Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 16 Aug 07 15:04
I'm delighted to introduce our next guest, Josh Piven, author of "The Escape Artists," and Steve Bjerkelie, who'll lead the conversation for the next couple weeks.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 16 Aug 07 15:06
Josh Piven is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including "As Luck Would Have It" (Villard) and the worldwide best-selling The Worst- Case Scenario Survival Handbook series (Chronicle Books). His current book,"The Escape Artists" (McGraw-Hill), is the first book to fully explore non-traditional career trajectories: how and why do people choose to escape the cubicle to pursue their passions? And how can you? Josh is perhaps best known for his famously tongue-in-cheek worst-case books, books that offer readers real-world (though often hilarious) advice on surviving worst-case situations that they might -- but hopefully won't -- encounter: everything from "how to fend off a shark" and "how to wrestle an alligator"" to "how to avoid the Freshman 15" and "how to determine if your date is an axe murderer." One recent reviewer said of the series: "We've finally found the WMDs: The Worst-Case books are Weapons of Mass Distraction!" Our guest moderator is Steve Bjerkelie. Steve freelances journalism for a variety of publications, including The Economist. In his closet still hang the shirts and neckties from an attempt to go legit in the corporate world for a few years; it ended after he developed an emergency-room-worthy allergy to office cubicles. Since then, he has reported and written from cabins and cottages in redwood forests, rural pastures and mountain valleys as well as frequently from the road. In January he moved from northern California to a house just outside Franconia, New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains. "Let's ski!"
Josh Piven (jpiven) Thu 16 Aug 07 16:35
Hi, glad to be here! Who's taking drink orders?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 17 Aug 07 06:30
Coffee. Black. Thanks! Josh, "The Escape Artists" describes the unusual, non-cubicle careers of an eclectic group of professionals. One's a comedian, another's a whitewater guide, another's a Navy SEAL. Then there's the minor-league pitcher, the designer of gadgets and gizmos for science-fiction movie and television sets, the skier-mountaineer, the clown and the undercover cop. Oh, the surfer and the "doctor without border" too. An obvious question, then, to begin: Why these people? As you mapped out "The Escape Artists," did you look for specific types of unusual career paths or specific personalities?
Josh Piven (jpiven) Sat 18 Aug 07 16:17
<beer can opening sound> That's a good opening question Steve. I sort of knew going in that I wanted to do a few specific types of jobs, though not the specific people I eventually found. So, I knew I wanted a circus clown, cause that just seemed to me to be the quintessential do-something-odd-that-you've-always-wanted-to-do-and-damn-the-torpedoes kind of thing. (And isn't that the old threat to make parents quiver in their slippers: "I'll run off and join the circus!)I also wanted to do a baseball player, but not one in the majors, more someone struggling to make it there. I had some ideas about outdoorsy/adventure type jobs, but I didn't pick the specific ones that I finally chose until I found the people Oh, and of course I wanted to do a Trekkie, just to be able to see and write about what that kind of life is like. Oh, and Mark Divine, the Navy Seal guy--he sort of fell into my lap, though I had a notion that I wanted to do someone in the military--turned out to be a perfect fit b/c he started out on Wall Street and then went into the SEALs after the crash of '87. Oh yeah, and two of the subjects I knew because I had gone to them for help with previous books, though I didn't know that much about them until I began ESCAPE ARTISTS.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sun 19 Aug 07 04:46
We'll get into the specifics of your profiles in a minute, Josh, but first, another general question: Though it's a diverse group in terms of what they do for a living, all of the people you profile bring passion to their professions, enough to get them through the hard times. Did you find that they share other qualities as well? That's a way of asking: If someone were considering escaping from the office cubicle for a new kind of professional life, especially something unusual, what kinds of qualities do they need to succeed?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 22 Aug 07 08:55
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Josh Piven (jpiven) Wed 22 Aug 07 10:17
Creativity is a big one: It's not only about knowing what you want (or think you want) to do, but creatively finding a way to achieve that (and, of course, making enough money to support it.) Another is passion (some might call it drive, or perhaps obsession), or a strong belief that you can achieve your professional and personal goals doing something you love. I think a third aspect is a need and a desire to be in charge of your own destiny, not answerable to others--though on some level we're all answerable to the person who signs our paychecks. But clearly a level of individualism (is that a word? Now it is) that allows people to take risks with their careers. But the main common denominator among everyone profiled in the book is a need to do something fulfilling, something that makes a difference personally, to them, but also to others.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 22 Aug 07 12:03
For many of the people you profiled, there's been a personal cost in their search to fulfill "a need to do something fulfilling, something that makes a difference personally.." -- several of those profiled got divorced in the process of changing their lives, for example. And having a partner with a similar passion is no guarantee; Bridget Crocker, the river-rafter, was married to another rafter, but the marriage didn't last. When you interviewed those you profiled in "The Escape Artists," did they talk much about the personal cost of transforming their personal passions into professions?
