Month: April 2009

Book review: Escape from Cubicle Nation


Back when I quit my last full-time, career-type job in 1992, there were very few books or resources out there to lead the way, and the few that there were didn’t come close to the beautifully written, comprehensive, compassionate and FUN new book from my friend, Pamela Slim, Escape from Cubicle Nation.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Pam’s career trajectory, she started out in the corporate world (last gig: ginormous investment firm Barclay’s), escaped to become a high-powered corporate consultant, and then escaped again to the work she was clearly meant to do: show other people how to get the hell out and create the kind of meaningful, life-and-soul-sustaining work they were meant to do.

That’s right: Pam’s work is to change the world, one entrepreneur at a time.

The book represents a gigantic leap forward in her ability to do so. Pam already has an extremely popular blog, a newsletter, many friends and admirers on the Twitter, a coaching business and a sometime speaking career (her young’uns cut into her ability to do that for awhile, but it sounds like they’re growing up enough to let her out on a book tour, so keep your fingers crossed and your eyes peeled, because Pam is one in-person presence you do not want to miss). But a book allows her to get all of her teachings in one place, and allows you to carry it around, mark it up and revisit sections as you need to.

Why is this book different from any other book?

Today, there are dozens of books on the shelves about finding your passion and becoming an entrepreneur. But there are none that I’ve found that fuse the two, combining the practical knowledge anyone transitioning from corporate life needs to know with the kind of gentle encouragement certain souls need to make the leap. Pam understands the mindset of those longing to leave, and the psychological ties that bind us to where we are. With humor, stories, mini-questionnaires and to-do lists, Pam leads you through the mental and physical steps necessary to make the transition, from grappling with the issue of identity (in the U.S., we’re hopelessly self-identified with our jobs) to getting your ducks in a row so you don’t make the leap into a fiery pit that

consumes you. The incredibly wide-ranging advice includes:

  • clearing the time and space to start your business
  • cultivating the right mindset (hello, beginner mind!)
  • creating a simple (yes, really!) business plan that will move you forward, not bog you down
  • locating and reaching out to the support network you’ll need
  • an ACTUAL PLAN for figuring out how much money you’ll need to generate from various arms of your business (and lemme tell you, when you’re a service-based entrepreneur, we’re talking Shiva-arms)

There are also useful, concise how-tos on finding an idea to market, uncovering your brand difference, marketing yourself, testing ideas, establishing a team to handle what you can’t and, my favorite, dealing with sh*theads. (Asterisk inserted in deference to wonderful Pam, who is the nicest non-swearer I know and one of the few I care to hang out with.)

See? Like I said: comprehensive.

Why you will lap it up, even if you’ve already made the leap

Any entrepreneur who is out there doing it knows that to succeed, she needs to add to her knowledge base and continually grow (or at least evolve) her business. Pam’s book is chock-full of new ways of looking at things and new methods for implementing them. I particularly loved her ideas about having a High Council of Jedi Knights and her “Fantastic 4×4”, a kind of master mind group on steroids (not to say that the Fantastic Four did illegal drugs, I’m sure they came by all of their superpowers naturally!)

And that’s just a taste of the rich resources within. Escape from Cubicle Nation is one of those books you get and hang onto, to refer to again and again. It’s a working-library book and a friendly voice of encouragement to turn to over and over again.

It’s what you need when you’re out there, trying to change the world. Thanks, Pam, for putting it out there.


Image © Chris Lee, found on Flickr.


The Road, Part 2: Noble truth number 2


I have said it before and I will reiterate for clarity (and possible trolls): I am no buddhist. I am not even, like The Sweet BF, one of the half-assed variety. But the more I read of it (which is still precious little, okay, trolls?) and the more of life I see and experience, the more I think old Gautama might have been onto something.

Take one of the (four, four, count ’em, four!) foundational principles of Buddhism, Noble Truth the Second: “Suffering is Attachment,” which, for those of you who are even less familiar than I with the Truths, follows hard on the heels of “Life is Suffering.”

