We spoke about those fears, how her book and resources help her fans escape from their cubicle and her journey this year with her book, her workshops and her now global audience of fans.You can listen in streaming on-demand at this link.
Good morning, Pam. Where are you and what exciting projects are your working on now?
I am wrapping up a summer long tour of my book and working on some exciting joint venture projects for next year.
You have been traveling a lot overseas. What did you do there?
When I was in London I was doing the regular book workshop that I have done across the US. We did a workshop around the book regarding business plans and hopes and dreams. In Estonia, I was invited to be a key note speaker at a management conference that was focused on innovation and growth for the country as a whole. It was very interesting because there are only 1.3 million people in Estonia and of that they said 600,000 are of working age. Given the size of the event, we had a little over 300 people from all different industries across the country. I was very honored to be a part of this.
It is very interesting. There was some of that feeling. There was a whole country that used to be under unwanted direction and now there is a great feeling of pride. They are not the most demonstrative, but they have extremely strong feelings and a quiet passion of how they want to grow their country. In terms of entrepreneurship it is not as robust of an environment, but there were pockets of people especially interested in growing their capacity and doing more things to start up and create things.
On your blog you mention that this trip was incited by a blog post 3-4 years ago. Tell us about that.
This is one of my favorite stories about the power of blogging as a means of marketing your business, especially to a global audience.
In 2006, I had written an open post, Open Letter to CEO’s Across the Corporate World. It was a very impassioned swan song to my corporate world which I had thought about for about 10 years.
I had this vision of what I would say to a group of assembled leaders. They had translated that blog post in Estonian.
It speaks to me to share with others what is on your mind. That content lives on and you never know where it will lead you.
Three to four years is the time since you have written this blog. That is a long time. What didn’t change that kept your message current, desirable and necessary for that audience?
What is interesting is that to this day, people trip across it on Google. It is not an elegant detailed, complex leadership manifesto about 12 different ways we have to reframe leadership. It is really stating simple, basic things.
They are common sense things that I would think most leaders would know: like respect. Simple and basic. I find over time certain things never change and they don’t change the world over. There are just many things that are common practice that carry over to everyone, to every country and industry.
Many corporations still have the same struggle and I am glad they find this information of help to them. The blog and concept still has legs.
When did you write your original manifesto about escaping from cubicle nation. You wrote it while you were a citizen of cubicle nation.
Actually I wasn’t. I have been self-employed for 13 years, but I was a consultant during that time. What shifted in 2005, I shifted my focus to help people in the corporations to get out and start their business.
What caused you to break free of the shackles?
It was 10 years of having a lot of conversations with people. When consulting, we would get to another level. There was an unspoken dialog of what was going on in people’s lives. There are both good and bad in the lives, but given the sheer size of expectations, always being on and so forth, it makes systemically, corporate life difficult for people. I became more interested in that unspoken dialog and what people really wanted in their lives. It was more compelling to focus on these issues. It was a personal interest and I was seeing these patterns of difficulty for even really good employees.
I remember reading that a friend of yours said: “Enough with the blog posts write the book.” When did you decide to write the book?
It was actually a client of mine. He was a diligent blog writer. He said it was becoming difficult to remember and index all of the information I shared because as you know, you get an idea and you write at the moment.
I had the thought for quite awhile and knew I wanted to write the book. I had put together some basic information but neither the publishers nor I were feeling it. I put it back on the shelf for awhile and waited for more inspiration.
As fate would have it, I got contacted by my publisher who had read my blog and she asked if I would be interested in doing a book with them. That was probably a year and one half later. I finished the book in October of 2008 and it came out in April.
It was a relatively short time for the publishing cycle. I used some of the content from my blog for my book, but creating something that really hangs together in a clear concise process was a lot of work requiring a great deal of new content.
Our friend, Erika Andersen, used the term reasonable aspiration or hoped-for goal in her book, Being Strategic. What are your reasonable aspirations or hoped for goals with the book?
It was to create something which would be useful and feel like a dear friend and colleague for somebody who really needed it.
One of my friends suggested finding a book that would act as your model book- one that you would want yours to be like. The one for me was: “Finding Your Own North Star,” by Martha Beck, who is my coaching mentor. I found her book nine years ago. It is an amazing book.
I wanted people to find comfort and clarity, have lots of information as a resource. I wanted to relate to the person sitting out there in cube somewhere and provide theme with something useful. I wanted to be very proud of the information and create something really useful.
I have received some wonderful emails from people after having read my book. It is a great way to wake up to these emails.
How has your life changed over this year, since you published your book?
My life has gotten more fun and interesting. It is interesting how people react when you have published a book. People just change. The perception changes and I think some of it is just a little silly.
