Seven Tips to Kick the Cubicle Habit

by Tammy Strobel on March 19, 2010

At the end of January, I left my day job. I’d been planning my escape for about a year. I quit my “good job” in one of the worst economic climates in history. I’m sure that sounds a little crazy to you. My family was very concerned and thought I was nuts.

Why did I leave?

Earlier this week, I mentioned that I worked in the movement to end violence against women for about 10 years. There were a lot of things that I loved about the field and my job. However, I reached the burnout point and knew I needed a break.

In Minimalist Health, I talked about the importance of taking care of your physical and emotional health. You only get one body and mind. If you don’t take care of both, I don’t think you can effectively help others. For folks who work in social services burnout is common and and I think it’s incredibly important to take care of yourself. If that means asking for a reduced work schedule or leaving a “good job,” then it’s something you have to do. Not only for yourself, but for the victims you help everyday.

With that in mind, I knew it was time to make a serious career change. Starting a small business is something I’ve always wanted to do. But I never had the confidence to actually follow through. I was living a life society said was “good” but I couldn’t figure out why I was so unhappy. Thanks to the encouragement of mentors, I finally stopped talking about my dreams, and started planning to make them a reality.

How did I do it? I discovered a few tips and tools anyone can use to create a rockin’ career path and ditch their cubicle.

1. Believing in yourself leads to passion and focus.

When I finally discovered my writing voice, I got really excited. I thought, “WOW! I can do this! The key is to just keep writing content that helps people.” I know that probably seems like a silly revelation, but it’s true.

It comes down to believing in yourself. You are an artist. If you believe you can do something, passion and focus follow. Moving from a fearful mindset to one of focus, changed my career path for the better.

Fear gets the best of so many people. We listen to the lizard brain instead of growing and embracing new opportunities. In short, we don’t believe in our abilities. People are constantly saying to themselves, “I can’t because ……” rather than saying I can. By pushing back the lizard brain and focusing on my passion for simple living, I’ve been able to create art that makes a difference. And it all started with believing in myself.

Micro-actions: Start a journal and write down all your dreams. Think about what brings your joy, happiness and what skills you love to use. Don’t hold back. By finding your passion you can begin to help others.

2. Prioritize your spending.

Save your money and stop buying useless crap.

If you’re thinking of making a huge career change and quitting your day job, make sure you have enough savings to meet at least one year of your expenses. A few of my friends have left jobs with three to six months of their salary saved and I think that is the minimum. A financial cushion is ideal for decreasing your anxiety during a transition period, especially if things don’t turn out the way you expect.

There are a number of ways you can get your finances under control. One of the best things you can do is to start reading about simple living and/or the minimalist lifestyle. Thanks to simple living we downsized to a smaller apartment, sold our cars and realized that buying more stuff wouldn’t satisfy our pursuit of happiness. Using this method we were able to reduce our expenses and thus make our savings last much longer. Spending less is typically much easier than working more.

Without simple living, there is no way I could have transitioned out of my cubicle. Three years ago my expenses were out of control and the notion of leaving my day job to work less and “write” sounded silly and trite.

Micro-actions: Evaluate your finances. If you have debt, start looking for ways to cut back. For ideas and methods consider reading blogs like Zen Habits, Man Versus Debt and Far Beyond the Stars. I’d also encourage you to read the book: Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

3. Take online classes and read as much as possible.

Last year, I enrolled in Pam Slim’s Escape Seminar and it rocked my world. It helped me refine what the heck I was doing with my writing and small business. I realized that I needed to transform my blog from a personal journal to a resource for people. So I started focusing on writing solid content. Content that helps others and provides value to the world. Taking online classes has been a great way to connect with other folks.

Last month I participated in the 100 biz forum. Chris and Pam are rock stars and facilitated an excellent forum, packed with useful tips and tools. Registration is now open for their next $100 business forum and I recommend this course to everyone starting an online business.

Enrolling in online classes and reading as much as possible content is a great place to start. It is also critical to make connections with your peers. Meeting people and developing relationships is an valuable source for learning and sustaining my passion.

Micro-actions: Consider taking an online class and start reading as much as possible. If you’re not sure where to start, take a peek at some of the books I’ve read this year.

