How to Ditch the Cube and Be Your Own Boss

Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 6:23 PM EDT


By Kimberlee Morrison of Entrepreneur
Pamela Slim was tired. For the first 10 years of her career, she was busy juggling two demanding jobs. By day, she was a corporate director of training and development; at night and on weekends, she served as a volunteer director of a martial arts organization, working with at-risk children. The pace eventually took its toll. She knew she had to take a break. Perhaps surprising to some, she decided to walk away from her day job.

That bold and abrupt departure 14 years ago has turned into a permanent escape from -- as she puts it -- the "oppressive, constraining, crazy-making environment" of the corporate cubicle. Slim is now a self-employed corporate consultant, designing and teaching leadership programs, sales presentation skills and providing executive career coaching for major corporations, including Hewlett Packard, Charles Schwab and Cisco Systems.

In 2005, Slim extended her reach by starting a blog with a manifesto declaring herself the liberator of Cubical Nation. Her mission: to help people escape the cube and realize their entrepreneurial dreams. The blog, which now claims 60,000 unique visitors per month, landed Slim a book deal. Escape From Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur was published earlier this year.

Entrepreneur recently caught up with Slim to discuss her philosophy, and to pick her brain about facing down fears, chucking the corporate gig and following that pioneering impulse.

Were you afraid when you decided to leave the steady job behind? I think it was youthful exuberance, but I wasn't really scared. I quit my job and didn't have another lined up. I was planning to go back and find another position, but nothing sounded interesting. It was 1996 and I was in the Bay Area; a very ripe market, so there was tons of work available. I started working independently as a consultant for HP pretty much always had work after that.

Is it normal not to be fearful? Most of my readers and clients have huge fears -- mainly about living in a van down by the river. People have real anxiety they won't be able to generate enough income to take care of their families. That's the No. 1 concern.

But that's not unreasonable in these days. What's your coping advice? First, you have to understand what you're afraid of. If you have a generalized anxiety and think you're going to eat garbage out of a dumpster, you have to ask yourself why you feel that way. Is it because you're unsure of your business plan? Or because you don't fully understand your market? Well, you have reason to worry. It's very important for people to self-diagnosis and figure out the core issue--and then do something about it.

I also believe in testing often and failing fast. Develop your business plan beyond the conceptual phase before quitting your day job. You should actually work on building up your new business -- selling your products and services -- while you have cash cushion. I realize that sometimes it's not possible, but it's always advisable.

In your experience, what age group most wants to opt out of corporate life? There's strong resonance from 40 and 50 year olds. They've been there and can relate to the difficulties of corporate life and to the transition to a new challenge. I've also gotten a lot of feedback from Gen Y -- a whole crew of 20-somethings who say they don't even want to go the standard cubicle route in the first place.

Why is that? We're at a real shifting point in history. The framework for career development has blown up and changed--and I think for the better. There was a lot of pressure on previous generations, baby boomers especially -- from parents and educational institutions--to go down the corporate path, even if they had preferred to do otherwise. No more.

What's makes Gen-Y different? They're hyper-connected digitally and they're witnessing many more examples of people successfully skipping the corporate track altogether. And they're very clear about what they don't want to do.

So what do they do? Gen-Y-ers are great 'side-hustlers.' They're really good at getting a lot of little side ventures off the ground -- many tech oriented -- and then figuring out which one to grow into a full-on business.

What's the take-away from your book? I wanted to create a clear path to outline the steps that many corporate employees didn't know existed. There are a lot of nuts-and-bolts books out there, but they don't deal with the hidden concerns -- such as dealing with your fears and reawakening your creativity after being in a corporate setting for a long time; and, not inconsequentially, sharing with your spouse or partner the idea that you want to quit your job. At the end of the day, I want someone to put down the book and say, 'Oh my gosh, I can start a business and be successful.' Or, 'Oh my gosh, this is not really for me.'

Kimberlee Morrison is the startup and finance channel editor for Entrepreneur.com.
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