There are reasons people get paid handsomely to perform soul-crushing jobs in the corporate world. But feeling miserable on a daily basis is a steep price to pay. Particularly if it means working in a 9 to 5 organization that demands the kind of conformity that stifles your humanity, personal development and spirit.
Of course, it can be more than a little scary to break away from the security that a lucrative corporate job can provide. After all, for most people, there are bills to pay, kids to feed and retirements to think about. Nevertheless, there are ways to escape the corporate rat race and make a living that is more congruent with your values, personal interests and goals. For example, there are many avenues of opportunity out there including:
- Entrepreneurship (starting a local or digital business)
However, to thrive and truly succeed outside of the corporate arena will require a special mindset and skill set. Developing these personal qualities can help ensure that your flight from a gilded cubicle (or office) is liberating rather than a dead end.
It can take a special breed. Not everyone is temperamentally equipped to go out on their own. However, I’m convinced that some individuals are simply born with an artistic, entrepreneurial or individualistic streak. For them, trying to fit in a corporate slot is like attempting to jam a square peg into a round hole.
Perhaps you are one of them. If so, and you have a burning desire to escape the corporate 9 to 5, then I believe it can be very helpful to find personal hero — someone that has succeeded in carving out an authentic/outsider career — who you can study and emulate.
Don Ball Jr: Turning passion into profession
For me, one of my guiding ideals (in addition to my entrepreneurial father) was an independent author/photographer named Don Ball Jr.
I knew Mr. Ball as the father of childhood friends. Unlike, other dads in the neighborhood, Mr. Ball didn’t commute by train to a corporate job in the city. Instead, he chased after vintage rail cars with his camera in hand.
His “work” took him all over the country as he snapped pictures of cabooses, steam engined locomotives and passenger carriages from yesteryear. To me, his vocation seemed exciting, authentic and very meaningful. After all, why be stuck like a sardine in a commuter train when you can get paid to photograph and write about things you love?
Tragically, Don Ball Jr. passed away suddenly. But a picture from the dust jacket in one of his books says it all — this was someone who was making a living while pursuing their passion. It can help you so much to identify a role model who has managed to succeed in pursuing an authentic path.
The more you learn about how your role model turned a hobby or passion into a career, the better equipped you’ll be to do the same. For example, what obstacles did they have to overcome? How did they juggle the transition between a traditional career and their self-chosen vocation? Which temperamental skills helped them beat the odds?
If you go out on your own, will you make it?
Most people are probably familiar with the inspirational film, “The Field of Dreams.” The story revolves around a down-on-his-luck Iowa corn farmer who hears a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.”
He interprets that to mean if he and his family build a baseball field in the middle of nowhere, then the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson and other long-departed baseball greats will show up to play ball. Undoubtedly, the movie is something of an allegory about how doors will open if you pursue your dreams.
In my estimation, real-life rarely unfolds like a Hollywood script. Nevertheless, our dreams and aspirations are a reflection of a deep inner potential that seeks to unfold and manifest itself. When deeply held ambitions are thwarted or deferred, then some part of the core of our being withers.
Therefore, I think it’s worth taking substantial risks to pursue entrepreneurial, business, professional and artistic opportunities, which reflect your deepest values (as opposed to corporate dictates that hardly resonate with you).
However, I think most people are in for a letdown if they assume others will readily buy their products and services. In my experience, whether it’s been freelancing or telecommuting, going it alone can be a long uphill slog. In addition, I’ve seen first-hand many creative and talented people struggle to build a client base, a loyal audience or find customers for their offerings.
The escapist mindset
With that in mind, what qualities do you need to make it outside the corporate world?
To begin with, you’ll need to be someone who is extremely proactive. In most cases, opportunities will not come knocking on your door. As author Adam Dachis puts it, “Your job, from day one, is to go out and find work.”
That can mean scouring sites like AuthenticJobs.com, touching base with all your contacts to let them know you are out on your own, and networking like crazy. In particular, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell anyone and everyone you meet what you do (or are up to) because getting the word out can open doors.
As you might expect, anyone trying to move beyond the corporate 9 to 5 should be prepared to endure setbacks and multiple failures. The learning curve is usually pretty steep and a period of initial struggles is par for the course. Therefore, a patient, optimistic and risk-tolerant mindset can be critical. But you’ll also have to be very good at being self-directed.
As David Raptitude notes in a blog post recounting his experience in quitting a 9 to 5 job, most people have been trained all their lives to take directions from others. As a result, it can be quite frightening to be your own boss.
As Raptitude puts it, “Most people, when they emerge from the conventional child-school-workforce tunnel, are almost entirely untrained to manage entire weeks and months in which the bulk of one’s time isn’t committed to serving an institution of some kind.”
If you are going out on your own, it also helps to be an out-of-the box thinker. There are others ways of making a good living, but you have to be creative, imaginative and resourceful to find your niche.
Need some inspiration? Then check out this article featuring some great TED talks with fascinating people who ditched the 9 to 5 routine to become professional nomads. Not everyone can do what they do, but their presentations may spark your imagination.
Escaping won’t be easy, but do it anyway
It’s not how much you earn that matters, so much as the character you acquire by doing the work that you love.
Escaping your 9 to 5 job won’t necessarily be easy. Financial experts recommend that you have enough money to cover your living expenses for at least 6 to 12 months before taking the plunge.
It can be so critical to know that others have made their way out of the corporate straight jacket. Their stories can provide inspiration, ideas and tips on how you can too. At the Escape the 9 to 5 Movement, for instance, you can hear a variety of entrepreneurs and business people share their stories about their self-directed ventures on a series of regular podcasts.
There’s never been a better time to move beyond conventional forms of employment. Digital tools give anyone the opportunity to start their own company, build their own brand and create the kind of lifestyle they’ve always imagined. Be prepared to follow your passion, but the key to unlocking your corporate cell block and making your escape is careful planning, courage and fierce determination.
— Scott O’Reilly