9-5 Soul Crushing


Maybe I just need to vent but I guess I'm looking for advice / encouragement as well. I have been taking on side work for the last couple years while working full time. As time goes on, I am getting more and more projects and my focus is naturally shifting towards my own work. My boss has been tempting me with this idea of a "buy out" which I have posted about in other threads but I've come to realize my heart is not really in that move and I would just rather grow on my own terms. Everyday I feel like a caged animal and cannot wait to get out of the office. Contractors calling me, new leads, clients, just other opportunities coming at me from all directions. I am started to lose my mind and my quality of life with the traditional 9-5 is killing me. Now although I am "busy" with side work, I am not totally convinced I will have enough coming down the pipe when / If I decide to leap. At the same time I am completely maxed out with work that I can take on (even with freelance drafters helping me). I do have a nice cushion of funds to keep me rolling for a good while (2-3 years at least) I plan to just roll from my home office for the time being. How have others done this transition? Its so scary to think of leaving a nice cozy safe job to the unknown. Not to mention I make a very nice salary, especially for a relatively young architect (30) . Help, any advice, suggestions, personal experience is greatly appreciated. 

Oct 18, 18 3:29 pm

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Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches. -Italo Calvino

Oct 18, 18 3:44 pm

Seems like you are well-positioned.  Clients are seeking you out.  You have reliable freelance drafting help.  With 2-3 years worth of cash in reserve, it sounds like its time to go.  

Oct 18, 18 4:51 pm

Money is one thing. The other, which I missed when on my own was the intellectual and social interaction with colleagues. Its much better when you have someone you can bounce off ideas on, and quite frankly, the day goes by faster. 

Another thing is that even the 9-5 seems crushing, it is not too dissimilar as a freelancer. You will have bosses (clients) -- just no steady paycheck. lol.

Oct 18, 18 5:08 pm

If you do it, you run the risk of having to make a return trip to the life of a 9-5'er.  But, if you don't, you run the risk of wondering "what if?" for the rest of your life.  If you plan to stay in architecture, I would do it and see what happens.  At the tail end of your life, it's the gambles not taken that haunt you.  There is no real safety in this profession, so you might as well try to build something of your own rather than fertilizing somebody else's farm.

Oct 18, 18 5:28 pm

you are either living your dream or somebody else's...


That’s deep wisdom from the Geezer.

Wood Guy

If you're going to do it, commit to running it like a business, which is much different than being an employee or even freelancing. I've done them all and prefer the risk and reward of self-employment, though some days/weeks/months are tough. You might find the resources at helpful. 

Oct 18, 18 8:09 pm

I agree 9-5 is soul crushing. At the end of the day it does feel like I am being freed from my cage. When I was younger I was so enthused to be in a cubicle and being a little obident CAD monkey. Now I am in a stage in my life where I just don’t want to do the daily grind anymore with lousy pay. I have plenty in the reserves as welI, but like yourself my biggest fear is finding clients, etc. To keep a steady work load and not see the reserves draining out. It sounds like you already have some work coming in and it will only keep branching out. Try it out. It’s a risk for sure compared to a sure thing... but I. This industry nothing is guaranteed... not even a 9-5 gig.

Oct 19, 18 10:00 am

Or change it to 8-6 or 7-7?

Oct 19, 18 10:38 am

10-12 was yesterday, it was a good day

Oct 19, 18 2:32 pm

Robert, is this you? I see you at work doing other projects then the firm's :)

Oct 21, 18 11:30 am

the us economy has been on the upside since mid 2009, although it didn't feel like it until much later in that cycle. the economic upside will come to an end at some point, most likely sooner rather than later.

we may be close to the end of the construction cycle. land is very expensive, construction labor is very expensive and interest rates are rising.

keep doing what you are doing and continue to add on to your cushion,
continue making new contacts and forging new relationships with clients.

you are young and you have many more construction cycles ahead of you. right now, you are freelancing successfully. if you want to be able to run a successful business there is planning to be done. it would be good to learn about the business side of the profession before you take the leap.

Oct 21, 18 8:28 pm

I'd probably ride it out until the next AE industry slump, then see if your side work can carry you.  If it can, get out. 

