Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping Cubicle Nation

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I had the great pleasure of working with Carmen Sognonvi few years ago, when she was still a corporate employee working diligently on her side hustle, which at the time was a speaking and consulting business focused on race and racism. She was amazing at what she did, and impressed me with her intelligence, focus and general “get it done”attitude.

The short story is she did quit her job and start her business full-time. The long story is she ended up shifting her focus and building a new business with her husband, Serge Sognonvi. I asked Carmen to share some things she learned on her journey out of the cubicle and into the world of full-time entrepreneurship. Be sure to check out her bio at the end of the article, where you can learn valuable tips from Carmen about building a local business.

Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping From Cubicle Nation

by Carmen Sognonvi

Do you fantasize daily about quitting your job?

Have you devoured every post in Pam’s Side Hustle & Flow Interview Series?

Is your copy of Escape From Cubicle Nation scribbled in, highlighted, and lovingly dog-eared?

As you sit in your cubicle, it may seem as if the hardest part of transitioning from side hustler to full-time business owner is making your escape.

But I’m here to tell you that life after the cubicle isn’t all unicorns and rainbows either.

It’s messy. It’s emotional.

And that’s okay, because you’ll come out of it a stronger person and a better entrepreneur.

Here are a few things you can expect along the way.

1. You will drift apart from old friends

About a year after I left my day job, I met up for dinner with a couple of old co-workers. They still worked at the same job, and at first it was fun for me to catch up on what everyone was up to.

But as the evening progressed, it was clear we weren’t in sync.

All they wanted to talk about was how much they hated their jobs. Though I had been in their shoes not too long ago, I now found it unbearable to listen to them complain about their situation without taking any steps to change it.

And whenever I talked about my business, I could see them stiffen up a bit. I thought they’d be happy for me. But instead they were looking at me like I was a deserter for leaving them behind.

I had always thought of these co-workers as good friends, but that night, it hit me.

Our whole friendship had been based on how much we hated our jobs. And once you took that away, we really didn’t have much in common.

I felt a twinge of pain when I realized that†I was losing my friends.

Now that some time has passed, I have come to understand that my values and priorities were different than they used to be, and not everyone was down with that shift.

Because I changed, my relationships changed too.

The Takeaway: If you find your social circle changing after you leave your day job, don’t resist the shift. As one person leaves, they make room for someone else to come into your life. And that new person will actually support and encourage the new career and life you’re building for yourself.

2. You will second-guess every single decision you make about how you use your time

When our daughter was a few months old, we hired a babysitter a couple days a week so I could start getting back into the work groove.

It sounded good in theory, but what actually happened was that I got nothing done.

Now, feeling down on yourself for being unproductive is bad enough, †but when your lack of productivity is costing you fourteen bucks an hour (the going rate for babysitting), it’s hard to forgive yourself.

On top of that, mommy guilt would set in.

I would think to myself: If I wasn’t going to get any work done, I should have just stayed home with my daughter! Then at least we’d have some quality time together.

I felt like I was falling apart, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck had happened to me?

When I was still at my hedge fund day job, I was a multi-tasking machine. You know that cliche “If you want something done, give it to a busy person?” Well, they were talking about me.

I would go from booking meetings for my boss to doing an interview with NPR, from ordering karate uniforms for our martial arts school to writing a blog post for CNN, from pulling investment research reports for my boss to hosting my own webinar — all in a single day.

So why was it now that I had taken so much off my plate, I was getting so much less done and felt more exhausted than ever before?

Well, eventually I realized that I was productive when I had my day job because my time was so limited. Working under severe time constraints actually made it easier to prioritize.

But now that I had complete control over my time, there were so many choices available to me that it became hard to pick one. What should I work on first? The urgent stuff or the important stuff? Or should I be working at all? Maybe I should be spending more time with my baby and less time in front of the computer?