4. Test the waters.

If you’re thinking of starting your own business, consider testing the waters. Find your tribe and test your ideas. Start a blog, write an ebook or develop a free online class. There are a million different ways to get feedback on potential business ideas.

Blogs are such a good way to connect with other people and to  share resources. If you don’t like writing, maybe you can start vlogging. Look to Gary V as an example of what you can do with video.

Micro-actions: Brainstorm ways to test your idea and go for it. Don’t let fear hold you back.

Seth Godin has a wealth of information on his blog and has written some amazing books about marketing and business. Add his blog to your Google Reader and check out some of his books from your local library.

5. Be aware of your media consumption.

Not watching television is a recurring theme in many of my posts. Why? It is an incredible time suck and most entertainment shows are a big ad placement scheme. I’m not a fan of TV. However, not all video media is bad. I think some programs are very valuable, like TED talks, PBS, and educational indie documentaries.

The mindless consumption of media is dangerous. You might not own a TV, but you might surf the web for 6 hours a day. Bottom line – be mindful of your media consumption patterns.

Changing your career focus isn’t easy. Being aware of how you spend your time is essential. For example, If you go home and watch a couple hours of TV a night you may not have enough time or energy left to plan your transition. I recommend changing your behavior and using your TV Time to focus on creating art and thinking about your long-term goals. Distracting yourself won’t change anything and will only delay your progress.

Micro-action: Add up how many hours a day your watch television or mindlessly surf the internet. Use those extra hours to focus on a project that will help you change careers.

Take a few minutes and read: But it’s better than TV

6. Seek out mentors.

I have a number of amazing mentors. Thanks to reading books and blogs created by these folks, I finally worked up the confidence to leave my day job and pursue my dreams. I’m writing for a living, working on fun web design projects and enjoying leisure time.

Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in community. Without the help of mentors or my blog readers I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Micro-actions: Seek out mentors and start talking about your dreams. Plan to go after those dreams instead of letting them gather dust.

7. Build relationships, be human and be kind.

Building relationships is the key to success. Whether you plan on starting your own business or staying with your current organization you need to build relationships. For me this comes back to community involvement, reciprocity and the joy of helping others.

Micro-action: Read Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith.

Closing thoughts…

Life is too short to be stuck in a career you hate. I truly believe anything is possible, especially if you build relationships and start getting involved with your community. The time we have on this planet is too precious to be exchanged at big box stores for useless crap.

Go out into the world, pursue your dreams and spend time with your loved ones. In this you will find the joy that comes from a satisfied mind.

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1 Chris O'Byrne March 19, 2010

I’ve applied several of this ideas and I can vouch that they really do work. The best part is that I’ve received benefits I never planned on and made friends where I never expected to. What is most amazing to me is that when I stopped focusing on making money and instead focused on my own personal growth and reaching out and helping others—I started making just enough money to continue living my simple lifestyle. I’ve known this on a spiritual level, but to have it manifest so clearly in my day-to-day life has been a mind blower.

Interestingly enough, when I got to the end of this post I suddenly developed the desire to start wearing tweed…

2 Luke @ simplifi.de March 19, 2010

Way to go, Tammy! It’s so awesome that you had the guts to take the plunge.

I so agree with number 6. I have had mentors from near and far in the course of my life, and the impact that they have had on me is hard to overstate. In fact, I just wrote about learning from older people on simplifi.de yesterday.

You’re right, mentors give you confidence, because they have been where you are, and you know that someone’s got your back. Plus they can keep you from making the mistakes they did.

Great post, and congratulations!

3 Lisa March 19, 2010

Thanks for the great post! Trying new things keeps life interesting. People never know unless they give it a try.

4 Michael March 19, 2010

Super article! ‘So excited to see you next weekend!

5 Jean Hong March 19, 2010

Tammy, thank you for this great post! I am in a career change (sort of) and find this article very insightful. I think #1 is key to everything wonderful in life! I am trying really hard to let my inner “artist” come out and make my own career rather than fit into a pre-made one. I love writing too, and am hoping to find my ‘writing voice’ as well: do you have any tips on how you found yours? Did it just come naturally as you started writing? or was there any helpful class, book, or information? I’d appreciate any kind of advice on this :-)

I very much agree with #2: being financially ‘fat’ and saving up a lot has helped me and my husband have the courage to make a big move. We are moving from mid-west to west coast next week, which is one of our bucket list dreams! With our simple and modest spending habits, we can live for another 2+ years without any income! :D Very very good point!

