The date was October 1st, 2008. I was a young aerodynamics engineer at Boeing when I walked into my supervisor’s office and told him my last day was going to be October 31st, 2008. I was quitting to pursue my dream of being a full-time martial arts school owner. If you recall, during the fall of 2008 we were in the midst of a financial crisis. People thought I was crazy to make this move at that time. Maybe I was a little crazy (and some may say still am). Despite what people said, I was confident in making this decision as I did diligent planning. I took a leap of faith by quitting my day job.
This post is the story of how I made that happen. There may be some people out there who are considering taking a leap of faith like I did, whether it’s opening a business, getting married, buying a house, or moving to a new city. It goes without saying that we are in the middle of a crisis in 2020 that far eclipses the crisis in 2008. Perhaps people are saying you are crazy trying to take a leap of faith at this time. I am here to tell you that you are not crazy. Sometimes you will be the only one that believes in you. I have told this story to many people at martial arts business seminars over the years. It actually inspired a few to take similar leaps of faith. I share now to perhaps inspire someone else out there to do the same.
Let me first say that I did not just wake up the morning of October 1st, 2008 and decide to quit my job. Some of the best ideas I ever had come to me while I was in the shower. This was not one of those. The decision was years in the making with countless hours of planning.
I moved to Seattle in April 2004 to work for Boeing. As soon as I got settled, I started researching health clubs, community centers, and YMCAs that would be interested in having a martial arts program. I created proposals, did demonstrations, and met with directors. My strongest selling point was that I would volunteer my time so they would get 100% of the profits.
Several places were interested but I ultimately decided to go with the West Seattle YMCA and started the first session in September 2004. At this time, I was not intending to be a full-time martial arts studio owner. I knew I wanted to teach martial arts, but I was also eager to pursue my Boeing career. I had spent 6 years in college earning Bachelors and Masters degrees in aerospace engineering and wanted to use them. Owning a martial arts school had always been a dream though. I just didn’t think I could make a living at it.
That first session at the YMCA I had 22 students. I was thrilled. That excitement would slowly dwindle as by the summer of 2005 I was down to only 1 student. That was my first lesson in what happens during the only 2 months in Seattle when it doesn’t rain, nobody likes to be inside. Regardless, things picked back up in the fall of 2005 and by the fall of 2006 I was up to over 50 students. Even though I was a volunteer, the YMCA could not provide me with anymore class times to grow so I started looking at commercial spaces.
At this time, I also started creating a business plan. Countless hours went into creating the plan which was a road map to building a full time, successful studio. It was still just a dream at that point but at least on paper, I proved that it was a viable idea. I found a space and had an agreement in place. Right before finalizing the lease, the landlord decided to back out. Luckily, I had done ample research and had a backup location which I was able to secure (and ended up staying there for 12 years).
At the start of the commercial studio in January 2007, I had only 18 students. I kept the YMCA classes going as there were still students who could not afford private studio classes. I would run classes at the YMCA on Tuesday/Thursday and at the commercial studio on Monday/Wednesday/Saturday. Remember, I was still a full time Boeing employee, so I worked 6am-3pm then taught classes from 4pm-8pm. I was working in Everett for Boeing and drove to West Seattle for classes. For those who live in this area, it goes without saying the nightmare of traffic I experienced every day.
Despite all the challenges, the studio continued to grow. I started reaching the dream numbers in my business plan that indicated I could make a go full time. I eventually reached that number, but it still took me 6 months to muster up the courage to take the leap. As I mentioned at the beginning, I did take that leap when I walked into my supervisor’s office that day in October.
There were two things that I will always remember about the conversation I had with him. First, he tried to get me to work part-time, work from home, or take a temporary leave of absence. He tried hard to get me to stay on board. I declined all options stating in order to succeed, I needed to not have a safety net. Second, he asked me how I came to this decision. I told him, “When I am at Boeing, I can’t stop thinking about karate but when I am at karate I never think about Boeing.” That just came out on the spot and had never thought that before but rang so true.
That leap of faith started me on the path to success as a business owner. My first year I made about 2/3 of what I made at Boeing. I exceeded that in my second year and continued that growth every year since (except for 2020…but that is a different story).
If you are considering taking a risk into the unknown, don’t let anyone deter you. Do your homework and just do it. There will always be reasons not to do it, a pandemic included. Trust yourself and take the leap of faith.