Then think back on the loss of a beloved grandparent, or a romantic relationship that ended, or a job you were asked to leave before you were ready.

Or, to travel even further into the land of mundane minutae, that feeling you get after a bad cold call, or an audition that went less than spectacularly, or leaving a date that went south or a party that failed to meet your expectations.

What’s that word I snuck in there? Why, “expectations,” of course. Because in all of those smaller circumstances, you likely had some kind of expectation that things would go differently: that the call would land you a huge piece of business; the audition, a job; the date, a partner; the party, a rockin’ good time, and perhaps a brief vacation from other feeling you were currently, wait for it, attached to.

It’s a little harder to see what is attach-y about loving a person or even a position eminently worthy of love. And by “attach-y,” I mean “wrong,” right?

Not exactly.

Attachment isn’t wrong; it just is. I’m guessing if the fat man were around today and you marched up to him and said, “Listen, Bub: my gramma rocked the universe and there is nothing wrong with my missing her and I intend to go on missing her and that’s that,” he’d shrug and say the Buddhist word for whatever. It’s not his job to tell you what you’re doing right or wrong, but to get his own shit straight enough that he can show you compassion, which took even his Bub-ness a mighty long time of wandering and wondering and trying-and-failing, if the stories are to be believed. (Oh, and what I love about Buddhism? They don’t care if you believe the stories, either! Rawk!)

The BF and I listened to a lot of my favorite Joe Frank episodes on our recent trip, which meant we listened to a lot of Jack Kornfield‘s charming and wonderful lectures, as well. Really, if you like this blog and are interested in dipping your toes in the Buddhist waters, you could do a lot worse than the recorded lectures of Jack Kornfield (here are some you can hear for free!) and the lively books of “zen punk monk” Brad Warner (and he’d be fine if you bought them through those Amazon links or got ’em from the library, and so would I!). They are wonderfully soothing and stimulating at the same time, these shows, and they helped me find a bit of peace in the middle of my discomfort: an incipient Crohn’s flare which I thought had mutated to garden-variety constipation but finally reared its ugly head as an incipient Crohn’s flare WITH constipation. Which, for those of you who have never had the pleasure, feels like what I imagine the ninth month of pregnancy feels like, stupendous belly, aliens kicking around inside, waves of occasional blinding pain and nausea (sooo much fun in a car in the middle of the Mojave Desert!) and no matter what, that goddamned baby will not come out.

I’ve been in flares before and learned from them, and not learned from them. I’ve learned what I can get away with and what I can’t, and then I’ve gone ahead and done all the stupid things (bread! M&Ms! coffee!) that put me there in the first place.

Today, though, as I was skimming through the Facebook, I stumbled on a heart-rending video from a dear friend who was alternately beating herself up and feeling awful about herself because she did something many of us do all the time and most of us do at least some of the time: overcommit. This beautiful lady with her gigantic, beautiful heart, who gives and gives and gives was suffering, and in the course of her piece, she wisely pegged her sad, sad feelings as those of powerlessness and smallness.

I crack myself with how slow I am to learn things, and with how I learn things, period.

Because I can do this again and again, overcommit, and feel dreadful about the consequences, and not even come CLOSE to identifying the root of my suffering as feelings of powerlessness and sorrow because, let’s be honest, I am not 1/10th the nice of this great-hearted person, and learn nothing. And yet I saw her suffering and something clicked for me: I am attached to feeling well.

I am attached to the idea that I will always have limitless youth and energy and power to draw upon for getting done the outrageous list of things I must do. Under that, I am attached to the idea that I am in control, and that I have the ability to call my own shots as I see fit. And of course, under all that, I am highly, highly attached to the idea that I have limitless time. Which is sort of a laugh because the last time I looked, I was turning 10 and in four months, I’ll turn 48.