As for why I was tired when I was doing less than before? Well, it was actually my awesome sister Iris who came up with the answer to that puzzle.

One day, she pointed out to me that being a full-time business owner is totally different from doing it as a side hustle. It may not seem like a big difference, but the psychological burden is much heavier because the stakes are so much higher. Now you have to make it work because you no longer have the safety net of a paycheck to fall back on.

It’s now a couple years later and I won’t pretend that I’m a master at juggling it all, but I am a lot more forgiving of myself on days when I’m not as productive as I’d like to be.

I’ve also realized that one of the key skills successful entrepreneurs have to master is how to allocate resources in the most effective way. And there’s no resource that is scarcer or more valuable than time.

The Takeaway: If you find yourself second-guessing decisions you make about how you spend your day, understand that it’s a critical step in your journey as an entrepreneur. If you can figure out how to best leverage your time, you will have a more successful business.

3. You will (sometimes) miss getting a regular paycheck from a job

For me, one of the hardest things about becoming a full-time business owner has been learning how to manage money.

Losing my day job paycheck was, of course, a major transition.

To be perfectly honest, my husband and I had never been super-disciplined about reigning in personal or business expenses. And because I made such a comfortable living at the hedge fund, it felt as if there was always more money coming in the door.

After I gave up that paycheck, we really had to get our financial act together. Suze Orman would probably still give us a lousy grade if we were on her show’s “How Am I Doing?” segment, but I’m proud of the progress we’ve made so far.

Dealing with a reduction in income was challenging, but what I found even harder was getting used to how complicated money in business is.

When you’re a business owner, it’s pretty much up to you how much money you actually take home.

While you may not be able to control the amount of revenue that comes in the door, you can (apart from the occasional unpleasant surprise) manage the costs in the business. And because of that, there are so many decisions you have to make.

Should you take on the expense of an additional staff member in hopes that they can help grow the business? Or is it better to keep things lean and mean?

Should you keep profits low to minimize the amount of taxes you pay? Or would you be shooting yourself in the foot by doing that because if you ever needed to apply for a loan, you’d look like an underperforming business?

How much money should you take home and how much should you reinvest into the business? Out of the money you do take home, how much should be on payroll and how much should be as a distribution? (That’s if you’re an S-Corp like we are.)

Some days it’s enough to make my head spin!

Every once in awhile I get nostalgic for how much simpler it was to manage money back when I had a job. I knew how much my paycheck was, and that’s what I built my budget around. Simple. Done.

But then I think about how much more control we now have over our financial future and I realize that with greater freedom, comes greater responsibility. Figuring this stuff out is just the price of admission.

The Takeaway: If you find yourself confused by all the different ways you could be handling the money in your business, realize that learning how to manage it will ultimately lead to greater financial freedom.

One final thought: You must learn to embrace “the meantime”

If you find yourself in any of these situations…

  • You’ve lost your old friends but your new friends — the ones who “get” the new you — haven’t shown up yet
  • You spend 8 hours a day doing what seems like work, but you haven’t made a dent in your to-do list and you wonder how you used to be so much more productive
  • Your new business is doing okay, but not enough to match what you used to make at your job, and you have no idea if you’re making the right financial moves

…then congratulations! You’re in what Pam calls “the meantime.”

Some days it’ll seem as if you’re drowning, and it may get bad enough that you question if you should have ever left your job in the first place.

When you find yourself feeling that way, keep this in mind:

“Great, meaningful, deeply significant work happens when you really marinate in the meantime.

It is not a distraction from the creative process, it is the creative process.”

About Carmen

Carmen Sognonvi blogs about local business and local marketing at CarmenSognonvi.com. Together with her husband Serge, she owns Urban Martial Arts, a karate school in Brooklyn, NY. Sign up for email updates from Carmen to get free local business tips.

