inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #0 of 73: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #1 of 73: 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!"
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #2 of 73: Josh Piven (jpiven) Thu 16 Aug 07 16:35
    
Hi, glad to be here! Who's taking drink orders?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #3 of 73: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #4 of 73: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #5 of 73: 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? 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #6 of 73: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 22 Aug 07 08:55
    
(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added
to this thread by emailing them to <inkwell@well.com>  )
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #7 of 73: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #8 of 73: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #9 of 73: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #10 of 73: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #11 of 73: Autumn (autumn) Wed 22 Aug 07 15:04
    
Oops, sorry!
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #12 of 73: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #13 of 73: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #14 of 73: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #15 of 73: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #16 of 73: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #17 of 73: 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 women”—those with a graduate,
professional, or high-honors undergraduate degree—a 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.”
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #18 of 73: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #19 of 73: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #20 of 73: Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Thu 23 Aug 07 20:15
    
>“highly qualified women”—those with a graduate,
professional, or high-honors undergraduate degree—a 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #21 of 73: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #22 of 73: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #23 of 73: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #24 of 73: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.306 : Joshua Piven, "The Escape Artists"
permalink #25 of 73: 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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