Soloing: Realizing Your Life's Ambition

Soloing: Realizing Your Life's Ambition

by Harriet Rubin

NOOK Book(eBook)

View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062039170
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/26/2010
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Harriet Rubin, founder of Doubleday's Currency imprint, is a flourishing soloist. She works with leading CEOs to define and deepen their visionary objectives. A contributing editor to Fast Company, she is also the author of the bestseller The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women, She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Your work was your life.Now let your life be your work.

"Solo" for me conjures up images of adventurers who never hyperventilate: Charles Lindbergh, who risked his life flying across the Atlantic in a tin plane of the strength tuna is packed in today. Or Reinhold Messner, called the Michael Jordan of alpinists--accurate if Jordan faced death climbing Everest alone and without oxygen. Or Billie Holiday, wanting "to get all the feeling, eat all the good foods, experience every experience, and sing," so she could revise the sound of the blues for all who came after her. When I walked out of the organization I'd served for ten years-determined not to manage or lead any living creature, not even a dog on a leash--I didn't think I had anything in common with those brave souls. I wasn't exactly walking off a cliff into some frightful new dimension. But in fact, I was. It was a dangerous, cold, and very lonely walk off a cliff called Security. It was worth the trip. In Solo Land, work and freedom are synonyms, not opposites. When I got over the fear, I felt something of the thrill that lured those great adventurers to the brink: the sheer aliveness of believing in myself and what I was doing enough to do it solo.

I'm the last person in the world who ever should have had the guts or the need to leave the corporation. I grew up dirt-poor, so I was eternally grateful for my paycheck. I loved organizational life. I celebrated it by starting a business books company at Doubleday in 1989. 1 was not only a citizen of the corporate world, I promoted its ideas by publishing such best-selling authors as Peter Senge, Andy Grove, FaithPopcorn, and Don Peppers. I was a success. I didn't have to leave. Most days I didn't want to leave. I liked the oatmeal in the company cafeteria.

And yet, the routine was beginning to get to me. Though I was publisher of my own imprint, I had authority over nothing. Not even paper stock. A good book went to press and came out looking like "beaver lick"--if a beaver licked it, the paper would dissolve--because "quality" systems demanded the cheapest possible paper that would still hold ink. This was the profit machine I had to keep feeding, at the expense of my own reputation. I began to wonder, why?

I had no answer until a Buddhist monk came to see me. We were talking about a book he might write, when he suddenly asked: "What do you do when you reach the top of a forty-foot pole?" When I worked in publishing, I had a ready answer for everything. "You climb back down and look for another pole," I said. Silence. "I mean you relax and enjoy the view. No, wait. You think about how you got into that position in the first place." The monk was packing up his interest in me. I've got it!" I shouted. "You dial 911." He changed the conversation. I realized I'd been saying "you" as if he'd asked the question about some third party. The monk was asking about me. I'd reached the top of the pole of publishing, something he saw more clearly than 1.

There was something worse than topping-out: Forty feet wasn't a height to be at all proud of.

Some riddles demand doing, not thinking, to solve them. By the time I left Doubleday three years after this visit, I knew that at the top of the pole, you keep on climbing without a ladder, without a prop. Climbing with a ladder is hard. Climbing without a ladder is harder. It's exhilarating. It's soloing.

I left because I wanted more and I thought I might actually have a shot at getting it. I left because I was tired of telling bosses and clients, "You're right," when I knew they were wrong. I left because I got to be so good at serving, I thought: "Why not serve me?" So I walked out. SOLO. I was free for the first time in, well, MY whole life! I had no appointments, no boss, no corporate politics, no pasted-on smile. I came to believe that everything I'd published about managing and leading was a lie. Corporations, for all their vaunted systems of management, weren't exactly turning out great work. That's what I wanted to try my hand at. To do great work, you couldn't be responsible for anyone but you. That was the only way to be honest to yourself, and to test yourself to the core. To do important work, thrilling work, you had to go it alone. Same as an artist.

Soloing is a lot like being an artist. Soloing demands creativity. Self-discipline. Self-leadership. An ability to see the world in a grain of sand, because your span of control shrinks, but your power to influence others expands. Most of all, soloing demands courage: the gumption to be opinionated and stand up for your own visions, This last is not as easy as it sounds.

One image beckoned me like an oasis: the image of Picasso grinding up lapis and sapphires to make the haunting blue paint of his famous blue period. He stretched his own canvases. He locked himself in a basement workroom to create pictures of his own imagination. He left for an absinthe when he wanted and came back when the visions in his mind drove him to make...

