Several years ago, a good friend gave me The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. This lean, little book by Michelle Goodman has been one of my bedside table mainstays ever since. When I’m not reading the latest ‘wine club with a book problem’ selection, I often pick up The Anti 9 to 5 Guide, flip to a dog-eared section, and am quickly recharged by its simple yet challenging message. Goodman encourages her readers to follow their passions, dream up their perfect job, and find a way to do that ideal gig while still paying the bills. She summarizes the book on her blog: “(This) is a humorous career guide for anyone who’s grown weary of the corporate hamster wheel and is looking for a better way to make a buck.”
Well, that anyone was me. IS me. And thanks to some self-confidence (naiveté?) and a very supportive, creative partner, we’re taking action together and running our own business.
Millions of other ambitious, brave entrepreneurs have escaped the cube and lived to tell the tale. This particular tale—Goodman’s book—is clearly a how-to guide meant to motivate readers and also help them avoid the mistakes she made in her own professional transition.
One reviewer of The Anti 9 to 5 Guide puts it this way: “At every step of the way, Goodman offers practical tips to maneuvering the technical details of launching an unconventional career (taxes, legal matters, wages—you know, the little things). At the end of each chapter, she presents you with a checklist for conquering that lesson in small steps. Rather than trying to impose her own idea of a timeline, she suggests that you set goals that are achievable and comfortable for you.”
I’ve kept Goodman’s suggested checklists in mind over the past several months, working to continually take small steps in order to achieve my goal of a more flexible, more rewarding work environment. Reminding myself to take my time, listen to my gut, and prioritize patience over all else—now that’s been particularly tough.
But as my husband and I continue to take these small steps throughout our entrepreneurial journey, we’ve developed our own checklist for anyone considering an escape from the cube:
1. Know yourself and your work habits. For instance, if you’re a night owl and you’d rather work at 10pm to get a jumpstart on the next day, then hoot away. Andrew and I quickly learned we have very different work styles—so being aware of those habits and respecting how others may work differently is vital to a productive work environment. In our case, Andrew prefers to work alone early in the morning, and I’m happiest working a bit later in the morning at a coffee shop or while in the car while Andrew drives to our next destination. In this respect, we get our own work done, just at different times that are most convenient for us. Working for yourself comes with more flexibility (working at any time of day, as described above!) but this new flexibility can be confusing and challenging at first. Essentially, we had to learn that we could in fact work at the times we felt most productive, instead of working on others’ preferred timelines.
2. Continue to push your comfort zone. If you’ve been working in a traditional office environment with a manager or multiple managers overseeing your workload and setting job expectations, then working for yourself (or with only one other person) can be quite the adjustment. Entrepreneurs must be self-motivating and proactive, versus waiting for others to give directions. For us, this means looking for new networking opportunities in each city we visit along our road trip. We push ourselves to meet the locals, learn about entrepreneurial activities in that specific area, and reach out to local technology hubs. Challenging yourself to continually push your comfort zone and explore new opportunities can be a demanding change of pace for someone who is more accustomed to receiving directions instead of leading the pack. Running your own business forces you into the driver’s seat—which is empowering but also nerve-wracking—so push yourself to take control and think outside the cube.
3. Set boundaries and stick to them. An unfortunate reality about being your own boss is that personal and professional boundaries can quickly become blurred. While it’s important to push your comfort zone, if you find yourself putting off favorite hobbies or skipping social functions with friends and family to finish a work project instead, remind yourself to set boundaries. Your work will improve if you balance it with activities and recreational time spent with others. Just as co-workers in a traditional office can offset stress by coming together for a post-work happy hour, you can find other entrepreneurs in similar fields to connect and network with. Andrew and I have personally found that we will both work overtime (and in most cases, really don’t need to) unless we stick to an agreed-upon schedule. Since we’re traveling and visiting new cities right and left, we want to carve out time for museum visits, coffee in local cafes, and leisurely walks along the beach. But we’ve discovered that we have to hold each other accountable—encouraging one another to set a specific “quitting time” to disconnect and stick to it. Otherwise we would’ve never made it to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, the sunset in Arches National Park, or a free jazz concert in New Orleans—all for the sake of just writing a few more emails.
So if you’re thinking seriously about channeling your life passions into a self-designed dream job, or if you’ve already made the leap but are beginning to second-guess your decision, take comfort in knowing there are a lot of other cube-escapers out there.
And fortunately, most of us are willing to share stories, compare battle scars, and reassure one another throughout the journey.