Oct 22, 18 8:12 am

Thanks for all the replies, really good insight as usual. My biggest concern is keeping the pipeline full. Working full time and getting side work gets overwhelming very quick, but if this was my full time gig, I could catch up with my side work relatively quick and would be looking for the next job. But if that's the case, then when will one EVER "be ready". My argument with myself is that I will use my "down time" to market as much as possible and get out there make more connections, something I can't really do as a full time employee. Is it fairly common to be somewhat desperate for work when you first make that jump? Ideally one would want some larger contract to keep them afloat during their startup but I'm not sure that's always possible. 

Oct 22, 18 9:58 am

Marketing and set-up of your new business could take up half of your early workdays, so it may be OK that you are not fully loaded up with projects at first. Allow yourself some extra time to make your initial projects be of top-quality. This will help you build up an attractive portfolio of successfully completed built work. Money-wise, keeping your expenses low and having sufficient cash to tide you over on slow months is key. Do you have repeat clients? A repeat client who gives you a steady flow of small jobs can be just as good as a single large job.


You need to do a cost-benefit analysis, maybe use an excel spreadsheet to keep your thoughts together.  Make a list using every KNOWN item from the past 12 months.  INCOME / clients-projects (actual revenue) in one column, and EXPENSES of ALL types in another column, mortgage, car, insurance, wife, kids, food, hobbies, booze, taxes, gasoline, clothes, car / house repairs, etc. ad nauseum.  Depending on how much you think either of those will change, up or down, will help you make a good decision.  At 30 I can't imagine flying totally solo, but I have worked 2 jobs before during my 20's and 30's.  Those days are long gone now but it looks like I'll be in for another huge transition soon.  Actually your situation is pretty simple compared to some I have seen lately.  Do the analysis, sit with it for a while, see if you think things will be consistent, figure out how much your "CUSHION" can ACTUALLY carry you, assuming nobody is 'vampiring' off you at home or work.

For example, if you are married or plan on having kids or more kids soon, vs. if you are single and never planning to have kids, AND whether your spouse has a good job / good income and that is expected to continue, whether you just purchased an expensive house etc., could all be huge deal-breakers or makers.  If you can afford to starve and not have to feed anyone else but yourself, and your rent / mortgage is cheap, none of this may really matter.

Oct 25, 18 11:23 am

This is a good idea. I did a rough but fairly conservative approach. I took my average monthly spending and divided that by my cushion. I will also tighten up my lifestyle during this time and I am confident I am solid for at least 2.5 -3 years. Not saying I plan to drain my savings but I anticipate business to help along the way. I also have a small swimming pool business that I know I can rely on for some cash flow during the summer months. I am engaged, no kids, fiance does have a good job so that helps. I am just nervous about jumping to soon, but if not now.. then when...


Remember, there is no such thing as a "perfect time". There is some time period where it would be poor times like at the middle of a deep recession but right now, you have work coming in. The best time in my opinion was 2012-2013 with us climbing out of the recession and longer built up earnings. Now, there will be another recession but it might not be as deep as the last one unless something really stupid happens by a stupid government administration. However, there are factors of some resilience in the industry itself but persevere. Manage your actual costs and do whatever you can to maximize your profits so you have a little nest egg to ride out slow years that are bound to happen. Don't get zealous with expensive living. Your home office will help you sustain operations even in slow years because you won't have as high of operational overhead of an expensive rented or leased commercial space. Don't worry about that until after the next recession ends and keep building your name. Eventually, you may have the sustainable capacity of an office space but not now... be fiscally frugal.


Sounds like a decent calculated risk worth taking.  And probably not as dangerous as you think... compared to a lot of things I could imagine.

Oct 25, 18 2:46 pm

Thanks again for the replies. This has been been helpful is giving me more confidence. Obviously there are many factors to this question but if anyone is willing to share their experience that would be great. I know its a personal question but we don't know each other anyway right? what kind of numbers can one expect to see as a fresh business owner? I will be at 50k this year in side work. I know this is not all that much but I am still proud as this has been while working full time with zero advertising, no website, pretty much nothing other than what landed on my lap. again I know there are tons of factors but my work will mainly consists of developer / builder residential and some light commercial. Thanks again

Oct 30, 18 2:40 pm


Sounds like you would be a great addition to my business. Now seriously, you are licensed and when you begin to work on your own more and more, you will be most beneficial when you are doing projects that the builders and others can't legally do themselves. I won't say that you shouldn't do small projects but you can do more and take advantage of your license's benefits. I wish you best. Keep in mind that like anyone else in the profession, when a recession happens, you would be out of work during that period but if you have some flexibility in what services or activities you provide that brings you money, you would be able to keep yourself sustained so position yourself so you can retain some degree of work even if not directly architecture related.

