Back in 2016, I went through back-to-back layoffs just five years into my career in tech. One layoff would have been hard enough, but two in a row just made me feel utterly defeated. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that these setbacks were the start of something greater.
I started freelancing, and built a website about a side hustling called I Like to Dabble while I looked for a new 9-to-5 role. When I landed a new job, I focused heavily on continuing to build other income streams outside of work.
If I experienced another layoff, I would at least have that income to fall back on. But my side hustles soon helped me pay off over $40,000 of debt and finally start building wealth.
Looking back now, I understand now that I was partially driven to do these things out of fear. But over time, I Like to Dabble evolved into an award-winning resource to help neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ folks like me gain more independence and power over their careers and financial futures.
I was someone who struggled with money for a long time. I also had a hard time relating to financial advice that wasn’t designed for my neurodivergent brain, and was geared toward a cisheteronormative experience that wasn’t my own. So being able to turn my personal outlet into something that helped my community was huge for me.
But even as I was growing my income every month with my business and side hustles, my energy was being drained at my day job. My mind was being split in two from juggling the work at both. Burning the candle at both ends was unsustainable for my mental health, so a decision had to be made.
This summer, I left my six-figure job in tech to run my digital side hustles full time. Here’s how I made that big goal happen.
I changed the story I was telling myself about my career and relationship with work
In the early days of my career as a web engineer at a startup, I was curious and inspired by coding and the work I was doing. The work was creative, collaborative, hard as hell, and so much fun. I would be so proud of myself when someone asked what I do for a living and I got to respond with, “I’m a software engineer.” I connected this title to my identity and worth.
When my salary increased and I got promotions, I also attached those to my identity. I’d even start attaching the companies I worked for to my identity. They were all a part of this story I was telling myself about whether I was doing “good enough” in life.
The last few years, however, were very different. As my business and skills outside of my day job grew in another direction, the less I wanted to put up with the male-dominated culture of corporate tech. I couldn’t see a future for myself in this industry and I was simply burnt out.
And my priorities were changing. Success didn’t mean a six-figure job and a fancy title anymore. It meant living a happy and fulfilling life, and working in an environment where I get to show up completely as myself.
Quitting my six-figure tech job in the middle of rising inflation, a potential recession, and the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic might be seen as foolish. But to me, now is the perfect time. There are always going to be what-if’s and external factors beyond my control. I knew that I couldn’t waste any more time doing work that I didn’t care about.
I diversified my income streams
If I was going to work for myself full-time and no longer have a 9-to-5 salary, I wanted to make sure the financial foundation in both my personal and business life was solid. That meant diversifying my income streams and coming up with creative ways to still get a stable enough income without consistent paychecks from an employer.
For example, I Like to Dabble brings in money with ads on the website, affiliate partnerships, brand partnerships, digital products, courses, consulting, coaching, and speaking. In addition to that, I also make money as a freelance writer for various other websites and blogs. It took me five years to build up these income streams.
As I have transitioned into full-time entrepreneurship, time management is an even bigger priority. Now when I am developing new income streams, if an idea is time intensive but won’t have a good return, I won’t pursue that. Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to ideas that lend themselves to creating automated, sustainable systems that can grow over time, and not take on projects that ask for free or low-paying work.
When I left my 9-to-5 to go full-time, I also switched the structure of my company so I could pay myself as a W-2 employee from my own business.
I set clear but flexible saving goals
Toward the end of last year, I set a few financial goals that I wanted to hit before I made the official switch. These were things like paying off our last car, maxing out my 401(k) at my day job, out-earning my day job with my business three months in a row, and saving up one year of emergency fund savings.
I hit some of these goals, but not others. We paid off our car earlier this year. While I maxed out my 401(k) at my day job last year, I didn’t this year — although I now have a solo 401(k) to top up. And my business didn’t completely out-earn my day job three months in a row, but came pretty darn close.
We’re not at a full year for our emergency fund, but we did hit $40,000 in savings and $15,000 in an emergency fund I have for my business. I also was able to hit over six figures in investments last year, and have kept building.
So even though I didn’t hit all of my initial financial goals before I put in my notice, the progress I did make with them in mind still got me on the right track to have a solid enough foundation to be able to leap when I did.
I also realized that you can make plans, but at a certain point, I didn’t want to wait for an arbitrary number, or for it to be the “right time” to pursue what was really important to me.
I researched the benefits that I would cover after I quit
One of the biggest hurdles involved with leaving my 9-to-5 was the benefits I was going to lose.
I had some of the best benefits I’d ever had in my career, with a 10% match on my 401(k) contributions and inexpensive monthly premiums on health insurance. There were times when I thought I was making a foolish decision by walking away from them.
Unfortunately, the way health insurance is set up in the United States, it can feel near-impossible to navigate, let alone finding cheaper options that provide the coverage you want or need.
Fortunately, my wife’s employer does offer health insurance that we can both transfer to after our current coverage ends, but at a much higher monthly premium. I also looked at health plans on our state’s healthcare marketplace, which is another option for self-employed folks.
Due to the insurance costs, we did have to adjust our fixed expenses on our budget. But I was able to open a solo 401(k) through my business that I can contribute to each month.
I made sure I left on good terms
Even though my job in tech was no longer aligned with where I wanted to go in my life, I didn’t want to ruin any of those relationships I built working there. I reviewed the policy at my employer before putting in my notice, made sure I met with my manager to inform her before sending it through, and copied HR on all correspondence.
It was a weird feeling after it was all done. Of course I was scared, but I knew it was the right decision. Ultimately, I was excited for the first time in a long time about what was ahead.
I put my two week notice in at the end of June, the perfect way to end Pride month as I commit to a bright, and rainbow-colored future, helping neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ folks increase their incomes and design their dream lives full-time.
Daniella Flores is a software engineer, serial side hustler, and creator of the blog I Like to Dabble. Daniella has grown I Like to Dabble on the side of their full-time job to 100,000 monthly users between the website and social media and is a two-time Plutus Awards finalist who has been featured on Business Insider, Huffington Post, CNBC, Refinery29, LA Times, and more.
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