Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur

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9781423393283: Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur
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Despite grim headlines about the economy, you don’t have to stay in a job you intensely hate. There’s a better opportunity waiting out there, and escaping from cubicle nation is easier than you think.

Pamela Slim spent a decade traveling all over the country as a self-employed trainer for large corporations. She was surprised to find that many of the most successful employees at these companies harbored secret dreams of breaking out to start their own businesses. They would pull her aside after a meeting and whisper, “I would love to work for myself, but have no idea how to get started. How did you do it?”

So Pamela started a blog—Escape from Cubicle Nation—to share her experience and advice. Soon, questions and stories poured in from corporate prisoners around the world. As her blog gained popularity, she also interviewed some of the brightest experts in entrepreneurship on topics from finance to branding to marketing via social networks. This audiobook includes Pamela’s very best material, based on thousands of conversations and reader submissions. It provides everything you’ll need to consider a major change—not just the nuts and bolts of starting a business, but a full discussion of the emotional issues involved. Pamela knows firsthand that leaving corporate life can be very scary, especially if you have a family and other obligations. Fears and self-defeating thoughts often hold people back from pursuing an extremely gratifying solo career.

Get ready to learn your real options, make an informed decision, and maybe, just maybe, escape from cubicle nation.

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About the Author:

Pamela Slim, a former corporate manager and entrepreneur, began the Escape From Cubicle Nation blog in 2005, to help frustrated employees stuck in corporate jobs. She quickly developed a dedicated following and attracted mainstream press such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News & World Report and Psychology Today. Her blog is growing rapidly and is syndicated by USA Today,, Neilson, Hoovers and NBC affiliates across the nation. She is also a professional life coach, trained by columnist Martha Beck, and writes for Martha’s blog.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page





SECTION I - Opening Up to the Opportunities

Chapter 1 - I Have a Fancy Title, Steady Paycheck, and Good Benefits. Why Am I ...

Chapter 2 - If It Is So Bad, Then Why Am I Afraid to Leave?

Chapter 3 - Detox from Corporate Life

Chapter 4 - What’s Really Involved in Moving from Employee to Entrepreneur?


SECTION II - The Reality of Entrepreneurship

Chapter 5 - What Are All the Ways to Be Self-employed?

Chapter 6 - How Do I Choose a Good Business Idea?

Chapter 7 - Recruit Your Tribe

Chapter 8 - Rethink Your Life: Options for Scaling Back, Downshifting, and Relocating

Chapter 9 - Do I Really Have to Do a Business Plan?

Chapter 10 - Define the Spirit of Your Brand

Chapter 11 - Test Often and Fail Fast: The Art of Prototypes and Samples


SECTION III - Make the Money Work

Chapter 12 - Look Your Finances in the Eye

Chapter 13 - How to Shop for Benefits


SECTION IV - Making the Leap

Chapter 14 - Dealing with Your Friends and Family

Chapter 15 - Line Your Ducks in a Row

Chapter 16 - When Is It Time to Leave?






Published by the Penguin Group
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Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2009 by Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


Copyright © Pamela Slim, 2009

All rights reserved
Portions of this book first appeared on the author’s Web site.
The author gratefully acknowledges the individuals who have contributed their stories to this project.
Slim, Pamela.
Escape from cubicle nation : from corporate prisoner to thriving entrepreneur / Pamela Slim.
p. cm.
Includes index.

ISBN: 9781101052532


While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.


Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

To Dad, who, when given a photography assignment two decades ago to take pictures of cubicles, turned to his colleague and said, “Charley: twenty years from now, some expert will be discussing the detrimental effects of these things on employee mental health.”


Little did you know it would be me.


I have not worked for a large company for ten years. Even when I did, it was for Apple which is hardly what you’d call typical. However, I know enough to tell you that is unfair to characterize all large companies as difficult places and all start-ups as Shangri-las, but for some people start-ups and small companies are the only way to go.

