The Escape Manifesto – Discussion #7: What do you wish you had known 5 years ago?

We are writing a book.

It’s called The Escape Manifesto. We are on deadline for October 15th.

We have an engaged group of 200 volunteers helping us with their perspectives and advice in the comments on these posts.

Our last book post was Discussion #6: Are our aspirations evolving faster than the realities of our careers? Thank you for some great comments.

This week we’d like to ask a very straightforward question:

What do you wish you’d known 5 years ago?

  • What lessons have you learnt (perhaps the hard way) about life, work, and careers so far?
  • What information or advice would have saved you a lot of time or effort over the course of your career so far?
  • What mistakes have you made along the way? What successes have you achieved and what made them possible?
  • Have you had any moments of truth where suddenly your career, your direction, your life made sense?!

Advice to your younger self

Last month I gave the following talk to a bunch of 18 year olds.

What’s your take?

All comments and ideas gratefully received.

Have a great weekend and thank you in advance!

Rob & the rest of the Escape Team.


  • http://pg1mondoloco.tumblr.com Paulo

    I wish I’d known five years ago that it wasn’t me who was the weirdo!
    Just because I was never motivated by having possessions like everybody else, just because I would rather try and renovate my house badly than pay someone to come and be creative while I sat and watched, just because I would rather dig the garden and have vegetables growing than pay somebody to put slabs down so I don’t have to cut the grass anymore, just because I would rather have everyone round and cook a massive feast than order a Chinese takeaway, just because I’d rather go for a walk in the hills than sit in the pub. Just because I’d rather start a community football club and join a league than play five a side with my mates. Just because I didn’t want a driving license. Just because I didn’t like going to the cinema or playing poker because I find them anti social. Just because every time I have an idea that could make money it is always followed by “to give to charity” and just because I always disagree with everything anybody ever says that is a regurgitation of what the press, media and society tell them just to try and provoke them into individual thought. At 33 I now know that I am not the weirdo, it’s the other 99.995% percent of people. I’m alive, that’s all. It’s not that I never knew this five years ago, just wasn’t ready to make the break. Quit my job two weeks ago. Leaving at Christmas. Read my blog, it’s where I’m at now! Paulo xx

  • K. Lee

    I wish I knew that there wasn’t any such thing as a safe harbor. I stayed in the corporate world far longer than I should because it was ‘safe’, I had the supposed security of a paycheck, health benefits, etc.

    In the past 5 years I have been laid off 3 times! Before this all happened, my mistake was thinking that giving up traditional jobs and going back overseas or going solo as a freelancer or starting my own company was risky and not safe. Turns out that the real risk was holding to the traditional path and not following my own goals and passions.

  • http://www.freshairbtn.co.uk/ Karen Macmillan

    The most important thing is to understand that it’s your life, your choices. That said, don’t expect to know everything at once. Be curious, experiment, consciously push yourself outside your comfort zone. Almost all the barriers are of your own making. Understand what you really need (esp re money). Be careful who you ask for advice – people are only able to give advice from where they are. Find role models.

  • http://www.skyhooked.co.uk Dom

    I live in a tourist town and used to get so bent out of shape about the tourists coming in and clogging up the roads and crowding the waves. Then I went to the North Shore of Hawaii where waves and space are scarce resources in today’s crowded surfing world.

    I saw how the true locals were very proud to share and show what they had and the basic level of respect they had for toursists was humbling.

    After that I went home to a very crowded surf at the spot at the end of my road. Visitors were bobbing up and down and crowding the place out but I thought to myself how privileged am I to live in a place where other people want to visit during their time off. I felt proud to paddle out that day and be a nice guy so that the visiting folk would think ‘hey, we went to Newquay to surf and the people that live there are really cool’. I smiled at everyone that made eye contact, spoke to anyone that looked twice, what a lot of fun I had. Why didn’t I do this earlier?

    I started saying hello to people walking to the water when I was leaving. Many of them would then ask me about any hazards they should watch out for. I am always happy to tell people what I know now.

    The net result of this is I have a good time and others around me have a good time and I reckon that when people see you being a good ambassador they give you a bit more space and you get more waves, lol.