Autumn (autumn) Wed 22 Aug 07 12:48
Hi, Josh. I first heard of you when I kept your 'Worst-Case Scenario Calendar" in my cubicle a couple of years ago. In breaks between boring pointless meetings, reading tips such as 'how to survive in a plummeting elevator' used to brighten my day. Welcome to the Well!
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Wed 22 Aug 07 13:18
hi Josh. I'd say Welcome to the Well, too, but you've had an account here for over a decade! You should use it once in a while!
Autumn (autumn) Wed 22 Aug 07 15:04
Josh Piven (jpiven) Wed 22 Aug 07 15:18
Actually I do use the Well each and every day, and have since 1995. I just don't have lots of time for the conferences. I also have two little kids. I'll try to do better, K? Maybe the problem is that there just haven't been enough discussions devoted to me. Ha ha. Kidding. Glad you like the Worst-Case stuff Autumn, don't miss my new fall book, BAD VS. WORSE. <end of commercial.> Anyway yes, there's always a cost associated with going after your dream: Sometimes it's monetary, sometimes it's a lack of time to devote to other interests, and sometimes it's the family that suffers. Some of the subjects let their passions become obsessions (in a bad way) and as a result their marriages failed; this isn't a book with all happy endings. In other cases (the DEA agent, for example) the marriage goes on but I think there's a big adjustment period, for everyone involved, with the mostly-nighttime hours that those who chase drug dealers have to keep. But, in the case of Jack Viorel, the surfer, he and his wife have arrived at an arrangement that seems to work. But it helps to be flexible--and have a partner/spouse who's flexible also.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 23 Aug 07 04:46
Josh, I think your book will be read by a lot of cubicle dwellers dreaming of escaping the corporate cell blocks. In fact, some of the people you profile did exactly that. Based on what you learned from the diverse profiles you included in "The Escape Artists," what advice would you give to those thinking of making the jail-break?
Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Thu 23 Aug 07 06:43
Josh, are your familiar with a book called "Seasons of a Man's Life? Published a few decades ago, it reported research on transitions and issues with the men studied over two or more decades. One individual had several very successful careers over the time covered but still had difficulty with the "midlife crises". I like the idea of people doing their own thing at any age. Are some driven by the idea that, by doing so, they will avoid confronting problems that may be fundamental to living in general and, perhaps, their lives in particular?
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Thu 23 Aug 07 08:38
i guess i was expecting all these folks you wrote about to be cubicle- escapees but enjoyed what i've read so far nonetheless (admission: have been skipping around and haven't finished yet!). so far i love the story of the trekie guy best.
beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Thu 23 Aug 07 11:14
anyway. how did you come across the people you used for the book?
