Dan Hough

Unhuddled - To Independence

Published 09 November 2013 in London, UK

This is a story about how in a few months my outlook on work and life changed, and I ended up where I am now: full time, doing stuff that I enjoy for independence, fun, learning and hopefully, profit.

A few months ago, I was sitting in a car being driven by my friend and colleague, whose name is also Dan. The two Dans, driving along the I-10 to Austin, TX for South by South-West. Two Brits in the Land of the Free, eating too much food and going to too many bars, with plenty of time on the road. Obviously, as colleagues, we talked about work.

The Realisation

I complained that I wasn’t totally happy with the way my job was going. “On paper,” I said, “it’s perfect. Good pay, nice benefits, challenging work.” Yet, I felt unchallenged. It was then that I joked, “Maybe I should just quit. Unemployment is challenging.”

We discussed the idea of chucking yourself in the deep end to find out if you can swim. Maybe that’s what some people need: a good push.

This became a theme of the trip. We shared ideas, talked about inspirational people and swapped stories we’d heard or read. We were inspiring each other with the things we’d been inspired by. Perfect, and inevitable for a trip to South by South-West.

The Chance Meeting

South by South-West began, and we thrust ourselves into the teeming mass of creators, thinkers and of course, the attendants like us.

While there, we met a lot of people. We met someone who was part of the crew for the West Wing and Studio 60. We met a student and her friends who took us to parties. We met locals who knew the best places to get sandwiches (the Short Bus). We met Alexis Ohanian, who said he’d definitely get me in touch with his colleague who could give me Kickstarter-related advice (he didn’t, but no worries) and I stood literally inches away from one of my musical heroes, Frank Turner.

The person who left the biggest impression on me, though, was a man called Mike Rugnetta. Mike is the writer and host of a YouTube channel I follow called The PBS Ideas Channel. He disscusses interesting subjects, in short bursts, to a captive audience around the world. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking. And, as it turns out, he’s a nice guy in person too.

“How,” I asked him, “did you end up doing the PBS ideas channel? Is it your full-time job?”

He told me that although it wasn’t his full-time job to do the Ideas Channel it was his main thing. He does other things too such as stand-up and music, but he doesn’t have a “traditional” job.

“But how? Did you ever have one?”

“Yes. I spent a bit of time being paid a whole lot for a job that I didn’t want to be in forever, so I saved up some money and decided to spend a year doing the things I really wanted to do.”

We chatted for a few minutes at the BBC America stage, then shook hands and parted ways. It was great to meet this guy I’d been learning stuff from for a couple of months before, especially since he had just had such a profound effect on me.

What he did was grow a seed that I’d already planted in my own mind. Mike was proof that one could just quit and do their own things. Bully to the risks - life is too short to not take risks.

I’ve always said, “It’s never too late to change your mind!” believing that no matter what happens to people in life they always have the choice to change things, no matter how young or old. Naturally, there are barriers and for each person the choice is easier or harder to actually make. Yet, this is what I have always been taught and have always said to people when they get demotivated about life.

So why was I not doing the thing that I wanted to do?

The Slow Decline

As the months went on, I started considering my options. I looked for new jobs, but nothing excited me in the same way that Huddle did when I first discovered the job. I started new projects at work, but I never felt excited about where they might be in a year, or two years. I didn’t see myself at Huddle 12 months later, but I had no exit strategy. I would just sit there and something would magically happen. Yeah, right.

My side projects continued, and I started busking from time-to-time. I was enjoying these things, but whenever I was at work I would struggle to keep my mind away from those things. My list of ideas built up. I continued reading books and watching videos by people who’ve gone it alone and done okay from it. Mike Rugnetta posted a new Idea Channel video each week, his cheery face reminding me that on the other side of this huge wall called my career, there’s loads of opportunities.

But I lost motivation, and I started to see myself resenting my work despite having a much better job than so, so many people. I knew I had to do something soon, or I’d become bitter.

The Perfect Opportunity

Fast-forward to September 2013. I’ve managed to get myself into a position at work of some responsibility over a new feature (more on this in a later blog post) which I am seeing from inception to live release. For the last 3 months it has been great work. It would seem that my career is going well. This is the perfect time to make my move.

I came to the conclusion that a good time to leave would be before finding myself becoming bitter. I knew that this feeling coud only last so long, and there was a craving inside of me for more indpendence. I’d leave on a high.

My manager knew I’d been feeling like this for a while, so when I handed my notice in officially, there wasn’t a lot of surprise. He knew it wasn’t about money, and he knew that I had thought it through over a long time. It was sad, but he accepted my resignation and the process of leaving began.

The Day Finally Came

Now, here I am, sitting in a coffee shop in Islington with no fixed income, no employer, and no startup which I’ve just received seed funding for: just me, my laptop, and a bunch of ideas.

I have roughly 6 months of runway funds, and I’m going to spend that time trying out those ideas, learning new skills, and spending some more time on my hobbies, including busking, bouldering, and public speaking. I’m gonna keep my eye out for good freelance opportunities that might come up, too. This is a great foray for me into independence, something I value quite highly.

In short, I’m going to do the things that I enjoy doing, full time. Hopefully, it’ll turn into something that can fund itself. But if not, the most important things are that I enjoy myself, and I learn interesting things.

I’m scared, but I’m excited. I’m confused, but looking forward to learning more. Over the next few weeks I will hopefully be starting, and finishing new projects, or possibly picking up old ones, and I’d like to keep anybody who is interested out there up-to-date. A lot of it will be recorded here.

If you’d like to chat, if you have any thoughts or advice about my plans or ideas for things to do, or if you’d like to work with me, just email me: dan[at]danielhough.co.uk, or follow me on Twitter to keep up with my adventures.

The final thing I’d like to add is that my former employer, Huddle, has been extremely supportive and we parted on very good terms. I am very grateful to everybody who I’ve worked with, because it’s been a lot of fun and I’ll miss seeing all of the friends I’ve made there on a daily basis. Plus, I learned so much there. Thank you, Huddle.

And thank you, reader, for reading.

Heckle me on Twitter @basicallydan.