    But yes overall I wish I knew then that it’s ok to have a bit of faith in the good people coming to visit your town, show them respect and it comes back ten fold.

  • Adele

    What do you wish you’d known 5 years ago? That it takes years to figure it out – good things take time! ‘You weren’t meant to have a boss’ – http://www.paulgraham.com/boss.html.
    “Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” (Viktor E. Frankl)

    What lessons have you learnt (perhaps the hard way) about life, work, and careers so far? “Making decisions too early, trying to plan life too carefully, can close doors rather than keep them open. Any time you make a plan, you do it with imperfect information; the further in advance you make that plan, the less information you have. You never know how you will feel or what choices you might face. Take life one step at a time and don’t make decisions before you have to.” (Sheryl Sandberg)

    What information or advice would have saved you a lot of time or effort over the course of your career so far? “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.” (Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Startup of You)

  • Leruska

    I wish I knew that the easiest way is not always the best option! And if you really want something, something more interesting, it shouldn’t matter how hard it is. If you want it, you should try.

  • http://amrithaapunjabi.com/blog/ Amrithaa

    5 years ago, I’d wish I’d known, that being smart, I would eventually earn money, and have a comfortable life. I wish I’d known that the real challenge was to find out what kind of work makes me happy. I wish I’d known that being passionate about something, anything is the key to success, so the key to being happy in life is finding out what you’re passionate about.

  • Katya Szabados

    I wish I’d been more daring in my decisions! I wish I’d known that it only gets more difficult to make big, daring leaps as you get older….in my early 20’s I went back and forth on whether I should do Peace Corps, or something like it…I always thought there would be more time but it only gets harder to do something like that (ie pays little, requires you to leave “home” for an extended period of time, and doesn’t guarantee a job when you arrive home!) as you get older and have more commitments, debts and responsibilities.

  • Helena

    When I was growing up, I was always told that I would change. That when I became an adult I would want to make money and have a secure job and climb the ladder. I am 25 and my values haven’t changed, in fact, they have only grown stronger. I wish someone had told me that my interests as a kid (as philanthropic and idealistic as they were) would not go away and that passion is stronger than most paychecks. It’s also never too late to do what you want :)

  • http://www.aweinclusive.com Michaela

    Five years ago, I wish that I would have known how easy and detrimental it is to push off your dreams while you plan for your future. If I could, I would tell my past self to just start. It doesn’t have to be a huge step, but at least turn in the right direction. Create a vision board and your actions should reflect a desire to make it happen.

  • http://www.smalllifeslowlife.com Jennifer St. Germain

    I wish I’d know that I didn’t need to be more — or to do more or to look better or to make more money. I worked for a mega-corporation making gobs of money and regularly imagined taking my own life. It took moving to Japan to teach English for me to get that there is immense happiness in living a small, slow life. I felt my anxiety release and fly away as I learned to live without a car, to take long walks, to be alone, and to live on half of my income and pay off debt with the rest.

    Returning to Los Angeles was hard, but now I feel like I “get” something that I never did before. So when I found myself miserable back in the corporate world a few months ago, I quit and got a part time job working for an amazing company, but only making half as much. Sometimes money is tight, but I’ve never been better. I live in a small studio with no kitchen. I have no big commute, nor do I have the newest iPhone. But I’m happy — so happy.

    When in doubt, I simplify now rather than muscle through it. Works like a charm. Wish I’d known before!

  • Ryan Klinefelter

    I wish that I’d known that a MBA doesn’t mean you will be able to transition to a new career. It helps, but other skills help as much or more to transition from a pre-MBA career to a dream job. Skills as helpful as an MBA are: speaking a second language, your genuine personal and professional network, your polished communication skills, and finally your sheer hard-work . There isn’t a formula for a career; there isn’t a path to follow; there isn’t a degree that will open up doors; there is not a short-cut to career happiness.

  • http://www.mydestinationunknown.com/ Kellie

    I wish I’d known that being surrounded by people in a corporate job who measured productivity by the quantity of the input rather than the quality of the output, didn’t meant that had to be MY destiny.

