How To Escape The Cubicle

So, you feel totally trapped in your cubicle? You wish you could leave your job but you can’t see a way out? You hate the life you’ve worked so hard to create for yourself?

Yep, I’ve been there.

photo from Bev Goodwin

photo Bev Goodwin

I’ve written before about how much I hated my job at Deloitte when I was a grad.

In a nutshell,

  • I hated the work (sifting through meaningless piles of paper),
  • I hated the people I worked with and for (I had one mentor back then, and he encouraged me to leave. They just weren’t my people),
  • I couldn’t see any work I wanted to be doing – so the future yawned before me). And
  • I hated the feeling of being trapped in a cubicle, pretending to be someone I wasn’t.

That then rippled out, so I drank far too much, was really unhappy, did a few stupid things and really didn’t look after myself. I spent a LOT of days at work with a hangover, trying not to be rude to the partners.

Let’s just say it was no surprise to them when I resigned.

Is any of that familiar?

So now you’re wondering how to escape the cubicle and live a life you love. Well, my advice isn’t necessarily to quit and go travelling the world, as I know that’s not always an option.

So instead, let’s break down the feelings I had when I worked in that corporate giant and see how I might have solved them…

I felt trapped

I was stuck in the cubicle feeling miserable, and didn’t feel like I’d ever get out of there.

So what action could I take? Get to the gym. Move my body each lunchtime, breaking up the day, showing myself that I could, in fat, get out of the cubicle and look after myself. Get out for a walk around the block every single afternoon. With the sky above, and if there’s grass below, you’re not trapped in the cubicle, even if just for those five minutes.

How can you get yourself out of the cubicle for a moment every day, so you don’t feel quite so trapped? Comment below and help inspire your fellow cubicle-dwellers!

I hated the people

I spent all day with people that I didn’t like. Then I took the free company drinks and spent the evenings with them as well.

But I love my friends, and the effort made to spend time with them was always worth it. So on the weekends, evening and lunches I really tried to seek them out. I also did find one mentor who I liked and trusted in that job, who was oftentimes my saviour in awkward conversations with my boss*.

How can you get more time with your friends in your days and weeks? A quick email to connect, a phone call, dinner after work, getting them to join in the afternoon walk if they work nearby? Is there anyone at work that you respect, who might be able to become your mentor?

I hated the work

I spent a lot of time sifting through papers that bored me. But there was one manager who I thought was alright, and he’d give me more interesting work when I asked for it. So I made sure to ask.

I was also required to do some study for the first couple of years, and performed extremely well on the first set of exams. That then opened up more doors for me in terms of receiving better work opportunities, as when I hadn’t cared about the work I hadn’t delivered, so then I hadn’t been given interesting work.

Are you showing up when and doing the work? Are you making your best attempt? Are you proud of the effort you’re putting in? How can you change that, even on one piece of work, to start creating the ripples that spread to completely change the work?

I didn’t look after myself

I drank every weekend night, often with the very work colleagues that I didn’t particularly like. Then I had much less energy to do fun things with my friends on the weekend (not to mention the impact drinking has on your body and your mind). This one I didn’t manage to solve while I was still there, but now I say to you;

Are you living in a way that let’s you take full advantage of the time that you do have to yourself? Are you spending leisure time with people you love? Do your actions support the way you want to feel and live?

I felt like I couldn’t be myself

I didn’t think I’d get any respect if I acted like myself and laughed too much. I felt totally stifled in the office clothes I had to wear and didn’t like spending money on them. I didn’t realise back then that

1. People like to be around people who are authentically themselves.

You know those people with an easy, quiet confidence? They’re happy with themselves so you’re free to be and do and say what you like, and none of it affects them (and it means you are safe to be you, as they are them).

