Going through a mid-life career crisis?

by .

Books: If you’ve tired of the rat race but don’t know what else to do, The Escape Manifesto is the book for you.

I love this book, not least because it gives a voice to my own experience. It is like reading a travel adventure about a trip you have just been on. I resigned from my good agency job at the end of last year with precious little plan of what I would do next.

Much of what the authors say mirrors my experience – the initial certainty that you can’t resign because working is what you do; the umbilical cord between you and your salary; the loss aversion; the endless questions of what to do instead; your mum speculating that you might be having a breakdown.

This book sets out to answer a question that most of us have grappled with at some point: ‘Why are our jobs so unfulfilling? How did we end up here? Are we crazy if we no longer want to work here? And, crucially: what can we do about it?’

It is written by men who left their corporate jobs in their 20s to start something new. They have created Escape the City, a network of people and advice for anyone wishing to ‘Change jobs. Build Businesses. Go on big adventures’.

The book strikes at the heart of the big issues of our time: rampant consumerism, job dissatisfaction and the failings of leaders and institutions. So many bright, well-qualified people are utterly miserable.

Their roles, companies and leaders don’t inspire them; many find it hard to be themselves at work. They are caught in the unending cycle of needing their salary so that they can spend money to compensate for or justify their unhappiness from Monday to Friday.

As a starting point, this is profoundly depressing, but the authors’ response is proactive, fascinating and, above all, optimistic.

Their view is: ‘The belief that “the route to success is to get a good job” is so ingrained it is almost a religion.’ This book rejects this and the norms that go with it in favour of ‘doing something different’.

It approaches this challenge in two phases: pre-escape and post-escape. Pre-escape examines motivations for change, dissects the barriers and ‘blockers’ to moving, gradual epiphanies and the money question.

Post-escape works through potential routes forward: finding an exciting job, starting a business, going on an adventure.

I wish I had read this book before I jumped out of corporate life. I would have been inspired with new ideas: if you Google ‘TED Talks Spreadsheet’ you get a list of every TED talk ever, ranked by score, so you can immerse yourself in ideas and identify what excites you.

I would have followed the sensible financial planning advice by more consciously preparing for ‘The Hit’ between your job and your new income stream. I would have found better words to identify and process my resistance to change (those blockers) and I suspect I would have acted sooner.

Perhaps even more importantly, I would have found a support network of people in a similar situation. It would have given me much greater confidence in the route I fell into of trying lots of things and talking to lots of people.

The writers believe that not knowing what you want to do instead should not be a barrier to moving.

For some, this will feel a step too far: bonkers and possibly dangerous. Anyone wedded to structure, order and planning is unlikely to warm to this quasi-spiritual faith that the right path will emerge if you give yourself to finding it.

And this is not a balanced account: it is, as it says, a manifesto. The hard-headed will note the lack of stories about people who made the jump and regretted it, the businesses that failed and the debts that followed.

Instead, we read about Al Humphreys, the inspirational speaker who flashes up a death-clock to show how many seconds he has left to live. ‘Before I know it I’ll be dead, and what a bloody waste of time that will have been if I’ve just been arsing around.’

So should you read this book? If you mildly dislike your role but your pact with the corporate world is sound, I suggest you think hard before you peek into Pandora’s Box.

But if you are reading this in your cubicle or office, knowing in your heart that something has to change, order a copy.

Reading it is a rip-roaring pleasure: it is packed with inspiring quotes, practical ideas and great stories.

And, if you are brave enough to search, my experience, too, is that good things happen.

Christine Armstrong is a founding member of Jericho Chambers.


The Escape Manifesto: Quit your corporate job, do something different

Rob Symington and Phil Bolton

Capstone, £12.99

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