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42 Responses to “Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping Cubicle Nation”

  1. […] I just wrote a blog post about this very topic for my friend and mentor Pamela Slim’s blog: Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping From Cubicle Nation […]

  2. Shayna says:

    #2 is totally me! I’m self-employed (paid hourly) and I don’t have a babysitter, but I’m constantly thinking “Maybe I *should* be working…” almost all the time. Perhaps I need to establish better boundaries – THIS is work time, and THIS is relax / me / do-whatever-I-want time, and the two shall not mix!

  3. Carmen Sognonvi says:

    Hey Sam, my husband and I are partners in the karate school. He quit his job about 6 months after we opened, but I stuck around in my job longer as a safety net. As for your other question, my answer is… Sure! The more money you can squeeze out before you cut the cord, the better. As long as you don’t burn any bridges. πŸ™‚

  4. Carmen, a fantastic read.

    How are things now with a little more time that has passed?

    I’m thinking of taking the leap, but not sure it’s the right choice. How did you know?

    What if you had to give up a huge salary that was 5X what you made. Would you still do it?

    • Hey Sam, now that a little more time has passed, things are great. I feel like for the first time in my life I’m living life on my own terms, and I can be completely open about everything. (I sense that I will need to make a video about that at some point.)

      As for your salary question, when I left my day job and my speaking/consulting career, I gave up a combined salary that was probably about 3x what I’m making now. And I haven’t regretted it a single day.

      Because the flip side, of course, is that since I’ve gone full-time I’ve been able to help grow the business to heights I never could have achieved while holding down a job. And I have no doubt that I’ll be able to match or surpass my previous salary soon.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks for the insights Carmen! I think I am at a very similar type of situation as you when you quit… side income make 30% of day job income, and the desire to spend more time on the side projects, which should inevitably increase that side income, but lose my day job income!

        I guess a supporting husband helps yeah? Thoughts on trying to get laid off to get severance, deferred comp, and the safety net of unemployment insurance instead?

        Thx,

        Sam

  5. I appreciate you sharing this post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.

  6. Great post. It’s funny: I can relate, and then I can’t. I avoided corporate life until I was 26. By then, it was just too late. (It was an immediate turn off in the way that a person who does not grow up in an abusive family does not typically find themselves romantically involved with one abusive person after another.) Yes, I’ve sacrificed a lot of security in the low-paid pursuits I tried before concluding that self-employment was this culture’s only alternative to making a real living outside of a bureaucracy. However, that’s kind of the hand I was dealt!

  7. Hilary says:

    This is absolutely, exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you so much. I feel so much better πŸ™‚

  8. […] up this morning: Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping Cubicle Nation. I love Pamela Slim’s blog: Escape from Cubicle Nation, because it’s full of so many […]

  9. Khivan says:

    Oh my goodness, way to encapsulate everything my first month of being self-employed was all about.
    I feel like I spent as much time researching productivity models as much as I did actually being “productive”.
    And lets not even get into the money stuff, right now I’m choosing denial/procrastination πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the great post, always nice to know that I’m not alone!

  10. Hi Farnoosh, thanks for your kind words! Isn’t amazing how Pam has a name for everything? πŸ™‚ That’s why she’s the best!

    And yes, I totally feel you on the not wanting to go back to the corporate world thing. When I talked about missing the paycheck, it was more about the simplicity of getting a single sum of money – not all the _fill in the blank with what you like _ that comes along with it! πŸ˜‰

    • Farnoosh says:

      Carmen, I know what you meant πŸ™‚ and logically, I should agree with the sentiment and yet, much as I LOVE money, I just don’t miss my income. Maybe it’s the association with that place that I don’t want to renew in my mind. Here’s hoping that a better single sum of money comes to you through your own means very soon!