This is fun and it is a new way to connect people. I feel like it has expanded the work I have done. I have received a lot of play in mainstream media as well. I want to get the word out that you are not crazy for wanting to do something different than just work in a corporate job.
You mentioned earlier this is one of the toughest things you have ever done, even though you already had a lot of the content. What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome this past year?
The biggest challenge has been balance and prioritizing the projects I am working on. It is very important for me to be connected with my young children and family. I also want to do good with my publisher. It is about finding the right balance with everything.
I have had to learn new ways to balance and give to my family, my clients, and people I am teaching in my programs. I am learning I can’t do it alone. I have to plan it. Sometimes it may mean saying no as I don’t have the capacity to do that.
Who is the audience for your book? Was it a surprise for you? Who is most receptive to your message?
The audience is a core of them who are working at corporate jobs that are working at starting a business which is definitely the audience I primarily wrote for. This was not people who have been entrepreneurs for a long time.
I wanted to write the book for people who were not familiar about starting a business. This has been a core of the readership.
I have also gotten feedback from people who have been in business for a very long time and that was a little surprising. What I found was that many of them did that by leaping and starting their own companies.
One of the things I talk about in the book is life first, then business. You really want to find the life you want to have and then create your business to match that.
There are many specific things to make the journey wonderful and inspiring. Many people did not go through this process-they just jumped in and did it. This is the entrepreneurial spirit.
What people find is that they are living a life that is not necessarily working for them. They are struggling to make things happen. The book helps them to shore up where they may need a little assistance.
You have added workshops to your presentation, to your marketing. Tell us about those. They’re two-day events, right?
I’ve done one-day events with the initial launch of the book. That was to support the book coming out and to have a chance of connecting people within local geographic areas with each other.
That’s one of the most powerful things that happens. When people get together, that’s a really powerful connection they have that lives on after the workshop.
I have a program called Quick Start to Self-Employment which is a group coaching program. I have some students in there with expertise in structural design and video. They came to my New York workshop and video taped it.
We’re going to create a stand-alone product that will be a self-study. That will be a base for doing more in depth workshops moving forward. For next year, my plan is to do fewer but making them more intensive.
When people already have the foundation of understanding the building blocks of their business, that’s where we can go in and actually work on the business plans and development of what people are working on. It’s most useful when people can get input from others on how to grow their business.
Why are your workshops so fabulous? Why do your attendees rave about them?
The people who come is what makes them great. I have no idea what magic fairy dust attracts the right people to the live events. The quality of interaction and amount of support and different kinds of creative business ideas is really special. I’ve had professional belly dancers, software developers and someone working on a spicy pecan brittle.
When people come together, I try to create a safe environment where people can talk about what’s on their mind. That is at the core of what I do and really like to do.
There’s a saying that, “the means gather around the deserving.” If the great people gather around you, then you must be a very deserving person.
I consider myself a very lucky person. The message I talk about in my book that I try to do in my own life is something we say in Martha Beck-coaching land, “Live it to give it.”
I have definitely been conscious about the kind of work I want to do and who I want to do it with and how I want my life structured. I do feel like I am doing the kind of work that is extremely energizing that I care a lot about.
When I’m able to do that, it creates a really wonderful magnetic attraction for the right kind of people who are ready to talk about those things. It’s always an evolution.
The one thing I feel clear about is being exceptionally happy in my own work life and excited and blessed every day to do the work I do. This part of my life is something that’s really in alignment. I’ve worked really hard and made specific choices to make it happen that way.
Can you share with us one or more successes from those attending your workshops?
I see it every day in big and small ways. When you attend a one-day workshop, it’s the beginning of connections. I’ve had some people in workshops from different cities who begin to connect and work on projects together. That’s a great success.
Seeing people begin to promote and share each other’s work on Twitter and blogs is another way I measure success.
Depending on where you are in the cycle of making a change, it definitely is something that takes a lot of thought, planning and work. I’d love to think after a one-day workshop somebody can have what they need to leave their job. That’s not the way it happens. I’ve had some clients who have gone through the entire process.
One of my clients from Dallas is amazing. When I first talked to him, he was itching to get out. He worked so hard to clarify what he wanted to do. He’s gone through the entire process of giving notice. Even before getting started, he’s already lined up with another work as a consultant to more than cover what his job was providing.
It’s very exciting to see someone at that stage in their process, connecting with others, and encouraging them. That’s what it’s all about. We all need each other.
The solution for what we’re looking for is to create active, vibrant connections between each other and not just be looking toward one person to be the guru to tell you everything you need to do.