Clearly, you don’t have to spend much time in many large companies today to see that, as Steve Jobs would say, “there must be a better way.” Meetings are long and painful, decision making is as much about politics as about doing what’s right, and the inability to control your destiny is enough to make most people walk around with their teeth on edge.

And that’s a well-run large company.

Many people go nuts in these environments and fantasize about getting out. If you’re one of these people, you’ve come to the right place. However, the mystique of entrepreneurship is more sexy than the reality. No one wants to hear about how hard it is to finish a product, make a sale, or collect the money. Everyone wants to think they are joining the next Google, and the German and Italian cars are a few months away.

Pamela Slim is not afraid to tackle the thorny parts of the journey from employee to entrepreneur. Her pragmatism will calm your nerves, and her sense of humor will help you keep moving through the tough parts. She has spent a decade inside numerous corporations and knows the fears you currently face. She’s also been an entrepreneur and knows the challenges you will face.

No book can promise you your business will be a success if you follow a set of instructions. If it did, it would cost a lot more. However, Escape from Cubicle Nation will help you make a good decision about whether to shut up and suck up your current cubicle or strike out on your own. Think of it as a good, hard reality check.


Guy Kawasaki


So much of the advertising and marketing about entrepreneurship, especially on the Internet, contains exuberant exclamations like:

“Here is a picture of me cavorting with supermodels in the French Riviera in my ten-million-dollar yacht!” or



“I was an oppressed file clerk, bossed around by tyrannical managers until I spent $399 on a 12-CD training program. Now in just two short weeks I have one assistant just to paint my toes, and my former manager just called, begging to come to work for me!” or



“Here is my large car, parked in front of my large house with my large boat in the garage. None are as large as my bank account, which just keeps filling up, despite the fact that I only work three hours a week.”

Am I the only one who grimaces at this picture of entrepreneurship?

If I were to inject reality into this image based on the last twelve years I have worked for myself, my commercial would be more like this:

“Here is a picture of me at five a.m. at the Southwest terminal at the airport, pregnant and nauseated, throwing up on the curb as I prepare to fly to my client’s office” or



“Here I am at three a.m. at the copy store, on my seventh sugar/ caffeine roller coaster of the evening, near weeping as I try to get my Word document to print out as it did on my home computer so that I can finish my materials for tomorrow morning’s meeting” or



“Here I am trying to close a big deal with a senior executive, scared as hell but trying not to show it, and hoping that the spinach salad I had for lunch is not stuck to my teeth.”

You see, although I think it is a tremendous idea to work for yourself and live a life of happiness and financial success, I don’t believe that it is possible to become an overnight sensation with a few magic techniques or systems.

Finding work you are passionate about takes time. Building up the knowledge, skill, and experience to be truly great at this work is a labor of intense love and sweat. Creating a business out of this work and building infrastructure, customers, fans, advocates, and mentors requires patience.

And despite what a lot of hyped-up marketing material will tell you, hating your job intensely is not a business plan.

I spent a decade traveling all over the United States and Europe working with large corporations to improve their organizations. While I thoroughly enjoyed my work, I found a very surprising thing: some of the smartest and most successful employees inside these companies, often touted as “the best place to work,” were harboring secret visions of breaking out to start their own business.

They would pull me aside after an offsite meeting or corporate training and whisper, “I would love to work for myself, but have no idea how to get started. How did you do it?”

What puzzled me about their questions is that there is a tremendous amount of information available in books and on the Internet about starting a business (77,000,000 links in Google when I last checked). So despite lots of information, corporate employees were not getting what they needed to feel comfortable making a change.

In 2005, I started a blog called Escape from Cubicle Nation with the intention of integrating information about starting a business with my experience working as a life coach helping people navigate personal change. My readership was small—I think the first month my daily visits averaged five readers, including my dad, sister, best friend, a former client, and a random person who tripped over my site while Googling for something else. But over time, the visitors increased, and I began to get a tremendous amount of questions from corporate employees all over the world.