Table of Contents

Preface ix
Your Work Was Your Life. Now Let Your Life Be Your Work
Making the Break That Makes You Whole
What to Do with the Best of Your Life: A Test
Out of the Chorus Line and into the Spotlight
Brand-New Your
Bend the World to Fit the Palm of Your Hand
Doing Work That Matters
Sell Your Soul to the Buddha You Meet on the Road
Night Time
So Alone
F Dover
When Thoreau Left the Lights on at Walden Pond
Great Work Finds You
Serving the Higher Voice
Time Is Your Only Real Asset
Love Like You've Never Been Hurt, Dance Like Nobody's Watching, and Work Like You Don't Need the Money
Security Measures
How Not to Work for Your Uncle
Surprise and Delight
What I Learned Without Adult Supervision
Resources and More 332(7)
Acknowledgments 339

What People are Saying About This

John Naisbitt

The number of Americans leaving the corporate world to go it alone is swelling to a huge wave. This wise and supremely instructive book is all you will need to make the transition.
— (John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends)

Gerard R. Roche

Where was this book when I needed it? A practical, pragmatic plan for the wanna-be "Soloist" in all of us. Everyone from masquerading managers to meditating monks can move towards the self-actualization we all seek. Chopra move here comes Rubin. Not for everyone...only those ready to grow.
— (Gerard R. Roche, Chairman, Heidrick & Struggles)

Peter Senge

.soloing is less about being alone than it is about approaching one's life as if you were creating it, as an ongoing composition.
— (Peter Senge, MIT, author of The Fifth Discipline)

Faith Popcorn

Harriet Rubin has clicked into the trend we call Cashing Out: 'The essence of the American dream today: no boss, no red tape--working the hours you want, working with the clients you choose.' If you have a dream so strong that the thought of not doing it makes you really unhappy, then have the courage of your convictions: Read this book.
— (Faith Popcorn, Faith Popcorn's Brain Reserve)


Business editor Amy Lambo recently spoke to Harriet Rubin about her provocative new Work Soloing: Realizing Your Life's Ambition.  You wrote a terrific e-nnouncement essay for us back in March for Women's History Month. The final line read: "What's the Jain chord in going solo? I haven't found it yet, but as I write, I'm looking." Now that it's November, and you're book is complete. Have you found that Jain chord?

Harriet Rubin:  I mentioned [in that previous essay] that the Jains believed a reader could test the soul of a book by whether the beginning and end words formed a taut linkage, a summary of the whole book, and literally, a string that when you touched it you would make the sound of the whole book boom out loud and clear. By the Jains' test, Soloing is a success. I start out my journey "solo," all alone, trying to make my way without the influence of a big company. By the end of the book, I have become a soloist. I have reached my goal. The theme of the book is how to go from one definition of solo -- "all alone" -- to the higher definition: "being complete in oneself." I achieved that step, and the reader can feel confident of doing the same.

B&N:  I read Soloing right after I finished Michael Lewis's latest book The New New Thing. So much that Lewis described about [Netscape founder] Jim Clark reminded me of the soloists whom you describe. Particularly in this passage:

"The difference with Clark is that he continued to believe in endless possibilities of change, even after he'd experienced its limitations. He was the least happy optimist there ever was. No matter how well Jim Clark did for himself, it was always two in the morning in his heart and he was lying awake."
Does being a soloist to the extreme that Jim Clark is, mean that there is a constant "tortured artist" pain in your life?

HR:  Sure, there's always pain in uprooting yourself from an organization or a profession you've come of age inside of. What characterizes soloists is a sort of restless energy. In this economy, everything is new every day. A soloist puts herself in a situation where she can reap the benefits of what's new. She doesn't need a hierarchy to sign off on every decision. She is the smallest, most nimblest creation in the economic ecology. The reason I left (the publisher) Doubleday was this: I became the person who had the answers, and I hated it at a certain point because I wasn't learning anything. As a soloist, I'm learning something new every day. And people are paying me to do it.

B&N:  While reading SOLOING, I thought of how unfortunate it is that your book's message isn't traditionally taught to college students before they enter the work world.

HR:  I never thought about it that way before, but college teaches us dependency. Then we graduate to dependence on yet another institution. It's like going from one perfect pouch to another, to put it in kind of kangaroo terms. Some of us don't get out of institutions until we die.

B&N:  The text of your new book is interesting, stylistically, because you interweave your own voice with an array of other voices offering some message that applies to the solo experience. (Cleopatra and Jeff Katzenberg are referenced on the same page -- both illustrating classic soloist tactics.) Of all those soloists whom you reference but don't know personally, which of them would you most want to meet and talk to about the solo experience?

HR:  Of course Thoreau. Although I have a feeling he would have been sort of ornery [laughs], and it only would have been a five-minute conversation. Just to spend a day with him and follow him around and understand how somebody could so divorce himself from the security of every institution to the point of growing his own beans and having no contact with anyone. That kind of soloing takes a lot of courage because the loneliness can be one of the most difficult hurdles to face.

B&N:  You make a very clear distinction between brand and identity. Explain that distinction and why it's so important for soloists.

HR:  The simplest way to think about it is to think of a brand as a promise. What promises do you make to the world? My promise to my customers is to help them scout new business ideas and to show them the future as I have a chance to see it. One's identity is the face on that brand. It's everything that you can see -- your stationery, your logo, if you have one -- it's who you are. In the big organization days, an identity never changed. In the new world, especially in the solo world, your identity changes depending upon what you want to do. One day you're a consultant. Another day you wake up with a gig as a speaker because you've got something important to say. Your brand has to be stable, but your identity can and should keep changing. I know soloists who won't print business cards and who won't use a logo because they invent themselves every day.

