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The New Escapologist: An Interview with Robert Wringham

October 25, 2010

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Today I’m really pleased to publish an interview with Robert Wringham, editor of inspiring magazine The New Escapologist.

Rob recently quit his job as a librarian to embark on a new life of freedom and creativity at the head of his own one-man ‘cottage industry.’

Rob describes The New Escapologist as ‘a magazine for white-collar functionaries with escape on the brain.’  It offers exit strategies from demeaning day jobs.  Each issue is a compendium of funny and practical essays on the subject of escape, through the lenses of economics, travel, psychology, philosophy and the arts.  It promotes freedom, anarchy and the absurd. Rob also maintains a regularly updated companion blog and likes to run Escapological parties and events whenever he can.

Last week, I was lucky enough to catch up with Rob and ask him about the magazine, strategies for escaping the 9 to 5 and life as an escapologist.  His answers were genuinely insightful and make for some very interesting reading.

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Andrew: Imagine I’m the average reader of Rainy Day Wonder, why would I want to become an escapologist?

Rob: Given that you’re reading this blog or have found it by Googling “bored at work” or something, you are probably one already.  The only real difference between being an Escapologist and someone who simply hates their job is that the escapologist has begun to take deliberate measures toward actually changing things.  I think most people who hate their job don’t realise that escape is an option.

To answer your question more directly, you want to become an Escapologist because you’re unsatisfied by the conventional ways of working.  You wonder things like “given that the Internet exists, why do I have to commute to the office everyday?” and “why can’t I stay in bed until 10am if I want to?”  You want to stop being unhappy and demeaned and start fashioning the tools with which you can break out.

Andrew: You recently quit your job in order to strike out on your own. Why did you decide that working for other people wasn’t your thing?

Rob: Working for other people wasn’t exactly my problem.  As a freelancer, I still work for other people except I call them ‘clients’ rather than ‘employers’.  When I finally got sick of it all and struck out, it was because of things like an unproductive working environment, the early rises, the commute (I only had a twenty-minutes walk to my office but it was still too much for me), annoying managers who would change their mind about things after my team had put all the work in.

There was also the fact that I never felt like I was achieving anything of worth.  I think, as a librarian, I had pretty lofty ideas about public service that never came to fruition because nobody was really on my side: the managers were stupid and my colleagues were jaded.  It was just too much of a struggle, so I quit.  There’s a big stigma attached to being a quitter, but in nature we have to decide between fight or flight: it shouldn’t be seen as shameful to walk away from an unwinnable fight.

Those were the initial rumbles of dissatisfaction, but once I started reading the standard career advice books and the blogs and the personal finance materials, I began to learn that employment is pragmatism.  Employment keeps the wolf from the door for a little while but if you want to break the cycle of work-spend-work-spend, you have to take matters into your own hands.  Escape and start thinking about things like cottage industry, thrift and making money from things you either enjoy physically or respect intellectually.

Andrew: In the latest issue of New Escapologist you talk a lot about the idea of ‘Bad Faith’ – can you explain what this means?

Rob: This is tied up with the problem of personal resistance.  Resistance is the thing – the internal, negative voice – that prevents you from achieving anything of worth.  It’s the force that makes you quit just before the finish line or reach for the bag of potato chips when you’re trying to lose weight.  Bad Faith is a bit like that but it’s a little bit more complicated and has roots in Jean-Paul Sartre.  Basically, Bad Faith is to convince yourself that the reality of a situation is something else.  For example, an office employee might know in her heart of hearts that she’s wasting her youth and betraying her dreams for no reason, but she tells herself that it’s okay because she enjoys the social interaction or she’s somehow bettering herself by being there or simply because ‘this is what people do’.  She denies that there are other options and convinces herself – perhaps not even consciously – that there is no other option, when in fact there are many.

Andrew: How has living a minimalist lifestyle allowed you to focus on creating multiple income sources and escaping the rat race?

Rob: Minimalism is a big one and I love it, though I recognise that lots of people find my dedication to minimalism a little extreme.  Perhaps my view of the values of minimalism is tainted somewhat by the pleasure I personally take in the minimalist aesthetic. I still advocate the minimalist lifestyle though and the reasons are simple:

  • by consuming less, you don’t have to work so hard at paying for it all.
  • by reducing formerly-fixed overheads (big house, coffee consumption, mobile phone contract), you can retire from the rat race more quickly. Check out something called the Latte Factor if you get chance.
  • by consuming less, you are doing the environment a favour.  The Earth’s resources are finite and shouldn’t be dicked around with.  I find the idea of a Bart Simpson table lamp somewhat sickening.
  • by owning less, you increase your personal mobility. It is difficult to escape to another town or another country if you’re burdened by twelve grandfather clocks and a video collection.
  • by owning less, you have less information to process in a given day. Your productivity and general effectiveness will increase.
  • by purging (if you have lots of stuff), you can make money by selling it all off.  In business, this is called liquidation. Note that this is not a way of ‘making money’ since you own the objects already: you’re just converting them into a more useful form, like melting useless snow into drinkable water.
  • by losing low-priority stuff from the attic or the basement, you experience an offloading of psychological baggage in that you no longer have to keep that stuff in mind.

A note about multiple income sources: I don’t have a big portfolio of jobs or investments.  I consider myself a one-man cottage industry.  I’m a writer and stand-up comedian.  While it’s true that I diversify my output by running the magazine, writing for other people, doing gigs et cetera, I don’t really consider these things to be separate ‘sources’: they’re just different projects within my personal industry.

Andrew: What is the one action that our readers can take to moving towards quitting the rat race and becoming escapologists themselves?

Rob: If there’s one action, it lies in decision-making.  After wanting to escape and upon recognising its possibility, you have to decide to escape.  The will to freedom is the first and probably most important step.  After that will come the minimalism and the industriousness and the long, luxurious idle mornings.  But first, you have to want it.

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