Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

How I Quit my Six-Figure Fashion Job & Became a Freelance Writer

By Jean Chen Smith
Just last summer, I was sitting at my cubicle with several co-workers at a fashion company in New York, staring longingly at the beautiful sun that hung in the sky. Abruptly, one of my colleagues came up to the window and pulled down the blinds. He looked over at me and shrugged. I will never forget the next words he said because they changed the course of my entire life: “The sun is coming in.” It wasn’t anything personal—the sun was probably creating a glare on his computer or making the office too hot.

Act on Your AHA moment
That’s when I realized I no longer belonged in an office in New York shuffling papers. While my career earned me a six-figure income and allowed me to travel everywhere from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, I came to dread the long commute and the downtime which required me to sit at a desk all day. I longed to be outside, doing things I was passionate about such as teaching Pilates and connecting with people.

I also launched a lifestyle blog, Project Cloud 9 (www.projectcloud9.com), focusing on health, fitness and fashion. My ultimate goal was to connect with others who felt my frustration about being married to a career and desk job, but dreaming about a life that makes our hearts beat faster and our souls feel satisfied.

Find a Side Hustle
While I was working in New York, I got certified through Balanced Body during the weekends. Depending on what type of Pilates you want to teach (Mat Pilates or Apparatus), a certification takes three full days. It is so important to have other sources of income coming in while you try to launch your freelance writing career. Pilates paid the bills while I ramped up my writing.

After I came to the epiphany that day, I began to plot my escape from my day job by beginning to pick up three teaching jobs for Pilates on the weekends and shooting out resumes to a lot of freelance positions. About a month later, I left my day job to teach Pilates full-time and picked up freelance writing and consulting for various fashion companies.

Start Saving NOW
By then, since I spent the month shooting out resumes like crazy, the wheels had already been turning, so I had things lined up. It was not as though I realized I was unhappy and quit the same day. Even though I believe in following your passion, you must be strategic about your exit plan.

During my time in fashion, I also saved a lot so that in the event of a rainy day, I would be able to have something for emergencies. I highly recommend having at least 6 months worth of savings before you make any type of move. Since I was the one who left the company, I didn’t collect unemployment, so I definitely needed to make sure I had the financials accounted for before quitting.

Reexamine Your Daily Budget
I have bills and expenditures just like everyone else, plus I loved my Louis Vuitton bags and fancy restaurants. But my need for freedom outweighed all of that. At the end of the day, you must ask yourself: what are you NOT willing to do in order to achieve your dreams? If you are NOT willing to give up certain things, it will be hard for you to make the leap.  I stopped the mindless internet shopping, buying things that I really didn’t need. Also, instead of going out to eat everyday, I began to cook and eat dinners at home. These were small changes that added up and made the difference, which allowed me to pursue the life I imagined.

For me, it had always been very meaningful to make the income that I did, work with the big fashion companies like Brooks Brothers, Michael Kors, Macy’s, and also be able to shop and travel the world. But as time wore on, I became really passionate about Pilates and fitness.

Be Ok With Rejection (Lots of It)
I had graduated from Rutgers University with a Journalism degree, but after learning the meager salaries most journalists made, I kissed writing as a career goodbye. However, I never fell out of love with writing – I was always reading books, writing in my journals, crafting little poems and stories. But none of it was for public consumption.

Once I finally decided to quit my six-figure fashion job, I sent out a lot of resumes for writing jobs with no real break. But I kept at it… and kept at it. Currently, I write a weekly column on healthy living for a well-known newspaper, consult for a social media company (a gig I found on Monster.com), and write freelance articles for an online site (thanks for the hot tip, Ed!).

Get Creative When You Apply
I got my job as a columnist by reaching out to the editor and showing her samples of stories from my blog. I did the legwork by researching the editor’s name and address, which is usually public information. I tried to think outside of the box, rather than only going to a job site – even though I did that too.

I also reached out to local businesses to feature them on my website. All of them were so excited to have a piece written about them that they said yes. Besides scoring some freebies, that strategy got me stories for my blog and helped me create a portfolio to show prospective employers. Today, my blog has 50k views per month, which I am very proud of.

Always Remember Your End Goal
Once you have made up your mind, do not doubt and never look back. Whenever I had doubts and questioned how I was able to leave a position where I was basically making over 8k a month (after taxes!), I reined in my ego and realized that wasn’t what made me happy.  So, in moments of regret, I reflect on the life I have built and imagined. I am proud of what I have done and continue to do. I love the flexibility of the lifestyle I have created – it really beats sitting in an office with people who want to cover up the sunshine.

Jean Chen Smith writes a weekly column focusing on healthy living in The Asbury Park Press/ USA Today.  Additionally, Jean works as a freelancer for a social media consultant company and teaches Pilates.
Jean, a marathon runner, is passionate about health, fitness and fashion, which is the reason she started her lifestyle website, www.projectcloud9.com. Email her at info@projectcloud9.com or follow her on Facebook and instagram @projectcloud9.

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