Be like that. Be authentically you and your people will come out of the woodwork

2. People generally like to be around people who are having fun!

If you laugh, they get to laugh. If you are free with your smiles and humour, they get to be too. And people like to work with people they like even more than people who can do the jo well. So if you are yourself, and liked, and fun to work with, then the better opportunities will start to come to you

How can you be more yourself in your cubicle? What parts of yourself do you try to suppress in the workplace? Might those traits actually be something people would gravitate towards?

I know not everyone can – or wants to – jump ship and head off into the unknown. But there are lots of ways to escape the misery of the cubicle.

Be yourself, do your best work every day, find a mentor, take control of your diary and make time for yourself every single day.

Let me know in the comments below, how do you stop feeling trapped in the cubicle? Have you tried any of my suggestions? I’d love to know how they worked!

Xx Sam

*an example: boss ‘what does number 8 mean?’ me: ‘uuuhhhh’, mentor: ‘what does that even mean? You can’t ask a question like that, it doesn’t even make sense!’ me (in my head) ‘so it wasn’t just me, then’


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10 Comments on How To Escape The Cubicle

  1. Anne Omland
    September 11, 2014 at 5:01 AM (3 years ago)

    Sam, I can SO relate! One of the things that upset me most when I was dying a slow cubicle death was that I spent so much time with the people I didn’t like and then didn’t have the time to talk to, connect with and recharge by talking to those I love. I then felt guilty about never having time for them so I avoided them even further…it was so lonely and so stupid! This is really great advice as per usual 🙂

    • samantha
      September 11, 2014 at 7:55 AM (3 years ago)

      Thanks Anne!
      It’s so true, you spend all your time with people that you don’t like when you live this life!
      You must be so happy to be out of there now 🙂

  2. Beth K .Bedbury
    September 6, 2014 at 7:32 AM (3 years ago)

    It so sucks when you find yourself in that situation. For me I need even more alone time to recharge and balance myself.

    • samantha
      September 9, 2014 at 2:21 AM (3 years ago)

      Ahhh an introvert! I’m the opposite, as an extrovert it was REALLY important for me to hang out with friends and see lots of people.
      So walks and activities on your own would be great for you to do.

  3. Beth
    September 5, 2014 at 1:19 PM (3 years ago)

    Ah, I can so relate to this post! I tried some similar techniques – taking walks during my lunch hour or meeting a friend for lunch, etc. It all helped, but in the end, I just had to get out of there. I finally quit and am enjoying my first week of freedom.

    • samantha
      September 9, 2014 at 2:19 AM (3 years ago)

      Fantastic – your first week of FREEDOM!!!!!
      I had to leave in the end, too, but there’s always a period of transition, and it’s worth making the time there as good as you possibly can while you are there.
      Meeting friends for lunch is always good, gives you a chance to feel more like yourself before you head back in for the afternoon.

  4. Sabrina Bolin
    September 5, 2014 at 9:02 AM (3 years ago)

    I love the way you focus on what IS within our control within any given moment rather than what ISN’T!

    Truly, the mind is a powerful thing, and when we shift our attention to how we can highlight all the parts of our life that ARE working, then those “not-so-desirable” parts don’t seem so important after all :).

    • samantha
      September 5, 2014 at 9:19 AM (3 years ago)

      I totally agree Sabrina! We can’t control everything, and lots of people feel unable to leave their job for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean we need to detest every moment there!

  5. Stacey
    September 5, 2014 at 4:23 AM (3 years ago)

    Wow, have I been in all of those unfortunate spots before with my mental health during a time I felt trapped at a job that I simply despised…all of it…the people, the work, the future, and simply feeling trapped. Your tips are fabulous, and what always worked for me, is finding small breaks to escape through some fresh air or breathing space outside. Even though I work by myself now, and without any staff, I still find the fresh air helps when I am feeling frustrated or unmotivated. Great post!

    • samantha
      September 5, 2014 at 9:20 AM (3 years ago)

      I’m totally the same Stacey – I think moving your body is ALWAYS a good idea, so getting outside for a walk, doing some sun salutations on the living room floor, whatever, it’s all a good idea.


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