The Escape Manifesto – Discussion #6: Are our aspirations evolving faster than the realities of our careers?

We are writing a book.

It’s called The Escape Manifesto.

We are on deadline for October 15th. We’d love your help, thoughts and inputs.

Last Friday we posted Discussion #5: The Money Question. What do you think? What’s your advice? which unsurprisingly received some passionate comments and ideas. Thank you!

This week we’d like to explore what people want from their careers vs what they currently get from the mainstream routes.

What does this mean?

What we mean is that many of us know that we want more from our jobs… more freedom, more creativity, more control, more purpose.

Whether or not we’re clear on our specific aspirations – most of us know what kinds of ingredients our ideal opportunities would entail (although sometimes it’s as simple as ‘anything but my current job’).

The problem seems to be that most jobs, organisations, education systems, and even advice are geared towards the old way of doing things (collect qualifications like they’re going out of fashion, work for years climbing the ranks in one big organisation, etc).

The hypothesis of this week’s discussion is that although we know that we want different options for our careers – we are limited by the fact that the world is still structured in such way that the vast majority of professional jobs with above-average-salaries and the most obvious career paths still lead us down a very traditional path.

What do we want?

  • To build careers with Control, Autonomy, and Purpose (see Drive).
  • To earn enough money to afford a comfortable lifestyle.
  • To find opportunities to work where we want, when we want.
  • To build businesses and side ventures to earn a living on our own terms.
  • To work on challenging problems that genuinely interest us.
  • To feel like our work has an impact that matters – on some level.
  • To have the chance to change roles and jobs frequently.
  • To escape from hierarchy, bureaucracy, and process.

What do we get?

A situation where…

  • … the majority of well-paid corporate jobs are pretty boring after a while.
  • … exciting, entrepreneurial opportunities are really hard to find.
  • … most of us don’t have the right skills to work in the areas we’d like to.
  • … few of us have the technical skills to build online ventures ourselves.
  • … our education prepares most of us for careers as generalists.
  • … big companies hoover up most of the smartest, talented graduates.
  • … our career advice is tragically predictable and mainly useless.
  • … we have a massive aversion to risk and potential failure.

Do you see a mismatch?

It’s human nature to fit in, to do what everyone else does, to apply for jobs on job boards, to get sensible roles in big companies, to play it safe, to avoid risk, etc.

The reality is that if genuinely exciting opportunities were readily available on lots of job boards – with clear application instructions and established processes, then many more of us would feel comfortable pursuing that route.

The fact is that most jobs worth desiring have been hustled for, created with the specific person in mind, come about as a result of conversations, internal networks, or plain old pestering – they’re rarely found on job boards.

Any business worth envying has been built with blood, sweat, tears and healthy amount of financial risk and potential for failure. People don’t quit jobs one day and slide into running their own profitable businesses the next (or if they do they’re the exception).

Our perspective is that the established structures of mainstream careers and education (which most of us rely on to guide us through our lives) are not geared towards the kinds of exciting, dynamic and progressive careers that many of us aspire to.

You don’t find the best job opportunities listed on Monster and you don’t find ideas for the most impressive business start-ups listed in the small business section of the Sunday Times.

People building lives on their own terms are currently the exception. Through a combination of luck and drive some people are out there ‘doing something different’… whilst the rest of us plod along on the corporate motorway… waiting for the dream job listing that is never going to come.

The future…

We passionately believe (and fervently hope) that through changing attitudes, new organisational structures, and emerging technology, the coming decade will see more people find work and build careers that matter to them.

To get there we are going to need education systems and career advice that will empower a professional generation to build a different type of career for themselves.

In the meantime… we need more hustling, more risk-taking, and more pioneers.

What do you think?

All comments and ideas gratefully received.

Have a great weekend and thank you in advance!

Rob & the rest of the Escape Team.


  • Kat

    I am 21 years old and have been supporting myself as a self employed licensed manicurist for almost two years. I initially got my nails license as a backup plan, but one thing led to another and here I am doing it full-time and somewhat on my own terms. I’ve been trying to figure things out for a while, and at times it can feel very overwhelming. I’ve always wanted to have my own business (a successful online store of some sort would be awesome) and never felt like the traditional track was right for me. I’m also a self-taught web designer, and before deciding to do nails full time, I interviewed with and received a job offer from a local webdesign firm. The pay was decent for entry level, but the idea of sitting at a cubicle from 9-5 terrified me. I knew that if I took the job, I would never want to create websites in my spare time.

    So, here I am. I don’t make a lot of money, and I have a small pocket of savings (although probably larger than most people my age). Occasionally I’ll have a moment where I’ll panic and consider going to college, but I can’t rationalize putting myself in debt and taking a large chunk of time to complete a program to *maybe* get a job and *probably* still not be satisfied in the end.

    Sometimes I’m scared that I’m plodding along the self-employed motorway waiting for a dream business idea/situation to come together. But it hasn’t scared me quite enough to stop trying.

  • José

    Dear Kat,

    Love your story!


  • https://twitter.com/adelebarlow Adele

    Rob – you know that I totally agree – you know how I feel about the information architecture around careers advice being so broken. An ideal education system (which I don’t think is going to eventuate any time soon) would encourage students to be flexible, autonomous, proactive. If people want jobs with autonomy, purpose, mastery – that starts with accepting the responsibility for creating that job.

    The information is all around us – industry blogs, events, networks – ALL THE INFO we need, is THERE in a way that it wasn’t before. Yet WE need to be the curators – this world demands that we design, create, lead our own careers. We’re never told how difficult it’s going to be, financially – we’re not shown how to bootstrap our own dream careers (e.g. keep a part-time job to pay the bills, while building the dream job).