  11. […] pure fulfillment, this independence, this self-sustaining business and life on my terms, I had to give up comfort, certainty and cash, the three Cs, for good. Just great, I […]

  12. Farnoosh says:

    Dear Carmen, except for the daughter situation (no kids here), I totally, completely, and 100% can understand how you feel and I did not realize Pam had a name for that – now, I know. I have noticed so many shifts in my own mindset and approach to work and have gone from total excitement to a mini depression and a funk and then total productivity back to a state of overwhelm but I have not missed a paycheck yet even though it was a lucrative one and I would rather _fill in the blank with what you like _ than go back to that corporate job ;))! Thank you so much for sharing your story. So much! There is so much sincerity here. Thank you and I see great days ahead for you.

  13. […] Sognovi writes a fantastic post for Pam Slim’s blog called Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping Cubicle Nation (I can relate to all of […]

  14. Jen Wak says:

    This is my first week of being 100% self-employed, and I’m pretty sure you wrote this blog post just for me. You have no idea how re-assuring it is to know that what I’m going through is completely normal. Last night I was in tears trying to figure out where my day went – it’s a huge adjustment…

    • Hi Jen, I’m so glad you could relate to what I shared about productivity. It’s definitely a transition and it’ll take you some time get into some kind of a groove. But in my experience, as soon as you find that groove, things will change completely and you’ll have to start all over again. LOL! Love the name of your company by the way – Keyboard Athletes. Such a great concept!

  15. Susan says:

    A month into my ‘new freelance life’, having completed my initial planning and now setting out into client building, this post had me nodding in agreement all the way through. Your ‘takeaways’ and thoughts on meantime were really inspirational and a great uplift to the end of a long week.

    • Hi Susan, congrats on your transition into the life of a freelancer! I’m so glad you could relate to this post, and that it helped turn around your week. Hang in there – it may get rocky at times, but it’ll be so worth it.

  16. I have found that the co-worker issue happens whether you move to a side hustle or any old new job.

    • Hi David, I think that friends do drift in and out of our life all the time (including when we leave jobs) without us really noticing. Usually it’s a very slow transition. But when it’s linked to an entry into entrepreneurship, it can definitely accelerate the process.

  17. Hey Laurie, fancy running into you here!

    Everyone, Laurie is an awesome Wordpress developer who’s done lots of work for me with both our Urban Martial Arts website and my own blog at CarmenSognonvi.com.

    Whatever you do, don’t hire her because then you will steal her from me and I will cry.

    (Just kidding – go hire her. Now!)

    But Laurie, I totally agree. As hard as entrepreneurship can feel on some days, it still beats slogging it away in cubicle nation anyday!

  18. Joanna Penn says:

    Thanks Carmen, I have been feeling these things too as I am one month into making my side-hustle a full time career. I was a finance IT consultant for big consulting and multi-nationals and now I’m an author/speaker/entrepreneur.

    One other thing that has happened is a revaluation of my self-esteem and consideration of status which perhaps you have also found to be true. This is interesting as I didn’t think I was concerned with status, I don’t have a car or a fancy house/designer clothes etc. But after I left my job I realized that there is a certain pride in talking about a job that other people value. That coupled with an excellent income affects one’s own self-esteem. Earning potential does have a value in the traditional sense.

    With the move out of a steady day job to being an entrepreneur/writer where no one understands what I do all day and no certain income comes a need to find a new valuation of myself. I am happy and at peace with my decision and really loving my new life, but that doesn’t stop the in-laws or old friends making niggly remarks! It’s definitely a challenging time and I think the day job is an easier option but not one I want to return to!

    Thanks, Joanna

    • Hi Joanna, congratulations on your one month anniversary, first of all! πŸ™‚ And yes I completely get what you are saying about the status/self-esteem piece.

      It’s funny – you are the third person to bring up the issue of disapproving parents/relatives. It makes me want to write a whole other post about that!

      I can relate to how you feel – but for me it also went the other way sometimes.

      For example, I never thought I was very into status symbols when I was at my old job. (Though it was a hedge fund, the dress code was more slovenly tech geek than banker pinstripes).