What would happen if I let go of the idea that I must always be happy? Or well? Or successful or rich or right on down the line to the smallest of the small: if I let go of the idea that a favorite wool sweater would always be there for me, so that when it accidentally took a spin through the washer and dryer, I did nothing more than chuckle as I pulled out my new, doll-sized pullover?

What would happen if I never got another parking space or that Magic E-Mail or taste of McDonald’s fries? Well, if it were the latter of the three, I might be more firmly on the road to some kind of wellness, since there ain’t no kind of fries on my diet. But really, I think I might have some peace, which might free up some room, which might mean a bit more compassion and a bit less angst.

I would never, ever in a million years suggest that it’s silly or wrong to feel lousy because you’ve overcommitted. I hope I always feel lousy when I do, because it’s no fun for anyone.

But I hope even more that I can learn to examine the lousy and pull apart the feelings and actions that got me to it, so that (a) I don’t have to feel lousy and (b) I can be more useful to people who are feeling that way.

What I hope the most right now, though, is that my friend, who is grace herself, finds some of the peace she has inadvertently given me.

Which may be the beginnings of compassion. Which, though it clearly shows my attachment to the feeling, would be awfully nice, I think…


Image by Jayel Aheram via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Road, Part One: Strong opinions, fervently held


The BF and I returned today from a long trip through the desert (and back through the desert). In the home stretch, we were listening to This American Life podcasts, including one very funny one called “This I Used to Believe,” which was a gentle slam on the NPR series of a similar name, This I Believe, and which was far, far better than the oft-mawkish (and sometimes just bizarre) original. (Although I will go on record immediately and loudly as being pro-TIB or anything else that gets people thinking and writing thoughtfully about their lives.)

At one point in the show, Ira Glass gets interviewed by Jay Allison, the guy who led the team at This I Believe, and asked what, if anything, he believed in. (This is what happens when radio producers meet other radio producers, I guess.) It was asked in the context of why Glass had never contributed, something which Glass himself claimed to have wondered from time to time while listening to the show, and what Glass came up with I thought was rather interesting: although as a young man he had believed in a great deal, often with a fervor bordering on obnoxiousness, as he grew older, he didn’t think he believed in anything, which is something that deeply resonated with me.

I, too, was a righteously indignant, bordering-on-obnoxious believer (although not a Believer) in my youth, by which I mean, “until I turned 41.” There was no opportunity I’d pass over to stand up and tell people what I believed in (and, implicitly, what I was POSITIVE they should); after my umpteenth attempt at proselytizing disguised as “sketch comedy”, a hilarious (not) piece about a former prostitute who’d given up the game running into her old pimp, where “prostitute” was “copywriter” and “game” was “advertising”, a good-natured friend dubbed me “Soapbox Girl.” Which, of course, I took umbrage at. Much of my old journaling is painful to look at not for the endless spooning over boys who quite clearly were not, in the parlance of today, that into me, but for the mind-blowing bloviating I indulged in.

Province of youth, I suppose (although there are an awful lot of old bloviators whose humility hormones never seemed to kick in). You get older, and if you don’t spend all your waking hours watching stuff on TiVo, reading¬† crappy novels or going to MLM meetings, you get wiser, too. Or you don’t, and maybe you end up an apoplectic old man in a Kingman, AZ, diner raging against The Gays for not letting that nice Miss California have her say (it’s her say, right? it’s just her opinion, and this is still America, right?) as your wife tries to reason you down off the ledge.

Honestly, who can blame us? It’s not like we’re raised with lots of “strong opinions, loosely held” teaching in this country (the U.S. of A., for those of you who aren’t reg’lar readers). Come to think of it, I’m not sure who is: some of us grow up hearing a lot of lip service to things like “tolerance” and “to each his own,” but there are an awful lot of qualifiers. Some things can’t be tolerated, as it turns out, because they’re an affront at least and an abomination at worst. Gay people, for example, should no more be allowed to marry than black people should be allowed to co-mingle with whites, or women allowed to own property. If you look at it really closely, the one thing you can really believe about holding tight to opinions is that it causes distress somewhere down the line, to someone or another.

