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I Quit Engineering for My Dream Business — One Year Later I Still Can’t Cover Rent

A non-success story to help you put things in perspective


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Nabil Alouani

3 years ago | 6 min read

It all began with a scam. I’d just found this crypto-trading platform, and overnight I’d earned the easiest $50 of my life. Three months later, $50 became $1,200 and of course, I wasn’t planning to stop there.

My calculations said I was nine months away from earning $4,000 per month while cashing enough to cover my living expenses. This was it. Summer 2020 would become the date of my financial freedom. It was time to chase my passion. It was time to write online.

Back then, my words were earning me a $67 salary but that wasn’t an issue. I was about to put 40 hours a week into my craft instead of four. Besides, I had money, a roof over my bald head, and a best friend who supported me.

What I didn’t know is that before winter, I’d lose everything.

When you quit, money doesn’t follow — problems do

Soon after I’d invested 90% of my savings, I discovered the crypto-trading platform belonged to a Bitcoin mafia. The payments stopped and instead I started to have nightmares and suicidal thoughts. Then things got worse.

My best friend, who was also my flatmate, started to act weird. She was the one who found the place we’d been sharing for six months. Everything went smoothly until she found her soulmate and wanted me out. Understandable, but the timing was bad. So fucking bad.

The apartment discussion escalated into a fight that shot our friendship dead. But hey, I still had my laptop and $3,000. I could rent a hut and write my way out of the crisis. Except, no Parisian landlord would sign a lease with some crazy bald dude who quit corporate to write online in the middle of a pandemic.

Problems kept charging me like hungry zombies happy to spend an endless night feasting on my brain. None of my favorite gurus warned me about that when they encouraged me to chase my dream.

Success pornstars never miss the opportunity to tell you how hard they worked and how well it paid off. They rarely tell you about the massive safety nets that got them there. Without family, First World privileges, and savings, it’s freaking hard to walk down the solopreneurship road. I didn’t know that until Murphy’s Law punched me in the face. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Remember this

Make sure you have at least two safety nets before quitting your job.

  1. Save enough money to cover one year of expenses before you quit. You’ll have a ton of issues, and trust me: you don’t want starving to be one of them. Unexpected events like sickness or a broken fridge can also shake your finances.
  2. Secure a roof over your head. Move back with your parents or relocate to a cheaper city where rent is affordable. For many of us, it’s the easiest way to reduce costs.

Clients won’t chase you — doubt will

I’m a lucky bastard for being surrounded by exceptional human beings. My friend offered me her small apartment’s keys which I kept for a couple of months. Then my brother helped me escape to a cheaper city.

In the meantime, I kept writing, and the Virality Goddess kissed my forehead twice. My income grew from two figures to three and sometimes four. But that didn’t solve it because, after conversion and taxes, I still couldn’t cover rent.

That’s why when I was away from my keyboard and books, I’d ask myself different versions of the same question. “What the fuck am I doing?”

When you throw away a stable career, health insurance, and social approval, many people will question your choice. The worst voice you’ll hear will be your own though. No matter how down-to-earth you are, you’ll start your journey with expectations that will turn out to be too high.

Deep down, you’ll expect results to show up within days, but the days will turn into weeks then months. That’s when self-doubt comes banging at the door.

Why is no one reading my shit since that viral hit? How am I supposed to get clients? Wait. Did I escape corporate to become someone’s slave? I need a stable source of income though. Maybe I should consider wearing the freelance chains. Fuck. I can’t focus. Too many unanswered questions. Maybe this is all a big mistake.

Scary stuff? Sure. Can you handle it? Absolutely.

By the time the self-doubt part starts, you’d already built enough mental muscle to withstand it. Remember, at that point, you would have already mustered enough courage to quit your job and jump into the unknown. Managing your stress will be no picnic, but you’ll survive it.

Here are a few things that helped me.

Remember this

  • Call that one person who believes in you. I often cry to my girlfriend about my failures, and Tina would always ask me the same question. “How can you make this work anyway?” Find your Tina.
  • Connect with other writers. Writing is a lonely job but you don’t have to do it alone. Seek Facebook groups and Slack communities where you can share your thoughts, find accountability partners, and receive feedback. I owe a lot of my progress to people who’ll recognize themselves when reading this.
  • Move your body. Exercise helps you relieve stress and stimulate your brain. Go for a walk and do some push-ups; both your health and career will thank you for it.

It’s never too late to change your mind

At this point, you’d expect a breakthrough that turned my clusterfuck into a triumph. I wish I could give it to you, maybe even humblebrag a little bit. But I’m not there yet.

Sure, my writing still flirts with virality bringing home some dollars. But the income still far from covering necessary expenses, let alone Netflix, Saturday pizza, and a two-week vacation.

You can see me as a failure. Or you can see me as a possible outcome.

Run the numbers and you’ll realize not that many indie writers make a living online. The problem is those who do succeed won’t shut up about it. The result? You believe it’s accessible to everyone but of course, that’s bullshit.

There’s a brain feature called survival bias. It makes us focus on the people who make it and forget about all of those who didn’t. For instance, 90% of startups fail, but we never hear about them. We only see a tiny fraction of the remaining 10% — specifically, those who make it into our social media feeds.

Since writing online is a one-person startup, I’m giving my writing a tiny 10% chance of survival. I suggest you consider the same odds when you look at your business.

Despite all the chaos and low income, however, I’ll keep going for another six months. My decision reveals two things. One: I didn’t tell you about the other privileges that allowed me to survive so far. Two: I’m somewhere between delusional and determined, which some people refer to as optimism.

Optimism, however, is like a hammer. It can build, and it can destroy.

Lessons

If you embark on a similar adventure and struggle with money, observe yourself. Do you still enjoy vomiting thoughts on a blank page, or does it make you sick? Are you considering solutions to make your business work, or are you thinking about returning to your old job?

Your answers won’t be the same every day, but you’ll develop a preference.

  • If you want to make your project work above everything else, then stick with it.
  • If you feel exhausted and dread your new life, stop and go back to the old one. There’s no shame in changing your mind. You just have to own it.

Final thoughts and recap

Sometimes, life sucks. You’re stuck in a job you don’t like, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves running online businesses and getting rich. Or so you’d think.

In reality, making a decent living as a solopreneur is hard. Your gurus will tell you it’s simple and doable — and I’m sure that’s what they believe. Everyone sees the world through their personal lenses and since things worked out for them, they genuinely think the same is possible for you and me.

Now you know that’s not true.

When you quit your job to write, coach, or sell online, you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to the level of your preparation.

  • Save enough money to survive one year before quitting your job.
  • Keep your social life and body healthy to survive stress and self-doubt.
  • Observe yourself during your dream-chasing adventure. It’s okay to change your mind if entrepreneurship doesn’t turn out to be your thing.

See you around.

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Nabil Alouani

Business | Psychology | Marketing — What's your favorite quote? Mine is "True masters are eternal students."


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