Not anybody has all of that within their power. There are wonderful, smart people who have an approach to starting a business. It’s never going to be totally complete. Yet we can support and encourage the best in everybody. That’s the spirit of what’s powerful about this work.
Motherhood, caring and nurturing are themes throughout your blogs, tweets and book. What’s the importance of these qualities in finding a life of purpose and escaping from our cubicles?
For me, it’s part of what my life is. As I am walking through my life and talking about entrepreneurship, I know it’s part of my day-to-day reality as the parent of small children. That’s something I see as integrated.
The reason I share that with my readers is it’s also the reality for many of my readers. I do have people in their early 20s or who are empty nesters. A lot of the core group of people I work with are people who still have kids at home or loved ones that are part of their life.
If you don’t take into consideration the kinds of things you need to have a good life, it makes it very difficult to know how to walk through it. It’s something I like to talk about and integrate. I’m sensitive because not everybody has kids and can relate to that message.
It’s an important part of my life, the love, the root of what I care about and what I’m interested in. I write about it. Everybody can make a different choice. That’s who I am. Somebody else can have kids and never write about them. That is perfectly a great choice. It depends on who you are.
In your journey here, how do people keep those qualities alive while they survive in cubicle nation? At what point do these qualities begin to rise up and ask for recognition?
In order to survive in some corporate environments, you really do have to keep your emotions in check for survival. It really is not encouraged, supported or safe in order to be expressing what you truly feel.
We are human beings with emotions. You need to find some kind of an outlet in a way to get that connection with what you really are feeling.
It’s one of the things that is a first step for a lot of people from the corporate environment, to reconnect with what they’re really feeling.
Everybody is wired differently emotionally. Not every female is highly emotional. Not every male has a difficult time talking about their emotions.
It’s about getting to know yourself, knowing who I am, and what’s really important to me. What do I feel? What am I interested in?
I was amazed at how often I would talk to people in corporate environments who would not be able to tell me what they cared about. In my world, a lot of what I do in my coaching environments is to openly talk about fears.
When people are able to express their fears, that’s when they can begin to have a place that’s safe to talk about it and work on their real plans for their life. Then they can create a business, if they’re working on their own, that is more in harmony with allowing them to express who they are and not have to walk through life pretending. When they’re in a situation in their business where they’re doing work they hate with people they don’t enjoy working with, then they can change it. If they don’t, they’ll fall right back into that same pattern as they were in the corporate environment.46:59
Can you identify three tell-tale signs that a cubicle dweller is about to bust out, break free and have these qualities begin to rise up to be acknowledged?
There is some kind of moment, event or feeling. For some people it’s actually physical destruction where their body just totally falls apart. For some people, having a significant physical issue or health challenge is what moves them into that direction. Your body will tell you what’s right or wrong with your life.
For other people like Steve Darden who worked in the Navajo Nation, he had a big job with three boys at home. His wife was home with the boys and getting a master’s degree. One night his three-year-old son woke up while having a nightmare calling for his dad. When Steve’s wife told him that in the morning, he had this amazing epiphany that his father had been killed in the Korean War when Steve was three months old. He spent his whole life longing for his dad really wanting to have a father figure in his life. He realized he was not there for his sons. At that moment, he quit and went home. He’s been working for himself ever since.
Some other people get laid off. They say that it must be time.Were these some of the experiences you had at your moment of truth?
In my case, I had been working at Barclays Global Investors in San Francisco. For 10 years during my 20s, I had been the volunteer executive director of a non-profit martial arts organization. I was a passionate martial artist in the art of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art.
I did all kinds of community work. I had been working day and night my entire 20s.
I turned 30. I got pneumonia. We had been through a merger within my company. The key leaders I adored left. That was a culmination of different events. It was the milestone of turning 30 and the physical breakdown of getting pneumonia.
Contrary to the advice I give my clients, I quit with zero plans and had no idea that I was going to start a business. I had every intention of going back and getting a regular job. I didn’t think I was cut out to be an entrepreneur. As soon as I started working on a contract basis for my first client, that’s when I realized I enjoyed being self-employed.When did we become a nation of cubicle dwellers?
We’re at a very fascinating part of our collective consciousness and part of our history in the relationship we have as US citizens and global citizens in relation to work.
I was shaped by the stories my grandpa used to tell me about growing up in The Depression. He worked for the Methodist church. He had one job.
My dad worked for most of his career at one company. He saw tremendous transition and layoffs starting in the 80s and increasing in the 90s even up to about 15 years ago.
Even though we were seeing cracks in the system and all kinds of people losing they’re jobs without a plan, we still had that same mentality we got from our grandparents. A prudent thing to do was to graduate from college, choose a good company and career, and work on that path. That would lead to safety and security. There was a collective unconsciousness that wanted to hold onto that old way.
