Pack Your Own Parachute

Jumping out plane is scary. I should know. I’m afraid of heights, but I went skydiving in the fall of 2009 in Australia after being convinced by my friends who were all going. It’s terrifying because there’s a huge risk you’re taking not knowing if it’s safe. It’s also scary because you have to trust that someone else will know what to do at 15,000 feet, and that the pilot knows when that is, and that someone packed the parachute right, and the tandem jumper knows how to steer the parachute to where you need to be. It’s really effing scary.

So is quitting your job and changing careers. I should know, too. I quit my cushy advertising job recently without another offer lined up. I left to teach myself how to code and work on building apps, websites and interactive tools and art.

But the two things, skydiving and quitting aren’t so different. It’s taking a calculated risk, having a thrilling (or paralyzing) fear and trusting that you’ll land safely. There’s a lot less you’re in control of during skydiving. But when it comes to quitting, you should be packing your own parachute.

1. Have a savings parachute. You’ll always need to pay rent or pay bills or just pay to eat. If you know you want to leave your job, take a sabbatical, or travel for a while, start saving now. Save for more time than you’ll be gone. If you want to take 6 months off, plan to save enough money for 9 months or a year. You may need to ride that parachute longer than you think.

2. Make a backup parachute. What happens if things go wrong with the first one? You better have a plan if you need to pull the ripcord and save yourself. How can you make sure you still land safely if there’s a giant hole in your main parachute that you didn’t see before? Can you freelance? Can you babysit or teach or consult or sell your record collection?

3. Patch up all the seams. Is your plan tight? Do you know what you’ll be doing tomorrow? Do you know what you’ll be doing next week or in 6 months? Set some short term goals, some long term ones. Set yourself up for success and connect with people before you leave: contact headhunters on LinkedIn, go for coffee with other agencies, reach out to people that might be helpful after the jump now just to make sure the parachute will safely deliver you to where you want to go.

Jumping is never going to be easy. But remember: it’s supposed to be fun and it’s definitely going to be scary. That all helps with the jumping part. It’s not over when you leave the plane. You still have to pull the ripcord and coast down. You’re still falling. But if you can trust the parachute you’ve built for yourself, you can enjoy the ride. So pack your parachute and double check that you’ve done it right. That there’s no holes in it and that there’s a backup. Then test it the only way you can. Jump.