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     book review

Kiss Off Corporate America: A Young Professional's Guide to Independence
By Lisa Kivirist

Reviewed by Warren Sloat

As you read Kiss Off Corporate America, you may in places wonder whether the book is a self-employment guide or a psychological self-help manual. The author, Lisa Kivirist, seems to have intended this, for her point is that people who leave corporate jobs for solo careers (or who want to) need to be prepared for far-reaching psychological consequences.

A hybrid of What Color Is Your Parachute? and The Road Less Traveled, Kivirist's book is written for post-boomers and GenXers who find themselves eager to quit their corporate jobs. Kivirist assumes that her readers have long practiced clever subterfuges for sneaking out early on Friday afternoons, but that they haven't yet learned how to bust out of corporate life for good, even when the time has clearly come. Kiss Off is meant to inspire action, in part by telling of Kivirist's own escape.

"My decision to leave corporate America crept up on me slowly," she writes. "It wasn't some lightning bolt of revelation that vividly popped into my brain one morning. Looking back, there were lots of subtle signs along the way: I started to see myself in the eyes of those older than I at the ad agency where I worked. I saw too many people at the office who had settled... I saw my future in them. Their dreams, their true selves, had been lost somewhere between the car loan and the cellular phone. I didn't like what I was seeing in my crystal ball..."

You might feel the same way, but not know what to do about it. Kivirist offers specific advice: if you really want to take the plunge, set a date for quitting. Actually write it down on your calendar. Then begin to make it real by taking a course that you will need for your new career, or by purchasing a piece of equipment that you will need in your solo business. These little acts of preparation prime you psychologically.

If you think that this kind of advice is mere psychobabble, that the only important problems of self-employment are those of finding financing and marketing a product or a service -- well, Lisa Kivirist makes a good case that you're wrong. Kissing off the corporate life will bring new psychological difficulties to the fore.

Take this scenario:

One morning you find yourself in your bathrobe, at home, surfing the Internet in the same idle state of mind that used to come over you when you were working for somebody else. You're Web-surfing because you can. You're following your own agenda, one of the privileges of self-employment. Only now you're working for yourself, and it's not your employer's time you're wasting -- it's your own, and you've got to confront your procrastination.

Maybe it's fear. You have one risky phone call to make and you're stalling. Kivirist suggests you make it the first order of the day to get past it.

Perhaps you've become paralyzed by your pursuit of perfection, hesitant to begin a project until everything has been completely researched, flawlessly formulated, and totally organized. You have anxieties about starting off on the wrong foot. How can you get beyond your fear? By allowing yourself to make mistakes, says Kivirist. The wrong approach often suggests the right one, but inaction leads nowhere.

Or maybe, despite your preference for independence, you really need direction. Your former boss, although truculent at times, also made helpful suggestions -- what approach to take, what to do first, how to break a project into parts. Now that you don't have a boss, though, you've got to become one, a good one. Don't despair, says Kivirist, who devotes an entire chapter to the contention that you belong to an especially resourceful generation, at ease with technological change and free of the blinders of company loyalty. Your lapses aren't generational character flaws (but you might want to shed the bathrobe and dress for work).

Other circumstances the newly self-employed might encounter are:

  • inability (for awhile) to keep up with salaried friends in their recreational pursuits

  • the day you're working a side-job at Starbucks to make the rent money when one of your former co-workers at the ad agency orders a latte from you

  • dark, dreary days when you keep asking yourself, "What have I done?" and "If I whine, can I get my old job back?"

Indeed, Kivirist does not try to prepare anybody for life as a mogul, and she gives minimal advice on such basics as getting and keeping clients. Her task is helping readers to define "life from a broader, self-created perspective," on making work life and personal life fit together.

She illustrates this point in a discussion of time management. Know yourself, she says, know your most productive schedule, your best sleeping time, your biorhythms. Obey them. Working your own hours sounds good, but requires self-discipline. To see that the day does not slip away, establish a routine: get up at the same time every day; break for meals regularly; establish working hours and stick to them.

Kivirist also advocates what she calls "mindfeed," life and job enrichment through classroom learning, travel, volunteer work, and apprenticeships -- personally satisfying activities that also advance your career. But be careful, she warns: backpacking around the world and taking courses in subjects you like, but which have no bearing on your work, can foster the illusion that you don't have work to do.

An advocate of putting things in writing, she advises that you write yourself "a non-business plan," which is a working document for your eyes only. This document should serve as an open-ended account of your plans for your personal and business life and how to fulfill them together. It ought to deal not just with business ideas but with an inventory of your resources -- the quality of your relationships with former employers, for example, and your sharpest skills, whether research, number-crunching, or schmoozing. Finally, the plan ought to include personal goals such as regular exercise and home ownership. How and where will they fit in?

Kivirist worries, perhaps more than she should, about "relationships" -- the disapproval of parents who don't accept your career path, or friends who don't understand how hard you have to work for your "lifestyle," and here the advice wears thin and lacks substance. In the main, however, Kiss Off Corporate America is a valuable guide for those who find the psychology of self-employment as hard to manage as the business of it.

Return to Books main page | Buy this book

September 23, 1999
Edited by Eric Gershon
Production by Keith Gendel

We'd love to hear your comments about this article!

Warren Sloat is a freelance writer and author on business subjects who lives in Santa Fe, NM. If you like, we'd be happy to put you in touch with him, or with any of the other IPs named in this article.

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