With this last reverberation in our economy, that cracked that collective consciousness and got everybody into a different way of thinking and feeling about it.
I feel an openness now to exploring alternative ways of employment that I’ve never felt before.
A lot of people will still want to work in corporate careers. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need big, medium and small companies in our ecosystem of business.
What should change is that each of us should take ownership of realizing we’re always all self-employed no matter what the situation is. You have to be proactive and take responsibility for your career. You have to be connected with what’s going on in the market of the company you’re working for. If it’s not working for you, you need to actively move yourself into a better position or different company.
Some of them will choose to work for themselves or in smaller companies. It’s a positive thing and a more realistic perspective.
It’s not fair to always be blaming everything on corporate culture because all a corporation is, is just a glop of people.You need to take responsibility and make a change either within as you tried for 10 years or longer or realize things have changed, and it’s time to move onto something different.
It’s very tiring to be in a situation where you willingly give up your power. You choose to not take responsibility for your career. You sit back, complain and wait for somebody else to change for me to be happy. That’s a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t help you or feel good. It’s really ineffective as a strategy to get you to a place where you feel better about your work life. There is a lot of joy in working. It’s very possible to be doing work you feel engaged in, passionate about, and is interesting. It may take a bunch of steps to get there, but it feels better than sitting back and feeling powerless.
What about those in the middle? I heard this saying, “Life is bliss. Ignorance is bliss. Woe to those in the middle.” Those are the ones who know there is something more but maybe have no plan to get there.
The first step is to get to know yourself again. A lot of people I work with all of a sudden realize that they used to love music or art. When you can tune more into yourself, that is the beginning of tapping into your child-like curiosity and noticing things that are interesting to you. The nature of life itself and our physical bodies is that they’re never static. You don’t find the one thing that is the perfect answer. Everything is always in motion inside you and in the world. As you begin to know yourself, you to position yourself to do things that are highly interesting and leveraging natural strengths you have and ways you like to work that really match who you are. Then you put yourself in environments and surround yourself with people who allow you to do your best work. That’s how you get much more connected with something that’s more meaningful. Happiness starts in the beginning even when you’re in a negative situation, but where you realize that life is enjoyable. The process of learning is enjoyable. You begin to enjoy the process as you go along. That is the secret to happiness rather than external situations or jobs.
What’s your favorite social media tool? Which one would you choose if you could only choose one?
Twitter. I was reticent when I first started. It’s a little bit of a hard choice because I love blogs. My blog has been the engine to so much of my growth. I see Twitter and blogs working together to share more detailed content on a blog. In terms of connecting with people, sharing messages, and spreading the good word, Twitter is amazing. I really enjoy it. I am on it every day. It’s a great thing for business and a great way to connect with like-minded people even if you do want to have a more traditional career.
When’s your next book?
Good question. I’m thinking about it. When I was in New York, I met with my publisher.
It’s logical that a next book would be something like this. You finally decided you want to quit your job and start a business. How do you actually get it up and running for the first year? That would be a natural add on book to Escape from Cubicle Nation.
I could create that and release it in a different way. What I’m paying attention to now are broader issues or areas of interest that a lot of people are interested in that I want to write about.
I don’t have a deadline for myself. Next year after processing what I’m seeing now, thinking about what is interesting to write about, and what is interesting for people to read, that’s when I might start to pursue it.
When’s your next series of workshops?
I don’t have anything scheduled past November 4 in Los Angeles. I’m taking a leave of absence from the road for a while. I’m doing a lot of local speaking here in AZ. I don’t have any dates scheduled right now. I will be adding them in a different configuration. I know I’m going to Canada and Detroit in the spring. I don’t have dates in mind.
Where can people connect and stay connected with you?
One of my favorites is from Marianne Williamson. Summed up... it’s our light not our darkness that frightens us. I think people are afraid to make a shift in the world not because of fear of failure but a fear of success.
When you begin to move into who you’re meant to be, play bigger, and live a more authentic life, it can be really scary. It can upset long-standing relationships as you change.
I want to encourage people to not be afraid when they are growing and moving into something that feels more right. It’s scary but very much worth it.
What she says in that full quote is when we let our own light shine we give others permission to do the same. You really will inspire your own family, your kids and people around you when you begin to make some significant positive changes.Do you still miss the smell of sharpened pencils and packs of multi-colored post-it notes?
I am an office supply nut. That is something I do miss sometimes. I get my fix by walking into our local Office Max. That’s when I know I could never fully leave the world of work behind. I get way too excited by office supplies.
Where can people find you?