    If I knew then that I would now be planning my second career break, I would have taken better care of my health and energy levels and avoided the stress than I mistook for adrenalin.

    I wish I knew 5 years ago what I recognise now – that my corporate role didn’t define who I was and was simply an opportunity to fund a future career break that, instead of being a detour, would become the main path.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

  • Nick P

    I wish I knew that we all won’t be so lucky to live long and healthy lives, and that maybe the best time to be happy is now, because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

  • Victoria D

    I wish I realized five years ago that there isn’t one perfect idea. I wanted to write. I wanted to sew. I wanted to make collages. I wanted to run a theatre. I wanted to garden. I wanted to develop a lifestyle based on who I was so that my life would become what I was passionate about, but I couldn’t figure out what I loved to do the best. Which one would be most secure, would provide the best livlihood, which one was the one I couldn’t live without… so I did a little bit of everything and waited to have something rise to the surface and be THE thing that gave meaning to my life. Finally, I just picked one and then it took me a year to pick the perfect name… and finally I just picked one… I wish I had known five years ago that doing is a critical part of dreaming – passion is found in the doing. In your imagination, all ideas can seem equally creative and exciting… it is in the experiencing of it where the passion builds…. and doing something is much better than wasting time waiting for the perfect escape… baby steps… one foot in front of the other… and down the road you turn around and find that while your life isn’t perfect, it is so much better than waiting.

  • Jen D

    Dear my younger self,

    5 years from now you will be at a major crossroads in your life. You will have achieved your goals by following your passion. When you get there you will realise that it is time for a change, a new challenge. Faced with a lot of adversity you will not be afraid of taking risks, you live life to the fullest, wearing down a new path. It will take a lot of hard work and you will give your heart and your soul. However, you will give too much and burn yourself out. After months of contemplation you will have some hard decisions to make, but you don’t rush it. You’ve learned.

    Take my advice, keep smiling and laughing. Learn from others and share your journey. Use your passion and energy wisely. Get a stake in what you grew and see it flourish. If you move on too fast you will miss out on benefiting from all of your hard work. Balance work and life. Don’t give too much of yourself away to others and invest as much time and energy into yourself as you give away. Follow your dreams and keep an open mind and heart.

    Go get em kiddo

  • Toby

    I wish I had known that when the effort of trying to keep the environment you work in moving forward outweighs the distance it actually goes… it’s time to move on.
    I wish I had known that I wasn’t actually angry at my employers for reaching the limit of their thinking, but angry at myself for not doing anything about it.
    I wish I knew it was OK to change direction.
    I wish I knew that failure happens to everyone and you are allowed to do it more than once.
    I wish I knew that it matters less what others think and more what you think.
    I wish I knew that all of that helps you change.

  • Toby

    And should give you hope…
    Sorry missed that from the bottom…

  • http://www.lifeaftermaternityleave.com Nicola

    I wish I had known that none of it really matters. 5 years ago I was working 70 hour weeks for a large multi-national…… 3 years ago I went on maternity leave after having my first child and I have never looked back. I now have a 3 year old and a 7 month old and look after them full time.

    When I resigned at the end of my maternity leave I went back to tie up a few loose ends and discovered that the majority of the projects that I had worked so hard on had not moved forward AT ALL in the 12 months that I was away. All of that work, all of that effort, all of those hours… for nothing.

    I am now determined to help other women see that there are options available to them after having children and that a return to corporate life is not necessarily the only answer so I have set up http://www.lifeaftermaternityleave.com

    To me it makes no sense to put so much effort and love into bringing a child into the world to then go back to work to pay somebody else to spend the time having all of the experiences and enjoying the child.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying women need to give up their ambitions or their only contribution to the world should be raising children. On the contrary. It’s about having the information and making the right choices for them…. not blindly returning to a corporate role because they think it is the only option available to them.

    You can adjust your lifestyle to meet your financial means but you only get one shot at helping your kids to grow up.

  • Lola

    Working hard does not get you anywhere. Have a career development plan and treat it as priority. Invest time in passions. Start projects but more importantly finish them. Do as much stuff as possible before you have kids. Leave when you realize you are bored.