B&N:  Do you think everyone should be a soloist?

HR:  Everyone who wants to be should have the opportunity. Some people really cherish the security of community and the workplace. There's a real change going on in organizations. The difference between inside and outside isn't so strong anymore. Soloists will be able to go back to a corporation on a long-term project, not as employees but as stubborn individualists. There are enough people who are happy to be where they are. But a whole lot of people are desperate to test themselves, to follow a dream or a passion. So why shouldn't they have a choice and know how to take the chance.

B&N:  Could you expand upon the following passage from Soloing: "I used to divide my work into two categories: What you had to sell your soul to do. What you had to do to spare your soul. You say in the Solo world, unlike the corporate world, Sell it. Flaunt it. Hand it out. You can sell your soul and have it too."

HR:  When I was a book editor, so many people asked me for so many things, and I kept having to give and give and give, and I felt totally dry. Now I find that when I'm working for myself it doesn't matter how many people ask me for things. The more I give away, the more I learn and the more I get back. It's a different kind of economic transfer -- I'm not just giving away because I'm learning. Every time I give somebody an idea, they're teaching me something, too. Ultimately the buck stops with me. I have the responsibility and get all the returns. I may feel exhausted, but I never feel empty.

B&N:  You begin one chapter by describing a conversation in which someone asks you, "What will you do when soloing gets old?" How do you respond to nay sayers who would say things like "This is a fad. This entrepreneurial movement is just the latest business trend"?

HR:  It might be a phase, yet it might be a phase that everybody had to go through. Thoreau went back to work in his father's pencil factory, and he never again wrote anything as important as Walden. That says to me that maybe soloing was the best two years of his life. But the great thing about being a soloist is, even if you go back to an organization, you never go back to it as an employee. You've seen the other side. They can never own you. And that's a big, big difference. They're no longer the representatives of a faceless company. I published 20 books a year, now I have four clients a year, and that's enough. So every interaction with these clients is more intense, personal, and gratifying. The whole context is more intimate, so the gratitude and the satisfaction are much higher. And also as a soloist, I can choose what I really want. And what I care about.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Soloing: Realizing Your Life's Ambition 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I came across this book when searching for Harriet Rubin's 'Princessa.' True to her style, she was able to weave together her personal experience with some truly universal concepts that sound like common sense. However, the lessons and advice she gives is the sort of common sense you dream up sometimes and dismiss, because you think such thoughts are selfish or foolish or unrealistic. That someone of her caliber is having some of those same secret revelations, though, and sharing them, provides just enough inspiration and confidence for a reader to start planning a realistic escape from the corporate cubicle.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My wife and I have enjoyed reading Ms. Rubin's story aloud to each other the past few evenings. As you can read below, this book isn't for everyone. BUT! If you have the dream/mission of one day being solo, this book is a great reality check. She details all the frustrations/self-deceptions/illusions one must overcome to succeed as a solo. This alone was worth the price of the book. In fact, many may choose NOT to solo as a result of her advice, and it may be that this is where SOLOING will contribute most. The reviews below miss the point of her exercise. What on earth do enjoying the perks of jet-setting and creative sabbaticals have to do with succeeding as a solo? And so what if you have 100,000 in resources in the bank. Going solo is terrifying no matter what socio-economic strata you come from and no matter how big your rolodex is. The dissatisfaction registered by other reviewers speak volumes about them but little about this illuminating work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Be sure you know what kind of book Soloing is before you read it. If you are looking for a business book with lots of how-to advice on how to go from being an employee to having your own one-person organization, you will probably be disappointed in this book. On the other hand, if you are interested in what life is like for the most successful business editor of all time as she strikes out on her own as an author, personality and consultant, you are in for a wonderful treat. Harriet Rubin has an effective, spare writing style that makes for easy reading, making the pleasure even greater. The best part of this book is when she describes the many psychological stalls that kept her from making this move sooner, and delay her progress after she makes the move. If you enjoy learning more about a person's psychology in making a change than practical advice on what you should do, this is a superb book and one you will enjoy. If you dislike psychological perspective, avoid this book at any cost. Ms. Rubin's advice is quite good on several fronts. She clearly understands the techniques of networking at a high level, and if you will be doing the same, you will find her advice to be excellent. In fact, if you are about to follow her exact career path, leaving publishing for a writing, etc. career, the book is probably a good best practice study for you. Having established my own consulting firm 22 years ago after having been a corporate executive, I was attracted to the book because Peter Drucker had recommended Ms. Rubin to me as a good thinker. I also read her book, The Princessa, and found her perspective be somewhat unusual and interesting in both cases. As her experience expands as a problem-solver and her skills grow for analysis, her future books will become even more valuable. I look forward to reading them as they are published. Finally, if you just like an entertaining story of how we can all be more than we are and achieving that can bring meaning and joy, I recommend this book as well.