprint, where I go back to the question, “What is the very best use of my time?”
That’s something we all should ask ourselves more often. The answer shifts. Sometimes it is being present for our kids and other times it is having alone time to regroup. It may be working on a side gig passion project or bringing new ideas to your workplace.
Sometimes the very best use of our time is to sit on the couch and talk to your wife and leave your job.
Joe Sanok, MA, LPC, NCC is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling, located in downtown Traverse City. His team helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples…and just about everyone else. He’s been featured in Forbes, Reader’s Digest, and Huffington Post named his podcast one of the top 100. He was recently selected as a TEDx speaker. He loves paddle boarding with his wife and two daughters.