I hate to say I believe in nothing, and I’m not even sure it’s true. I believe that nothing is permanent, that everything changes. I’m ramping up to a belief in love over hate always, although let the wrong old man say the wrong thing at a diner in Kingman and, as the song sez, see how love flies out the door.

I do know that if I can’t see in my heart to see past my own rage and feel compassion for that man, and to understand him and where he’s coming from, I’m not ever going to be able to communicate with him. And if I can’t be around certain people, what the hell kind of communicatrix am I, much less person?

For now, I say I know enough to know I don’t know much. And I’m working on the beliefs thing.

Oh, and Ira? It turns out he does believe in one thing: that the car is the very best place to listen to the radio.

This, I believe…


Image by demi-brooke via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Referral Friday: Birdhouse for Twitter

Referral Friday is part of an ongoing series inspired by John Jantsch’s Make-a-Referral Week. For more about that, and loads more referrals for everything from cobblers to coaches to gee-tar teachers, start here. Pass it on, baby!

Those of you who follow me there know that I use Twitter in a way that has become decidedly non-mainstream: to inform and share in short, dense bursts, and in as entertaining a fashion as possible.

Some of the tweets fall directly from my brain to the little “What up?” box in perfectly-formed, 140-character packets. Many, however, do not. Wit just don’t work that way.

Before Birdhouse, an ingenious little iPhone drafting app developed to help Twitterers who write, one of two things happened: (1), I posted something half-assed; or (2), I posted nothing as I mused over the best phrasing, invariably losing forever whatever germ of a gem I’d started with. Suckery! Confounded suckery!

To paraphrase one of the participants in this fan video, now that I have Birdhouse my teeth are whiter, my children, well-behaved and my tweets are “favorited” all the time. Well, not really; nobody’s tweets get favorited all the time.

Birdhouse lets you save drafts of your tweets, star and review them, then publish (or presto!, unpublish them) as you like. It’s not meant to replace other iPhone apps, but to complement them. (Although I wouldn’t be surprised if those other iPhone apps start baking in something Birdhouse-like themselves once they do the Homer “D’oh!”, so I hope for the developers’ sakes they have some really neato features lined up for future releases.)

Full disclosure: I am a friend to and mad fan of Adam Lisagor (@lonelysandwich on the Twitter), who developed the app along with his able compatriot, Cameron Hunt (@camh) from my new-favorite city, Portland, Oregon. (Should we all just move there now? Seems like all the cool kids are doing have done it.) But hey, them what knows me knows I don’t just SHILL. And even if I was, it’s a crapload of functionality for just $3.99.

If you’re just using Twitter to talk about what you had for lunch (and please, stop doing that!) or mostly to share links, promote yourself (stop that, too!) and shoot the shit on the backchannel, as they say, keep on using your regular iPhone client.

But if you want to use Twitter to entertain the world and make yourself a better in the bargain, Birdhouse is the tool of the month.

In the good way.


Birdhouse writing app for Twitter on the iPhone, just US$3.99

How are you changing the world?


At one time or other
everyone wonders
whether she’ll change the world
in some way
or small

But the truth is
you can’t not
change the world
because everything you do
makes it different,
and small

You can change the world
by the way you answer a question
or the phone

You can change the world
by giving change
or time
or right-of-way
even if they’re wrong
(especially if they’re wrong)

By the way you listen
and the way you speak,

By the way you greet the dentist
or the tax man
or the President,
the one you voted for
and the one you didn’t

You can change the world
by the way you eat
and spend
and save
or don’t

By the way you pray
and the way you talk to the people who don’t
or by the way you talk to the people who do pray
if you don’t

You can change the world
by writing a book
or by reading one
or by passing one along

You can change the world
by the way you love
or the way you hate

You can even change the world
when you accept
that we are all wired
to do both
and still choose one
in the face of another

You can change the world
with everything you think
and feel
and do

And you do,
with everything,
and great.


