May 15, 2008

Review: Escape from Corporate America

When Alex sent me his wife's first book, I took a lot of time to get down to reading it. It was the early proof and the cover wasn't what you see on the left side.

Then I wished I hadn't kept it off for so long.

Escape from Corporate America written by Pam Skillings is ,first and foremost, a joy to read. More often than not, business related books are absolutely boring to read, even if the content is quite interesting.

Pam however is a writer who knows her mettle. And she knows what she's talking about. As someone who wanted to be a journalist and ended up working in corporate America to earn her paycheck her book's message is a simple one : "If you are doing something that you are hating just because you think there is no other option, you need to treat yourself better"

Doing so she looks at the people who have left corporate roles behind and started alternate careers, from people like Dilbert creator Scott Adams and Hollywood gossip blogger Perez Hilton.

Skillings is right when she says that most people on most days don't find meaning and engagement in what they do. They spend majority of their waking hours and they don't know how they are getting through it. Most employers are not known for being generous employers and except for a handful it translates that a majority of employers are 'bad places' to work.

She tells the story of an investment banker who became a chef, for example. And she addresses the doubts and risks that all of us have before going so.

This book is not for the entrepreneur to be, or how to make up business plans for venture capital and PE firms. It is a steady nudge showing a mirror on us asking us are you truly happy at your work?

Of course, there are lucky few who get, well, lucky. The learning for us HR types is how we can make that a reality for others too. Pam has a questionnaire that Bob Sutton blogged about here.

Of course as a HR professional I wish Pam had included concepts like Career Anchors and Job Sculpting but I'm not complaining. With these numbers of disillusioned or disengaged employees why are HR groups not doing something to change that statistic.

The chapter that resonated with me most was solopreneurship. Probably because I had done it. I just wish I had this book to read before I took the plunge, maybe things might have been a lot smoother. Pam offers a lot of very practical advice on how to get solopreneurship to work for you.

But as Seth Godin says, sometimes not taking a risk is the biggest risk of all.

Am not sure if the book is available in India (it just launched on 13th May) but you should read it. Even if you are very happy in a corporate job. It makes you look clearly and with humor on what you are giving up on. And that's always good to know :-)

P.S. You might want to read the excepts at

If children or other family members rely on you financially, it's important to make sure that they will be taken care of during the transition. Making an educated financial plan will be a top priority, and you will have to put more money aside to ensure that all essential costs are covered.

Still, while such preparations may take longer, the benefits can more than compensate. You may have more time to spend with your family as a result of your career change. You will definitely be more fun to hang around with once you're working in a career that energizes you.

Many of the successful corporate escapees I interviewed had families to support, and quite a few were the primary breadwinners. They approached their career changes a bit more cautiously than others, but they didn't settle for career drudgery just because they had responsibilities.