Josh Piven (jpiven) Thu 23 Aug 07 11:34
Lots of good points here. No, they didn't all "escape the cubicle," some simply avoided it altogether. And interestingly even jobs that are "in the wild" like the DEA agent (or perhaps "in the field" is a more apt description) require some hours sitting at a desk doing--yuck--paperwork. But in general the subjects in the book wanted active-type jobs. Which isn't for everyone, clearly. I've not read "Seasons of a Man's Life" but it sounds interesting, I will look for it. It's interesting that you bring up the midlife crisis--it occurred to me while writing ESCAPE that there's now almost a quarter-life crisis: young people coming to grips with the fact that a) there's no more lifetime employment (i.e. no job is safe) and b)life's too short to spend it doing something you don't really enjoy. I want to throw a few stats into the mix here: * According to a recent report published in Workforce Trends Newsletter, 40 percent of workers surveyed reported feeling disconnected from their employers. * Compared to the Baby Boom and Veteran generations, the survey reported, post-Baby-Boomers (Generations X and Y, or workers ages 35-44) are the least satisfied with their jobs. * Another study, the Gallup Employee Engagement Index, recently reported that a majority of workers (54 percent) said that they were not engaged by their work; only two workers in ten reported feeling passionate about their jobs. [Editorial note: WOW!] And here's more food for thought: * A recent survey conducted by the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force of the Center for Work-Life Policy (and published in Harvard Review) found that among highly qualified womenthose with a graduate, professional, or high-honors undergraduate degreea stunning 40 percent have left the work force voluntarily (meaning they were not dismissed or caught in a downsizing). * Among women with children, the survey showed, the proportion of women leaving the workforce rises to 43 percent. Tellingly, fifty-eight percent of top-tier women describe their careers as nonlinear.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 23 Aug 07 11:41
Interesting. Some of those high numbers -- 40 percent who feel "disconnected" from employers, for example -- can be blamed, I think, on a failure of management. It's management's responsibility to create jobs and a work environment that engages employees and creates in them a sense of fulfillment from using their skills and talents.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 23 Aug 07 12:55
Actually, I don't think that's the job of management at all. there job is to make sure the company makes money. Those statistics don't surprise me in the least. I was realizing the other day that I am very fortuante to run my own business, the way I want to run it, making as little or as much money and giving the time commitment I choose to give it. Then it dawned on me that most of my close friends and acquaintances have similar work situations to mine. I know my situation is unique. I just can't imagine it any other way. And I'm not surprised that anyone who has a corporate job would, at some point, want OUT!
Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Thu 23 Aug 07 20:15
>highly qualified womenthose with a graduate, professional, or high-honors undergraduate degreea stunning 40 percent have left the work force voluntarily (meaning they were not dismissed or caught in a downsizing).< I recall my engineering journal reporting that women often left the profession after 10 to 20 years. This squared with some examples at work of women engineers leaving because engineering had ceased to provide sufficient fulfillment. A few were managers. Could many male engineers feel much the same but don't see change as real an option as the women engineers did?
Autumn (autumn) Thu 23 Aug 07 20:51
I'm glad the book mentions that there's a price for freedom. I knew several people who escaped to become park rangers and were surprised to find themselves becoming law enforcement officers instead of naturalists -- not what they had pictured themselves doing -- and living on very small salaries. Still, most of them thought it was worthwhile.
Josh Piven (jpiven) Fri 24 Aug 07 07:38
One of the points I make in the book is that "escaping" can result from--or be spurred by--first having a job or series of jobs that you don't like. After all, it's not as though most of us graduate high school (or college, for that matter) knowing what we want to do with our lives. Sometimes we need to do things we don't like--even hate--to really discover what makes us happy. On a personal level, when I was younger and first starting out in the working world, I thought I'd be happy (OK, content) doing editing in an office. But then I started to feel trapped, and began to see people in their 50s and 60s basically doing what I was, and I just KNEW that I didn't want to do that, to be stuck in an office for the rest of my life. It was almost a visceral reaction. So I picked up writing books. It's not an easy way to make a living, no steady paycheck, pay your other health insurance, yada yada yada. It's also quite solitary, which some people can't stand. But most writers like their solitude...
Cogito? (robertflink) Fri 24 Aug 07 14:12
Josh, another relevant book comes to mind: "Your Money or Your Life" By Joe Dominguez / Vicky Robin. As I recall the recommendation was to work for and save money while cultivating a frugal life style so one can quit early and do the kind of work you want to even if uncompensated. BTW, is it possible to buy into the popular view of success and fulfillment and be happy with anything less than first place?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 24 Aug 07 14:23
And Josh, returning to the question <aud> asked a few posts back: how did you come across the people you used for the book?
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Sat 25 Aug 07 13:45
To get back to an earlier point about people's marriages failing when they decide to change careers: my own experience has been that when you've let your life get to a very unsatisfactory place, and then finally get your courage together to make one major change, it often happens that other things in your life that were stuck become unstuck in their turn. it's very hard to get out of a rut...a lot of times people don't manage it until some external event changes the pattern. as a career changer myself, I'd say it's also really hard to get past your preconceived idea of the kind of thing you're "suited" for and move toward the thing that's really going to make you happy, even if it means moving way outside your comfort zone. most of us have a deep fear of looking like idiots, and trying to learn something new when you're not a kid any more is a pretty sure way of putting yourself in that position.
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