Simultaneously, I started coaching individuals who were actually making the transition from employee to entrepreneur and got a detailed and nuanced view of what got in the way of progress. From hundreds of conversations over the years, I developed a framework and process that enabled them to make the leap successfully. And as I suspected, much of what kept them from moving forward was not lack of information, but rather self-defeating thoughts, generalized fears, and outdated notions of what it took to start a successful business in the twenty-first century.

As my blog gained popularity, I connected with some of the brightest minds in entrepreneurship like Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Tim Berry, John Jantsch, and Rich and Jeff Sloan. I interviewed scores of experts on topics from personal finance to branding and learned that there is a way to structure a business that is both deeply meaningful to the entrepreneur and tremendously valuable to the market. And I witnessed a lot of hucksters and shucksters who swindled good people out of hard-earned money with fancy programs long on promise and short on results.

This book is the synthesis of thousands of these conversations over the last three years. It is my hope that it will be the answer to (real) e-mails I get every day such as this:

I’ve been working in Investment Banks for almost 20 years. I have a stable job as an officer in the fixed income controller department. The problem is, I work over 14 hour days and also log into the office from home on the weekends. I feel like I have no life and never really have time for anyone. I have an opportunity to take over a pet service business—walking dogs, boarding, and day care—something closer to what I always really wanted to do as a veterinarian. I should have tried to go to vet school but instead went to business school years ago which was always the “in” thing to do. The pet service business is risky and not as stable. My mom thinks I’m crazy. I wanted to see if you had any advice. Right now I’m torn on what to do. It’s easy to just stay where I am and not give notice. I don’t even want to talk to most of my friends because they’ll think I’m nuts.

Like the person above, you are not nuts to want a better work life. The path from employee to entrepreneur is possible. Many people have done it successfully. You can too, if you are willing to work hard and keep your eyes wide open.

And with a good business model and smart systems, you can even get close to what Tim Ferriss promises in his 4-Hour Workweek: escape nine-to-five, live anywhere, and join the new rich.

Potential fame, fortune, or freedom aside, there is simply no better way to learn about yourself than starting a business. And when you truly know yourself, you tend to design a business that matches your strengths. Because you are the one in charge, you care more. No longer constrained by a labyrinthine bureaucracy, you think bigger. And given the flexibility to design whatever you want, you are more likely to do something that means something to the world.

That is what we are all after, isn’t it?

Let’s get started.


Opening Up to the Opportunities


I Have a Fancy Title, Steady Paycheck, and Good Benefits. Why Am I So Miserable?

At ten o’clock in the morning, my phone rang. It was my dad calling from his twenty-ninth-floor office in downtown San Francisco. It was 1994 and we worked about a city block apart. I worked for a large financial services company and my dad worked for a public utility.

“Can you come to the office?” my dad asked.

“I’ll be right there,” I said. I took the elevator down thirty floors and walked through the courtyard that adjoined our buildings.

I arrived in my dad’s office and was slightly puzzled. The bustling, creative office where he worked was totally empty. Desks with plants and empty in-boxes sat where there were once eleven people. My dad peeked out from behind his cube wall.

“They laid off everyone in my department this morning. I am the only one left.”

My stomach dropped.

This moment, more than a decade and a half ago, was my abrupt introduction to the shift in the corporate world where solid, stable jobs were wiped off the map in a matter of minutes. Many of my dad’s coworkers were career employees, who had started working for the company out of college. One woman had worked her entire career at the company, as had her father and grandfather until retirement. She came into work at 8:00 a.m., was given a cardboard box to pack her belongings, and was escorted to the exit door by 8:20.

That was the moment I stopped trusting the “stability” of corporate life.

You Aren’t Crazy

I am sure that if you have worked in the corporate world for any length of time, you had your own moment when you realized that your job would never be secure, no matter how hard you worked or how long your tenure. Nevertheless, many people feel quite guilty for expressing dissat...

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