      After I left, I realized that there were a lot of things I used to feel pressured to know about that I didn’t anymore: like what the hot restaurant or club is, or which fashion designers are big. Even if I wasn’t eating at those places or buying any of those clothes, there was sort of a pressure to be “in the know” to fit into certain conversations.

      But that could also have to do with the line of business I went into and the community we’re in.

      Since we’re a martial arts school, we’re dealing primarily with kids and parents, as opposed to say, corporate clients. And since we’re not in a very ritzy area, the families we deal with aren’t that big on the luxury labels.

      Maybe if I left my job to run my own ad agency in Manhattan, working with Fortune 500 clients, it would be different.

  19. […] Confessions of a Runaway: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About Escaping Cubicle Nation [Escape from Cubicle Nation] I read Pam Slim’s book, Escape from Cubicle Nation, just after […]

  20. Laurie says:

    I’m in *all* of those situations… so it’s kind of a relief to know that while I’m sitting here in the meantime, at least I’m not doing it all wrong.

    But at the end of the day, I’m still way happier in here than I was when I was working in the 9-5 world…

  21. Erin says:

    Great post! I started my business 6 months ago and I’m right in the thick of almost everything you mentioned right now. I am really struggling with the time management piece – it’s exactly as you mentioned – there is so much to do, it’s all up to you to decide what to do, and nobody to delegate it to yet, so it can be incredibly difficult to prioritize and be productive.

    But on the other hand, I love it and would much rather deal with all this stuff than work for someone else again!

    • Hi Erin, I’m so glad you could relate to the time management piece of it!

      When I was at my day job I used to wonder why there was so much literature out there on GTD and productivity. I’d think to myself: is this really so hard for people?

      A year later when I was on my own, I was like: Ohhhhhh I get it now. πŸ˜€

  22. Loved this post. I can definitely relate to “in the meantime.” Sometimes I feel as if I’ve spent too much time marinating, but I also realize my future plans also depend on the experiences and wisdom I’ve accumulated during my “seasoning” time.

  23. Thanks, Carmen and Pam. I think this is so on the mark. Each of us will experience our own blend of surprising challenges in the “meantime,” and Carmen has wonderfully framed how to navigate through the passage. The simple (but not easy) mindset of being open to whatever comes, being honest about the challenges, and patient with them, cultivates a level of self-encouragement that all entrepreneurs need. Well, at least I do πŸ™‚

    • Hi John, thanks for your kind words! The kind of mindset you describe is exactly the one an entrepreneur needs to develop, but as you point out, it’s not always easy to get there.

      I like the way you described it in your post on personal endurance: “persevere without attaching.” It’s the “without attaching” part that’s the hardest, on some days. πŸ™‚

  24. Rob says:

    Wow. This is cool. Some of this resonates strongly for me, partly because I’ve been there and I’m also there.

    Thanks Pam and Carmen for sharing these insights they are deeply reassuring.

    “Leap and the net will appear.”

    • Hi Rob, I’m so glad you’re able to relate to the experiences I shared! I wrote it with that intention – that if others were struggling with similar issues, I wanted them to know they weren’t alone. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  25. Allison says:

    This was a wonderful post! I’m still working on my side hustle, but even with the stability of a regular paycheck I can completely relate the the head-spinning money / re-investment / what to do next issues you bring up. There’s so much to do, so many choices to make, so much to consider! But it’s also exhilarating. It’s really encouraging to know that I’m not alone in wrestling with these issues. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Hi Allison, you totally hit the nail on the heads! It’s simultaneously head-spinning and exhilarating.

      As encouraged as you are to know you’re not alone, I am too. LOL!

      I was totally nervous about submitting this to Pam. In my email to her, I wrote something along the lines of “hopefully this won’t make me sound like a financially irresponsible and unproductive loser.” πŸ˜€

      So I’m breathing a sigh of relief to see that others relate to my struggles.

  26. Martha says:

    I soooooo needed to hear this. Grateful.

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