From Physicist to Entrepreneur: Leaving my Full-Time Job
On Christmas day, I cornered my mom as she was vacuuming the living room. I told her I had something important to say.
“Mom, I’m quitting my job.” My full-time physics job. The stable one. The regular 9-to-5 paying my bills.
She went through the motions as I predicted. There was a split-second of denial and as it was sinking in, I could see it in her eyes. She looked at me like I was brain damaged and she began vacuuming the same spot four or five times, over and over again.
“What are you going to do then?” she asked me, as calmly as possible. I could hear her voice cresting and breaking. More vacuuming.
I wanted to tell her I’ve been at my workplace for four years now, my options for advancement were limited, and it was time for a change. I always wanted to be my own boss full-time. Doing what exactly, I wasn’t sure. I think we all pigeonhole ourselves to thinking we should only be doing one thing and that certain ideas are way too crazy. So we file those ideas away and load them up on the Crazy Train and push them out of Sane Station. It’s easier to wait in Sane Station for the next train.
Several years ago, I suffered from a knee injury that took me out of kung fu, which is an activity that I’m really passionate about. By then, I was doing it for about three hours per day, six to seven days a week. When I injured myself, I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands to explore my interests and to do things for fun.
I remember calling up my friend Jen, saying I wanted to sell swords for fun. I’m guessing she thought I was nuts. This was my way to feel connected to kung fu even though I was not able to do it like before.
When I was younger, I played games like Age of Empires and Civilizations with my sisters. I read up on the history of battles and conquerors, and loved playing what-if scenarios if I had been the general of a particular battle. I learned a lot from reading the Art of War by Sun Tzu.
In my less serious moments, I’ve been interested in answering questions like, “How many watermelons can I slice with an Aztec jaguar warrior’s macuahuitl?” (Side note: A macuahuitl is a paddle lined with sharpened obsidian). Eventually this evolved to questions like: “What kind of battering ram would be needed to take down the Wall in Game of Thrones?”
A lot of people who knew me growing up knew that I collected medieval weaponry and antique replicas. My parents’ basement looks like an armoury and is probably the best place to be if a zombie apocalypse breaks out. I could tell you about the history of each piece and how each piece evolved over time. I remember it scared some of my friends who may have thought I should have collected coins, stamps or rocks instead like regular folks. (It just so happens I also collected those things too, but that’s besides the point.) I’ve always been interested in the design and construction aspects of creation and understanding the minds of other people.
So I started by selling swords, axes, daggers and knives from my personal collection at comic cons around Ontario. Eventually that evolved to include things like martial arts gear and replicas of swords from anime, video games, comics, and more. These days, I’m starting to design them, manufacture them, and test them. I realized I wanted to take the time to create a community too, to do more volunteering again, and to write on the side. I’m basically using all the skills I’ve learned along the way in physics and journalism and applying it to something I can be proud of.
All this stuff I kept in my head. When my mom asked me, “What are you going to do then?” All I managed to say was:
“My sword business.” Fire and Steel.
To say she was disappointed would probably be an extreme understatement. For those of you who have been talking to me for the past few years, however, this should not be that shocking.
“What are you going to do all day then? Sleep?” asked my mom incredulously.
“No, there’s a lot I can do with building the community and social media…”
I trailed off. Then silence.
I knew she wouldn’t understand, but my siblings convinced me to tell her or else I was going to have to keep up the ruse that I was still working my full-time job every single time she asked me how work was going. At some point, I knew the lie would just fall apart. Then it would be way more awkward when I had to explain myself later.
Despite being 28-years-old and living my own life, I still wanted my parents to understand and accept my choice.
Some of us just need to be pushed into the deep end in order to learn how to swim. If you’re anything like me, I will clutch to the safety of a flotation device to the bitter end because it’s familiar. My full-time job was my flotation device. It was keeping me alive but preventing me from learning how to truly swim.
I feel a lot of us live our lives one day at a time trying to just stay alive, clutching to flotation devices, but not really learning, not really living, not really happy.
This is my first week as a self-employed person. I still don’t think my mom understands. But I told myself I’ve crossed the Rubicon now. I’ve quit my job and I made sure I would have no life lines so that there’s no going back. The way I saw it was that there were two paths in front of me: a clear, predictable, and stable one and a foggy, hazy one that up until recently, I would have filed away as an option only suitable for the Crazy Train.
Taking this path may lead to me being bankrupt but may also lead to something else… something more.
Whatever it is. I’ve always been looking for something more.
It’s funny because I’m thinking right now about a talk I gave back in 2013 about how you never know exactly where your choices might lead you. I might be doing this business now, but in a year or two? Who knows where my life might lead me.
This chance to find “it”, whatever “it” is, is worth the risk. I plan to explore this path to wherever it takes me.
I’m forcing myself to learn how to swim and will try to document my journey with all its ups and downs.
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