Everyone is creative: Tom Critchlow on taking the leap from employed to free
This interview originally appeared on the CloudPeeps blog.
The fear of making the leap from employed to independent can be crippling. Whether you’re thinking about starting a tech company or launching a consulting career, one thing is probably clear: you know that you want something more than the daily grind for yourself.
You want to make an impact, and you want to make it on your own terms. It’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s more attainable now than it has ever been.
If you’re thinking about making the leap, there’s few better kicks in the butt than learning how others have gone from corporate peon to independent, healthy, and in control of their own life. When brainstorming who would be the perfect person to talk to on this topic, Tom Critchlow naturally came to mind immediately.
Being a stereotypical Brooklynite who likes to explore my neighborhoods and support local shops and artists, I was fascinated by Fiercely Curious and Fiercely Made (original art, and hand-crafted products from Brooklyn artists, respectively) when first stumbling across the story of founders, Erin Przekop and Tom Crichlow on Sunday Routine.
Here’s Tom’s story on what made him quit his cushy job at Google to start his own companies.
1. Why did you make the leap from working at Google to starting your own business, working remotely?
After two years full-time at Google, I leaped into the great unknown for a few reasons. Primarily, because while Google is generally a pretty good place to work, it’s still a big company and getting to work on meaningful work is challenging, especially as a generalist who is capable of working on a wide range of projects — big companies aren’t typically set up well to support multi-skilled individuals.
Also, I was building Fiercely Curious and Fiercely Made on nights and weekends and interesting things were starting to take place with the projects. Working a full-time job and running a startup on the side was taking its toll.
2. What was the pivotal moment that drove you to give your notice and make the switch?
The pivotal moment was actually my year-end bonus, but not in the way you’d expect. Basically, it was nearing the end of the year and yearly bonuses get paid out in January. I knew if it got too close to the end of the year the “sensible thing” to do would be to stay a few extra months and collect my bonus.
But I knew I wanted to jump ship, so I just pulled the trigger and leapt into the great unknown around October. In short, I’m an idiot and totally should have stayed for my bonus, but I regret nothing.
3. What improvements have you seen in your lifestyle since making the switch?
Running a startup, and especially running a business with your significant other, is punishing. Work-life balance goes out the window, exercise is bottom of the to-do list and it can be really hard to switch off and disconnect.
However, jumping ship to self-employment was amazing because it allowed us to set our own schedule. Although we still stay up until 3am getting our weekly email (Fiercely Friday) out the door sometimes, we know that the following day we can take a mid-afternoon nap. Now the weather is getting better, we take full advantage and go for a daytime bike ride sometimes too.
I think one of the greatest abuses of full-time work is the inability to do what you need to do for yourself. Sometimes you just know you’re not being productive, or you’re sluggish and you know that you’d be better off biking around prospect park than sitting in front of a computer. Working full-time doesn’t allow you to take off in the middle of an afternoon.
4. Any surprising advantages or disadvantages to working for yourself? To working remotely?
Advantages: being able to shop at Trader Joe’s during the day to avoid the queues, taking the cat to the vet at 11am without worrying about getting into work late, being able to say yes more often to interesting coffee dates or events, taking Friday off to go to a free design conference hosted by Parsons. Also, all the good things that come with the Inferno of Independence.
Disadvantages: not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, questioning the quality of your own work and having no one to take a look at it, canceling that vacation to Tokyo because wow it’s expensive, juggling 12 priorities across client work, personal projects and more. Also, all the bad things that come with the Inferno of Independence.
5. Any specific tips for other people considering freelance and remote work?
I’m not sure I’ve been doing it long enough to really offer concrete tips, but I’ve really benefited from joining a coworking space (The Works). To have an office away from home really helps me for lots of reasons — small and big — so I recommend it.
Also, make sure you make the most of the slow times. When you have the time go for mid-afternoon bike rides (and naps!) because it’ll get busy again and you won’t have time so grab life when it’s in front of you and believe in yourself. Trust that if you’re nice to people and honest it’ll all come back around.
6. What makes a person “a creative”?
Everyone is creative. This blog post explores the idea nicely. I’m reading a book right now called Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch which was shipped to me by accident on Amazon. It’s great, and gives you motivation and insight into improvisation and creating for the pure joy of creating.
What you have to realize is that there are plenty of professions and industries that try and commercialize the notion and attach a salary and status to “how creative” you are, but that has exactly zero overlap with how creative you actually are, because everyone is creative.
Maybe some people are better at writing advertising copy and so they get to be a “creative director”, but never ever look at them as more creative than you. Pick up a camera, point it at them, take a photo, stick it in your notebook and doodle all over it.
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