Congratulations on making a leap out of the cubicle, and thank you so much for this valuable article. There is always something inspiring and useful in your articles, which makes me keep coming back for more! Have a great weekend Tammy!

6 Tammy March 19, 2010

@Jean – Honestly, finding my writing voice came with practice. I haven’t read a specific book on writing, just lots of books/blogs in general. Right now I’m reading 2 books a week. Usually 1 is educational and the other is some kind of novel. Also, I’ve found online classes to be super helpful.

Take a peek at the books I’ve read so far this year.

I’m excited for your big move! That is fantastic. :) Where will you be moving to on the west coast?

7 Jean Hong March 21, 2010

Tammy, thanks for asking! We are moving to Seattle in 3 days – I am super excited!! I’ve been doing a lot of decluttering for this move and have learned a lot in the process. Feels free and light and optimistic! :D

I am impressed about how much you read! Thanks for your reading list – I am currently reading various blogs (including yours) like a hungry tiger and have made a lot of positive changes in my life in a very short time. I’m sure I’ll get to books very shortly. I keep on writing things (although in korean) to find my own voice, and my dream is to write my own book in the next two years! I totally agree with your point that providing solid content and resources for the readers is very important, and all of this is a great learning process for me!

8 Maria November 15, 2011

Hi Jean! Did you finally move to Seattle? Was it a good decision?
Greetings from Mexico City :)

9 Bill Gerlach March 19, 2010

Fantastic post, Tammy. I believe all things happen for a reason and after the day I had today at work, reading this post is the shot to the arm I needed. I have “Escape From Cubicle Nation” coming from the library as we speak and will definitely register for the $100 business forum. Thanks again! Be well!

10 Tammy March 20, 2010

@Bill – awesome! You will love Escape from Cubicle Nation. Pam is a fantastic writer. You should consider subscribing to her blog. :)

11 Joe3 March 20, 2010

This is one of the best articles you’ve written/put together. I ‘gave up’ corporate America in 1978 and never looked back. No more ties, jackets, useless meetings, golf or bowling leagues, etc. I did follow my dreams and have lived the good life since then. Maybe it was the hippy culture…but life is good!! I hope your article attracts more people to follow their dreams.

12 Trish March 21, 2010

Congratulations on being able to escape and pursue your dreams! I worked for a law firm for nearly 15 years and left that profession about 2.5 years ago. I don’t miss it at all and certainly don’t miss the stress! Your tips remind me of what a doctor told me once. I had a cold ,which had rapidly progressed into pneumonia and I still didn’t take any time off work (that was looked on in my profession as being “weak” or “not very loyal”). I went to the doctor and when she saw my profession as paralegal on my chart, she said “I could have guessed you worked in the legal field. The majority of my patients in jobs like yours are so stressed out and sick that they’re cutting at least 10 years off their lives.” Leaving the security of the regular paycheck is scary and also stressful, especially if you have children, but it CAN be done with a little planning and creativity.

13 Simply DIYgal March 21, 2010

Tammy, yet another great post that has spoken to me. I’m wanting to eventually have a “vacation vocation”, and while I’m not currently in the position to pursue it, this post has definitely given me encouragement to at least start planning. Congrats to you for actually doing it, and thanks again for sharing so that others can grow in confidence to do this as well.

14 Chloe Adeline March 27, 2010

Hi Tammy,

This is a timely article for me. Just like you relate, I was in a job I LOVED doing web and poster design for activism I truly believe in. But emotionally, it was draining me. So three weeks ago I left…and still had my part time retail job to keep me afloat. But then last week my hours were cut significantly…and now I’m just barely surviving financially. I was terrified, but people like you and Everett Bogue are such inspirations, and are turning this fear into excitement!

