“Escape From Cubicle Nation” sounds like the title of a thrilling novel. It’s not. It’s the new book from Pam Slim for those interested in starting their own business and escaping a negative work experience. I’ve been reading Pam’s blog since early 2006 and it was an enormous part of my decision to leave my place of work after 13 years. She’s remarkably friendly and has a deep understanding of the before and after of leaving the corporate world. I highly recommend you pick the book up if you have even an inkling of a desire to escape.
In saying the book is not a novel, the experience of escaping the cubicle nation is definitely a story worth telling. And like most stories it has a hero’s journey. Here is an example journey through the process and some notes from Pam’s book.
The Mundane World
My story began at a YMCA camp where I’d worked my entire adult life. I loved my job and the people that worked for me. Sounds great so far, right? The problem (or problems) were with my supervisors. Both thought they knew everything to the point of not needing new ideas from anyone which was a blow to my creative side. Both lied frequently which was a blow to my values. The difference came in how they presented themselves – one friendly and one not. Clearly I needed to get out and looked at options at other camps, but none came through.
Pam’s book talks about all the possible mundane worlds you might be in right now. In fact, the first chapter is “I Have a Fancy Title, Steady Paycheck, and Good Benefits. Why Am I So Miserable?” You might have the wrong boss, the job might not fit your passion, you might be working too many hours. A poor work life is so common there are jokes made about it. Plenty of people make a living from the fact that so many people hate their jobs – “Dilbert” or “Office Space” anyone?
The Call to Adventure
George Brymer acted as my herald. His “Vital Integrities” presentation at a conference showed me that values were important to people other than me and at the same time showed me that one person could make a difference with their own business/program. One of his core messages was, “People Join Organizations, But They Leave Managers.” I figured he was talking to me.
A lot of “Escape From Cubicle Nation” is spent discussing the reasons people resist their call to adventure. Pam says you might fear losing status, routine, and recognition. You might be hoping your boss or job changes – ever positive. Perhaps you’re worried about failure. Your Call can come from anywhere at any time. Just as Harry Potter’s letter, Dorothy’s tornado, and Peter Parker’s spider were all completely different calls to adventure, yours could come in any form. It might be an idea for a business, a herald appearing, or it might be Pam’s book. Look for the call and accept it.
Crossing the Threshold
The big question was around the how of this move. How could I afford it? That was answered when my wife got a teaching job and I found out the size of my retirement fund. With one part time job and a payout, we survived that first year and have been comfortable ever since. The day I walked out of the camp for the last time was my literal crossing of the threshold. I left that world behind and entered the new world.
Leaving the old world behind is an enormous step and once again Pam is up to the task of assisting. She talks about how to prepare yourself for the change and how to make sure your business is ready for the real world. Setting your mind to that of a beginner, finding your inner tiger, and getting creative will all get you ready for that big step into the new world.
The Path of Trials
The path has been long and, in fact, continues today. I have had many days of doubt, during which I did nothing, or applied for camp jobs, or considered getting a teaching degree. I’ve met many new people, some of whom have become friends, some enemies, and some mentors. Moments of pride have dotted my path, as well as moments of despair and frustration. Today I’m finishing up my biggest school group yet and couldn’t be happier.
Meeting new people, learning new skills, and overcoming challenges are the key parts of the path of trials. Pam discusses all of them with a lot of attention on the people. Success in your own business comes down to meeting people. There will be people who become friends, whether they are clients, vendors, service providers, or other business owners. These friends can help talk you down from the edge of a cliff, save you time, spread the word, introduce you to other friends, share resources, and make you laugh. Pam talks about compadres and comadres – those people that are positive, encouraging, and totally supportive. There will also be mentors and enemies. Pam uses a model similar to my Round Table called her High Council of Jedi Knights. These are your inspirations. She suggests ways to find mentors and avoid enemies. As a business owner your enemies might take the form of customers who don’t pay, vendors who are always late, and constant knockers.
There are also sections on how to learn those skills you will need and methods for overcoming the myriad challenges you’ll encounter. There will be financial issues, challenges of your character, perfectionism, and many more. She has answers for all of them.
The Master of Two Worlds
I’m not here yet, but I can picture it. The near future sees me having set up a company that is great to work for. I have half a dozen employees who love what they’re doing and are encouraged to invent their own programs. The programs are allowing kids around the country to see themselves as heroic. The most important part of the journey, though, is change. The changes in me are evident as I am more attuned to what people want, content with life, and using all I’ve learned to help change the world.
The last page of Pam’s book has a text box from Guy Kawasaki’s “Art of the Start”.
“The truth is that no-one knows if he is an entrepreneur until he becomes one – and sometimes not even then. There really is only one question you should ask yourself before starting any new venture: do I want to make meaning?”
When you have create meaning, you have become the master of two worlds because, truly, your journey has changed you and that change has changed the world.
This book is amazing. I kid you not. I’ve had conversations with Pam over the years and recently emailed her to let her (as well as Seth Godin and Hugh McLeod) know what an incredible help she’d been. Regardless of whether you buy the book, check our her website where she is always happy to answer questions and continues to help through her writing. I feel privileged that I got an advanced copy of the book and am confident that I’ll continue to watch her space.
Pam asked for some videos talking about her book, so here’s mine. It’s basically a one minute version of this post.