Image by joosteto via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Looking at an old thing a new way


While rumor has it there is a brain nestled somewhere behind them, one of the main things I provide those who hire me as a consultant is a new pair of eyeballs.

Same with editors. Same with interior designers. Same with coaches, shrinks, proofreaders (hoo boy, proofreaders!), trusted friends, non-trusted people who sit next to us on airplanes, stylists, headshot photographers, yoga teachers, bodyworkers, and feng shui consultants.

In fact, one of the exercises my favorite feng shui book in the world walks you through is Looking At Your Old Place with a New Pair of Eyeballs. (Not literally called that, but hey, I like literary symmetry and callbacks.) You’re supposed to pretend you’re a guest visiting your own home for the first time, or that you’re you giving the nickel tour to a guest who’s visiting your home for the first time, to see what you see. Because we humans are marvelous at adapting, which is useful when you find yourself in drastically reduced circumstances like a bison drought or post-war Vienna or seven stranded castaways here on Gilligan’s Isle but is not so good when it comes to seeing your 47 years of accumulated crap, much less seeing what of it you can begin to release.

One reason I now realize I’ve been stuck so long in a particular place is that I was looking at it like Colleen of the Past, not Colleen of the Future or even Colleen of the Present.

Colleen of the Past likes things the way they are now, which is to say, the way things were then: this apartment, this circle of relationships, this job, this routine. Any changes are implemented slowly and are, for the most part, additive. Think closets that maybe get fuller instead of a wardrobe that occasionally gets thinned into usefulness. A thing is added and another thing, and everywhere-a-thing-thing, until yeah, you have a lot of clothes but you can’t get at all of them and most of them look like whatever decade you turned 30 in. (I’m pretty sure that was a Marcia Wilke line: most people get new hairdos until they’re 30, after which you can carbon-date them by it.) (I’m paraphrasing, of course.) (Oh, and to read up on Marcia, go to this page of marvelous writers and scroll in a downwardly direction.)

For me, some huge, usually uncomfortable thing has to come to bear before I will give a clear-eyed look to how useful a long-ago behavior or situation or what-have-you is suiting me today. Like a couple of leery-eyed misogynists from the Inland Empire checking out the rack or a shredded colon. And then I usually have to enlist outside help, a trusted friend, my shrink, a coach, to get a good, outside look at it. I’ve learned some tools that have helped me see some stuff in a new way. I harp on about Morning Pages (from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), but hey, they work. As do good shrinks and honest, longtime friends.

In a pinch, run your shit past that stranger on a plane. Provided you’re non-threatening (no one’s going to poke a bear 30,000 feet up), you might get some pretty eye-opening perspectives.

But look. Look look look. With fresh eyes and an open mind.

And, you know, a notepad or somesuch…


Image by respres via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

If I can do it, anyone can


It’s a strange thing, being in front of an audience instead of in it.

I’m not sure if my cohorts on last week’s panel (or stages everywhere) agree, but I’ll wager that no matter how much you know, it’s rare that you feel you know enough to stand where Mrs. Kent or Professor Schwartz did, teaching the people facing you about what you know.

Parents must feel this way all the time, especially when their kids get old enough to start asking questions. I know enough to give reasonable explanations for various basic physical phenomena, but after that, I tend to fall back on reciting stuff from the latest issue of Modern Jackass. I blame the great gaps in my education, which were mainly self-created: there are a lot of classes I never paid attention in, and a lot of things I never bothered learning because either I wasn’t interested or I figured I could ask someone else, later. Maybe in the back of my mind I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be making any biological question machines; more likely, I just preferred not to think of anything at all.