I think that two of your tips – “believing in yourself” and “seeking out mentors” – are two things I could really benefit from. Believing in myself is something I’ve been learning recently. Seeking out mentors is something I hadn’t really considered until reading this post, and something I’m going to think about this week!

Thank you!
] chloe [

http://www.simplerabbit.com
the cutest simplicity.
in the world.
ever.

15 Abby @ New Urban Habitat March 30, 2010

I love this post. I also quit a good job in this bad economy last September. (I wish this post had been around then, because I was on the look out for any and all encouragement.) I’m so glad I left, and now it’s hard for me to believe how scared I was. I agree, there’s so much freedom in living simply and committing yourself to a dream. I’m glad I found your site. I’m looking forward to reading more.

16 Andrew Randazzo April 7, 2010

This was really helpful. I’m starting to pick up patterns as I read success stories across the web of people doing this. I think the hardest part is moving past good intentions and actually following through on them.

17 Nicole August 9, 2010

I love your website. I’m a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders, and I’m starting to develop seminars that address food issues, rather than seeing people individually which is burning me out. A lot of it boils down to finding one’s passion and being more mindful. Eating mindlessly can serve the same purpose as media consumption. Thanks for your inspiring words.

18 Rose August 9, 2010

Really enjoying your blog…it’s my first time visiting. I jotted down a few inspiring lines to keep on the whiteboard in my cubicle -hopefully to serve as mantras. I’m so deep in the work,sleep,spend cycle that I’m not sure I could leave my cubicle any time soon………but, I’m going to take your advice and at least start the conversation.

19 Trey Tomes August 26, 2010

Having good mentors seems to be a really huge thing. With all of my dreams rattling around the inside of my skull, and having no one I trust to advise me on where to go from here, I don’t trust myself to follow the path to my “ideal” career. Whatever that is; it seems to change from month to month.

Anyway, my point is this: How does one find the kind of mentors that can help a person figure out their direction?

20 Logan August 26, 2010

Hi Trey,

Good question! Tammy and I always suggest keeping a paper journal regarding the ideas, dreams and fears that “rattle” inside our heads. Expressing them in writing helps us hang onto those precious notions and reflect on them in a moment of creative clairvoyance.

To answer your mentoring question, a mentor is technically anyone who has previously done something similar to what you want to do and is willing to share their experience. People usually love to talk about their motivations and thus mentors are everywhere. To find a mentor start talking to people with similar interests to you and ask them questions. Volunteering is a great way to meet generous people willing to share their time and experience and also allows you the opportunity to reciprocate. ;) Tammy address these topics in more depth in Smalltopia and you may also want to check out Pam Slim’s book “Escape from Cubicle Nation“.

Regarding trusting yourself to make the “right” decision I always liked a quote from the 1997 film Starship troopers where teacher advises the protagonist “Figuring things out for yourself is practically the only freedom anyone really has nowadays. Use that freedom.”

Cheers and good luck! :)

21 Tammy August 26, 2010

Hey Trey – I agree with Logan’s comments. But I thought I’d throw my 2 cents into the mix. Finding a mentor doesn’t have to be hard. If you admire certain colleagues, friends or family members, ask if they would be willing to meet you once a month for coffee. But remember, mentors can provide guidance and support. But in the end you have to take action. :)

Have you ever considered creating a life list? Or doing some type of annual review? Chris talks a lot about these concepts at: The Art of Non-Conformity.

22 Lois October 12, 2010

Thank you for giving us the boost that solidifies our decision to step out of the cubicle and start our journey. The sole sisters are grateful for these tips and we are inspired to start changing the way we live in order to pursue what we truly love which is traveling.

Your site rocks!

23 Lindsay January 5, 2011

I’m hoping I’ll have the guts to take the plunge by the end of 2011. Posts like this are very encouraging and fill me with hope! :)

24 Roland Martinez March 24, 2011

I loved this post. I’m not anywhere near leaving the job I have because I really enjoy it most days but there will come a time to leave and I’m bookmarking this post so that I can prepare for that day.

25 Amber Robbins April 7, 2011

I work in a cubicle. I’ve read this post twice now. I plan to read it many more times. The biggest point that influenced me today is to plan and save so I can make a change. Thank you so much for your blogs. You have really helped me over the past 6 months.

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