Oct 30, 18 3:06 pm

If you think 9-5 is rough, I can't imagine 9-9 will be any easier. But that's for you to decide. Good luck.

Oct 30, 18 8:06 pm

I did the 9 to 5 for a company, for 5 years. Worked my way up to getting my license and $64k a year. And this was back in 2001 right before 9/11. But it drove me crazy watching my manager come in at 10, take a 2 hour lunch, and leave at 4. Plus my immediate manager was a jerk and told management that one night I refused to stay late and do overtime, it killed my raise for that years review.

So when I declined an offer to transfer from the NY to NJ to head up the regional office there, I saw the writing on the wall. I wasn't a "team player" because of the overtime gaffe and the refusal to relocate my whole life to NJ for the company. So before I got the boot I put my efforts for my own company into overdrive. I already knew I wanted to have my own firm but this whole scenario put it into fast forward. 

In June 2001 the company got hit with layoffs. I couldnt have been happier. I was at the point that I was so overloaded at home that I was going to need to take vacation time just to catch up. So I took my severance package and ran out the door.

BUT BUT BUT. Now I survived the recession after 9/11. The recession of 2008 was harder. I was selling stuff from my house to pay my mortgage. So lack of a steady paycheck really hurts. Your always worried where the next project will come from. Your always thinking about work. Look at this, I'm typing this at 12:15am. Hint, hint. Good health insurance and a contributing matching 401-K was nice too.

There are pluses and minuses to each lifestyle. I know I could never go back to 9-5, a dress code, and a boss. But it's not easy going out on your own. Some good advise would be to read the "The E-Myth Theory". You may be a great employe or a great entrepreneur, but you might be a horrible business owner/president. Do you have any business background? I've found that most architects don't know ANYTHING about running a business, marketing, basic bookeeping, and most important of all, how to price your services. Architecture is so complicated. We are expected to know everything, then on top of that,we need to know how to run a business.

Good luck, because it took me 17 years, one divorce, and lots of late nights, to get it right, and I'm still learning, and sometimes still struggling. I work three nights a week till 2 or 3am. But I have no set schedule, have never missed my kids doctors appointments or karate classes or ballet classes. I take off to go surfing when it's perfect conditions, and I still wear jeans to work.

So just remember, life and work is all about balance. 

Nov 1, 18 12:29 am

Good to know it worked out (more or less). You have to have a pay check whether it be from a 'boss' or a 'client'. 

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So I couldn't stand being in limbo any longer and decided to have "the talk" with my boss. I told him everything that has been going on. The side business, the entrepreneurial desire to create something of my own and that I wanted to take the leap. He seemed a little in shock, I am only 30, so he was thinking I was going to jump to another office, not go off on my own. At any rate, he understood and respected where I was coming from. He said he was in the same position early in his career. He came back with offering 3 days a week. Honestly I'm not sure that will give me the freedom I am looking for and the the time to put the energy needed into growing my business. He said he's going to think and see if we can maybe work something out. I suggested possible doing work on a per job basis and he seemed open to that. Anyway thank you all for the support and insight. I will be sure to follow back with an update. If you see too much of me on these forums, that may not be a good sign haha. 

Nov 8, 18 2:46 pm

Well played, I think, and good luck. But be careful, he might want to have you work on one project after another after another, so still no freedom to work on your own projects, really, no? I don't know never been in this particular situation myself.


best of luck. Wish I had the balls to do same thing 

Nov 9, 18 9:08 pm

The biggest hold up from me jumping ship and starting my own firm at 32 years old was the fear that the work load would stop coming in.  I knew that I had the skillsets to deliver projects, but my fear was "what if the 'side work' dries up after I took the leap?  This stopped me often from taking the plunge, as my job with my employer seems steady and reliable. 

Then I read an article.  How do you know the work with your employer won't dry up?  It's a different perspective being an employee verse an owner, but the same concept holds true.  Though you may be an employee at an established firm, you have no idea and have little control over the sustainability of that job.  

When I started thinking about it, I felt that I had more control over my destiny and ability to sustain work as my own boss.  I quit, and never looked back.  This was seven years ago.  I am now 39 with a staff of 12, and we are growing both in terms of clients, sectors, and magnitudes of projects. 

Its definitely a risk, but if the only thing holding you back is the uncertainty of sustainable work, I believe you are under the false assumption that work is guaranteed to a larger degree than being on your own.  It isn't. 

Nov 13, 18 10:23 am

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