My coach, Ilise, who helps me more than you all can know, and who, like my shrink is and my beloved paternal grandmother was, one of the more patient folks I’ve met in my life, says you only have to know more than the people you’re helping. At first, I felt this was borderline, if not flagrant, fraudulence; the more I slog along, though, the more I realize that in my own fields of interest, communication, mostly, and propagation of ideas, I’ll never know enough to know more than most of the people I’m with, unless I decide to limit my “speechifyin’,” as The BF calls it, to classes of 7- and 8-year-olds. And even then, they’re bound to be one up on me when it comes to some of the Crazy Things Kids Are Saying.

I bring up this appalling and shameful lack in me because, for whatever reason, I’ve had a few worrisome (but nice!) compliments lobbed in over the transom recently. People saying very nice things to me somehow vaguely at the expense of themselves, mostly along the lines of how much they like the way I say this or that (and thank you! I thank you, from the bottom of my heart!), but with a sort of wistful ache, as though I had used up the awesome or gotten an inside track on something or there was just no way they could do it, too, have things come out on paper (or screen) the way they floated around in their heads and hearts and dreams.

I say this next bit gently, but say it I must: Stuff! And nonsense!

Whatever your dream of perfect expression, I’m here to tell you that: (a), it does not exist; and (b), if you knuckle down and DO, what eventually comes out will make your dream beside the point.

Don’t believe (a)? I grapple with Right Expression all the time. EVERY time. No, really: every single time I greet the blank page or sit down with an actual, live human bean, I think, “Nope! This isn’t going to come out at all right.” And somewhere in the middle (several times in the middle, usually), I think, “Nope! This is not at all it, not at all! I will not be able to connect in a meaningful way and express these ideas at all, nope, not at all!” Positively White Rabbit-like, I am. (For the record, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I actually know when I’m going to. That last happens so rarely, I could count it off on toes and fingers, and I’ve never worked with a lot of heavy machinery.)

As for (b), there’s a reason I leave the archives to this site up in their entirety: I SUCKED. And everyone should know it, myself included. The only way to get from there to here is one goddamned step at a time, and brother, I’ve taken them all, even if not as publicly as Internet publishing has allowed. (What you can’t see, the years and years of me toiling away like an asshole, trying to sound like Hemingway or Dorothy Parker or whomever I had a big writer-crush on at the moment, I’ve spared you thus far. But I’m gonna find it, and I’m gonna put it up, too.)

I will add one buzzkill caveat: just because you want to be the Greatest Writer in the World doesn’t mean you can or will. You might not be wired for it. Or you might get however many days/months/years down the path and lose your taste for it, something that happened to me with acting. Which, for the record, I did all right at, but never with the ease of my early forays into writing. Like I said, wiring, plus all that other outliers stuff, circumstances, opportunity, logging hours. Although, to paraphrase my Secret BF, Malcolm, again, just because your early contexts weren’t the most fertile for growing literary genius doesn’t mean you can’t become one.

What I do know is that everyone, E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E, has a story, and a passion, and can be moving and affecting if she opens her arms and drops her drawers for it. On my trip, I read a wildly gripping story by a writer whose amateur status mattered not one whit. Arms opened, panties dropped. (More soon on that.)

It won’t come to you, though: you need to meet it more than halfway. You need to hunker down and give it time and love and effort. If your Truth needs to come out with writing, you must write every day; if your Way In is something else, replace “writing” and “write” with the words that suit you. Just don’t fart around. I farted around for years, which probably didn’t hurt, but nothing really started happening until I started writing every day, with purpose and intent and a certain amount of gravity.

And finally, where the hell is it, exactly, that I’ve “gotten”? Who the hell am I? Famous? Wealthy? Weighted down with awards and accolades? No. I’m just someone who’s finally fairly happy with myself, a medium-sized part of which is probably my way with words. Which just shows to go you I have a long way to go dealing with this attachment stuff.

If you’re a writer, write. (And read.) If you’re poet, po. (And also, read.) Alone in your garret, or out loud on the WordPress.

Blather. Rinse. Repeat…


Image by cote via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.