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Escaping the Cubicle and Getting Off the Corporate Treadmill


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This is a guest post from Mark Hayward of the Culebra Blog. Every Wednesday is Simplicity Day on Zen Habits.

Many people at one point or another dream about quitting their job and escaping the cubicle forever. I must confess to feeling claustrophobic many times during my tenure in the American corporate workforce.

Like most dreams and goals escaping the cubicle can be accomplished but you must be willing to alter your mindset and change the way you have been to taught to evaluate success. You must also realize that if you try to remove yourself from the business environment (even if it is to start your own business) people’s perceptions about you are undoubtedly going to change.

Unfortunately, success in our world is based on a person’s wealth and the accumulation of material objects. While working in the corporate environment many friends that I know have let apathy set in and at the same time emphasis on their own goals and dreams has atrophied.

Unlike most people, I do not consider a person’s wealth a sign of success. Rather, I assess whether they are truly content and pleased with the life they are leading. I have nothing against corporate culture at all, especially if that is where a person is truly happy. However, for me I felt that if I were going to succeed and lead the existence I wanted then it would have to be on my own terms.

My feelings were solidified many years ago while attending university and working for a large pharmaceutical manufacturing company. I was going to college to further my “book knowledge” education but at the same time this company was also instructing me that sometimes working for corporations, where the bottom line is everything, can be a hard way to go through life. The final indicator for me came when an older gentleman who worked in the quality control department was let go while his wife was in the hospital being treated for cancer and he lost his health insurance because he lost his job.

Where I come from in the Northeast United States, many people dream about quitting their jobs and escaping to the Caribbean. I think what they really desire is a more simple, less materialistic life. I have always had the combined dream of getting out of the cubicle and off of the career ladder and living in the Caribbean and having my own business.

Certainly, I do not advocate going in to work tomorrow, resigning from your job, and packing your bags for a move overseas. Removing yourself from the corporate world, unless you are wealthy, is more of a gradual process. For example, the goal to have our own business in the Caribbean took my wife and I over ten years to realize.

Changing your life to step off the corporate ladder mentality is not easy. Financial success, as stated above, is programmed into our brains from day one, when truly, happiness based on fulfilling your goals and dreams should take precedence. Trust me, that goal does not come without its challenges.

Whatever you want to do, lose weight, finish school, make a career change, etc., I strongly believe that first you need to believe in yourself. For those of us not born into a life of privilege, trying to achieve certain dreams or goals such as, leaving the cubicle, takes a tremendous amount of dedication, commitment, and hard work. We must also remember that even after all of the effort we might still fail. While trying to purchase our own business during the first year and a half of our hard work we were turned down for a mortgage five times for various reasons. However, because of all the background research we did and effort we put in we placed ourselves in the best position to succeed. We enabled our own success.

For those that would like to escape what the cube represents I would recommend that you maintain a positive attitude, visualize your success, embody your goal, and strike the saying “I can’t” from your memory, and especially do not listen to anyone telling you “you can’t.” I know it is not always easy but you really need to visualize yourself succeeding, whether it is leaving the corporate world or another goal, so that when those negative thoughts creep in you can truly believe in yourself.

Don’t be afraid to go after your goals. Life is short. The one quote I refer back to a lot when I question my own goals states, “If you have not started your life’s work by the time you reach forty then you probably won’t.” However, if you are over forty, don’t let that discourage you! I turn forty next July and I will just change the quote to fifty. I use it as a motivator to let me know that valuable time is slipping by.

Here are the key points:

With the right attitude, hard work, and some luck you can get off of the corporate treadmill and escape the cubicle. In closing I would just like to state that we all know you can spiral downward into apathy, lethargy, and even depression. However, I emphatically believe that positive energy carries its own inertia and once you start moving in the right direction you become like a snowball gathering steam as you roll towards your goal.

Mark Hayward has a Masters Degree in International Development and Geographic Information Systems. He and his wife, Terrie, recently purchased the Palmetto Guesthouse located in the Caribbean on island of Culebra, Puerto Rico. Mark also runs Culebra Blog, which he uses to provide tourist information about his new island home, and he has been writing about his expat exploits on MyTropicalEscape.

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