Career Change Advice From Dan Nainan, Intel Engineer Turned Stand-Up Comedian

Written by Christine Warner on November 28, 2017

Giving up full-time employment for a freelance career is always risky. But it’s even riskier when you make the transition into a completely new field — which is exactly what Dan Nainan did when he left his job as an Intel engineer in Silicon Valley to become a stand-up comedian. Are you about to make the freelance switch? Read on for Nainan’s career change advice.

Be Open to New Career Pursuits

At Intel, Nainan gave technical demonstrations on stage at events all around the world. But contrary to what you may believe, public speaking terrified the engineer. And it was this fear that actually led him to explore a new field. “I took a stand-up comedy class to get over the fear, and the comedy kind of took off,” Nainan explains.

Don’t Back Down From a Big Risk

Nainan’s audiences have included numerous famous individuals, including Steve Wozniak, Hillary Clinton, President Trump and President Obama, who praised his comedy, saying, “Dan is hilarious.”

The comedian’s wild success proves that the risk of freelancing can pay off. “No matter what city I go to in the world, there are people I can meet up with who have seen me at previous shows,” he explains.

Now, Nainan’s life is a whirlwind of global travel and performances. “I loved my job at Intel, I like to say I never worked a day in my life, but of course comedy is much more fun.” While undergoing a major career shift can be scary, the potential reward often outweighs the risk. “I honestly cannot say I miss my job at Intel,” he says.

Ignore the Doubting Voices Around You

Even if your freelance transition is less dramatic than Nainan’s, you may find that those around you lack confidence in your future success. But don’t let their misgivings distract or deter you. Instead, stay focused on your conviction and shut out the skepticism.

“When people would tell me it’s very difficult to make a living in comedy, I would tell them, ‘Well, what if Seinfeld hadn’t tried?'” Nainan explains. “So one way to overcome this kind of negativity is to just believe in yourself, try as hard as you can and try to ignore the naysayers.”

Make Sacrifices to Pursue Your Passion

It’s important to realize that a freelancing career requires extra time and effort to really take off. You may sometimes need to stay in on a Friday night to buckle down on some work, or set aside time each day to build a website after your day job. Nainan knows the importance of making sacrifices: “There are many folks who tell me that they want to pursue a creative career, but feel that they don’t have the time. I would respectfully disagree.”

The comedian believes that your passion should take precedence over time spent partying or lounging. “If someone truly is passionate about pursuing a freelance career, they can use those precious hours to write jokes, make films, practice acting, write scripts, compose songs, program apps, practice dance steps, write poems, start a business or work on or whatever it is their dream might be.” In order to be successful in your freelance pursuits, you must be disciplined in your approach.

Rise Above the Challenges

When Nainan first started out as a comedian, he found the unknown to be quite daunting. “There’s a sense of not knowing what to do in the beginning, of not knowing the best way to proceed,” he explains.

To make things even more challenging, he found it difficult to come across mentors who he could turn to for career change advice. “Let’s just say that when you’re a freelancer, there are probably not a lot of others who will bend over backwards to show you the ropes. So you have to flounder around on your own, and make mistakes.”

When you start your new freelance career, don’t let temporary setbacks or lack of support discourage you. In order to be successful, you must rise above these challenges, learn from your mistakes and move past them.

Now, Nainan is committed to sharing his experience to help others get started. “I’ve been very fortunate in comedy, so I try to give back and help beginning comedians. Many of them approach me for advice, and for the price of a cup of coffee, I’ll tell them everything I know. It’s quite rewarding.”

No matter what kind of indy you are, you can learn a lot from Nainan when it comes to making the freelance switch. Of course, you’ll face some hiccups along the way, but there’s nothing better than being able to pursue a career that you’re truly excited about. “When you’re really consumed by your passion and have a love for it, you pretty much spend every waking hour working on your craft, but it’s a labor of love,” says Nainan.

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