    Like you say – a lot of people are “waiting for the dream job listing that is never going to come.” Yet even when people start creating a career on their own terms – dreams are subject to evolve, failure is an absolutely critical step along the path to success, and sometimes along the way to your original dream, you can find an even better one. It’s not about figuring out ‘what we want’ – it’s about designing an environment where we increase our likelihood on stumbling upon what we enjoy.

    We think we know what we want, but we never actually know what it’s going to feel like, until we receive it. A lot of people think they want to be entrepreneurs, but actually – they’re looking for a creative outlet or for more control over their own lives. A lot of people think they want to quit their jobs, but actually – they’re looking for something to believe in, a different manager or team, or a different purpose. While “the established structures of mainstream careers and education (which most of us rely on to guide us through our lives) are not geared towards the kinds of exciting, dynamic and progressive careers that many of us aspire to” – changing internal behaviour mechanisms still matters too (learning self-awareness, being open to feedback, and staying positive in the face of adversity). We can’t change those external structures overnight, but we can have much more control over those internal mechanisms.

  • Team Esc

    Awesome response. Thanks Adele!

    The book is really taking shape with some of these threads.

    I think one of the central themes is the fact that people are looking for a guidebook where there is none.

    Your points around stumbling / creating the right environment / joining the dots in reverse are spot on.

    Love Kat’s story too – don’t stop pushing. I would imagine you’re streets ahead of where most 21-year-olds are.

    Thanks guys…


  • http://londoniknow.wordpress.com Lola

    It would be interesting to see if recruiting industry catches up with demand for downshifting and industry transfers, so far I could not find a recruiting agency that could help me make a transfer to another industry, probably because what you are saying is right- there is no pull anymore, it’s all about the push. But even if it’s the case, still, doing what you are doing- promoting alternative job posts is necessary and very valuable. Do you think you could add recruiting services to this, as well as career coaching by escapees? You would be the first in market and you might as well discover that actually pull works for some (not everyone wants radical shifts), it’s just that infrastructure was not there.

  • http://www.diasporandarlings.com Vimbai

    You’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head with regard on your thoughts on the realities of careers.

    The points you made that particularly resonate with me are the following:

    1. The Trappings of the Corporate Lifestyle: The lure of cushy jobs with a gazillion number of benefits is enough to entice most people to stay in said-jobs. Heck, I was one of those people not so long ago…until the reality that the job I was performing was slowly killing me (excuse the hypeboles) and causing my hair to fall out (literally). Do I miss the gazillion benefits? That I do. Do I miss feeling suicidal and purposeless in the mornings? Never.

    2. The Education System: There is something ridiculously warped and short-sighted about educational systems that require children (yes, children) as young as 15 to have decided on their life’s vocation and purpose. It’s absolutely ludicrous.

    So are we surprised that by 25 and onwards, most of us are going through some sort of quarter-life crisis on realising that the profession/path we chose at 15 is no longer applicable or an option for us.

    The Solution: Who really knows? What is certain is the traditional system and way of things no longer applies. We are a generation of free thinkers, so far out of the box…we don’t even know where we left it :-) The world was prepare itself for the surprises that lie ahead from the great achievers in this world.

    Keep up the great work gents, you are articulating well the thoughts and challenges of the times!

  • Toby

    Big subject. I throw my ramblings at a couple of points…
    First “It’s not about figuring out ‘what we want’ – it’s about designing an environment where we increase our likelihood on stumbling upon what we enjoy.” (Adele, to use a geek term, QFT!)
    The vast majority of industries are focused entirely on making money and rely on a constant stream of ‘job fulfillers’ who don’t know there is another way yet.
    It’s hard to explore other avenues without a wealth of funding, although I use the phrase a bit loosely, money gives you options… I met a guy at an escape meet up who had trod the city treadmill and had a fund to escape (fair play) but if those with money already saved are scared of failure. what about those without?
    I have nothing except a mortgage and the fear of failure stems less from ego than practicality. How do we find the balance between exploring different avenues (finding an environment to enjoy, I’d hope) and paying the bills? It’s a hard ask for most and a very alien route compared to *secure funds for living = happy*!
    Also touching on the edge of the same subject twice, I think Adele summed it up beautifully with her earlier comment. That path has to cross with like minded individuals to multiply enthusiasm and commitment to finding difference and change. The environment breeds the idea. Just as reading Escape inspires a desire to change, mixing with people with similar ideas encourages change.
    I have realised that I actually enjoy interacting with people and applying my brain to problems, with a side order of writing (verbose explanations) . Hopefully finding like-minded people will open up some idea ‘paths’!
    I’ve troubled you all too much tonight, have fun catching up on the Olympics!

    • https://twitter.com/adelebarlow Adele

      Toby – sorry for the mega delayed response, I just saw your reply. Thanks for kind words :) I totally know what you mean about balancing practicalities – “I have nothing except a mortgage and the fear of failure stems less from ego than practicality. How do we find the balance between exploring different avenues (finding an environment to enjoy, I’d hope) and paying the bills?” This is something I’m trying to tackle as we design a new round of Escape events. I’m keen to help members find a ‘minimum viable escape’ – not sure if you’re familiar with lean startup terminology, but basically helping people figure out which side projects they can realistically pursue alongside their current employment, using Esc to support in their transition (which can take days, weeks, months, or years! Or even decades.) Anyway – just wanted to apologise again for delayed response. Hopefully see you at Esc event some time.