When my work equipment arrived for a job I was starting this past June I wasn’t excited at all. Over the years many delivers just like this one had come to my house. Each including instructions for setting up, logging in and beginning my journey with a new company. Usually I would open these boxes with anticipation and some excitement about the new adventure. Arranging my home office to fit the equipment and getting ready for my first day was not only preparation but aligned with my own desire to appear prompt and ready for my new role. This time though I felt nothing. It was just another box containing a laptop and instructions.
It was not the new job’s fault necessarily. In fact it was a good job that paid well, had unlimited vacation time and a moderately decent health insurance package. It was a work from home position with some travel and I had been able to negotiate down on the travel percentage to approximately 25-30%. My manager seemed like a good guy too, older and kind from all that I could tell at this point. All good characteristics of a job these days and yet I felt no excitement, anticipation or even hope at beginning this new job. Instead I had thoughts like wondering how long this one would last and would I be able to take time off in September for a trip I had booked already. Nothing at all about the work, my job title as Director of something or responsibilities I would be assuming.
To this point I had changed jobs every few years for a variety of reasons just like everyone does these days. My longest stint at one was 10 years and my shortest 3 months with the average seeming like 2 to 5 years at most of them. spanning the last 30 or so years. Like most people too, I had moved around for pay increases that I wasn’t getting at my current job, ability to move up in career position and what presumably would be better in some form or another. I had even been sought out a couple times which had felt good for being recognized for my work accomplishment.
This latest move though was the result of an abusive manager and toxic work environment that impacted my health. It also gave me a raise that I was told my prior employer couldn’t give me because I was already at the top of my pay scale for the past two years, despite my stellar performance and willingness to always take on more. I should have been relieved and glad of this change and I was for the release of toxicity and thankful for the salary increase I rightly deserved but the thought of starting over again. It wasn’t fun anymore. I wasn’t looking forward to it no matter what motions I went through to make it seem like this great.
Looking at my career path I have indeed accomplished a great deal in terms of on paper successes and financial gains but inside I was tired. Those accomplishments didn’t mean much and probably wouldn’t be remembered by anyone but me in the long run. What did it all matter anyway when every couple years you had to move on to something else in order to get raises or get out of some situation that wasn’t healthy? Why bother seeking corporate growth beyond what it provided financially? The motivation of feeling good about what I was doing and how I was helping the company grow and prosper rather wasn’t a big enough reason anymore either. It wasn’t satisfying or fulfilling. It was just work. A job. Business.
Talking to a few of my peers who are also within my age range they said the same. One told me he couldn’t stand corporate work anymore and was just biding his time until retirement as fast as he could get there. He had recently gone into consulting within his industry just to seek a way to reduce the stress of it all from standard corporate jobs. Another was taking early retirement and preferred to work for minimum wage stocking grocery shelves in the middle of the night than to work another day in the corporate space. Even younger peers and people who reported to me as their manager said given the choice they too wouldn’t work like this. I wasn’t alone then. We all felt it and were living with the ramifications of harshness that exists inside the corporate space to make our paychecks come through. Regardless of industry too, we were all saying it.
It was more than exhaustion, though certainly burnout was real and many of us were suffering from it. I know I was and had been trying to relax in the week’s leading up to starting this new job. This was something bigger though that made chasing career growth, success for a company and the rewards of it not appealing or motivating. It was causing many of us to just do what we needed to get the salary and benefits we needed to live while we counted down the days until we could retire or something else came along. We were all just surviving, clinging on where we could. There was no caring left about any of goals the company said were important or what was promised to us as it had become a matter of just taking care of ourselves amongst the political bullshit that exists in all corporations.
My career path was not so special or unique I realized. My friends were saying the same thing and many of them had come up the corporate ladder with me over the years and all of us were now just looking for space to lay low and ride it out. Title didn’t matter, we just sought a place that offered some stability, continuity and a relatively non-asshole boss who would occasionally have our backs when it mattered. There were several reasons that caused this shift from once being highly motivated, goal crushing employers that included abuse in the workplace, promises of pay and promotions not kept, constant layoffs and restructuring, unreasonable demands and deadlines, and more. Working in corporate America is not easy and sooner or later it seems to catch up with all of us in this way of just wanting out of it so we can truly live and feel fulfillment doing something meaningful elsewhere.
With the push from many companies to return to in office working this has added to the fed up feeling we all are experiencing. People are just truly fed up with it all! The culture speak of companies is nothing but wall coverings of expensively written words that in reality are the farthest thing from how most of us feel in our jobs every day. I honestly am looking forward to a revolution of sorts that forces corporations to look at themselves through the eyes of their employees honestly. It all makes so much sense now why manufacturing employees raised up against their employers and formed unions back in the day. Today, looking at the way people are forced to make their livelihood with a patchwork of job changes in response to the brutality of working for them makes me wonder if we won’t see unions regain popularity. The real price paid has been to our health and families as much as it has been to our financial security as employees.
So many hardships occurred during the pandemic but I think there were also many opportunities created specifically in the form of how we work. People have begun to be more honest about how they feel about their careers and what it has done to their health, mental well-being, families and life. It has also made us acutely aware of how much we lack the work-life balance being controlled by our jobs, held tightly within our careers and limited by our employers. The result of being forced back into offices may be the icing on the cake where we push back and take some of those controls. I hope anyway. Many Human Resource analysts and financial forecasts think so too.
I doubt very seriously the job I started in June will be my last before I retire. I dare say there will be more boxes delivered to my home containing a laptop and instructions before I’m able to declare I’m done with corporate work. This honestly is why I started my small business a few years ago. I was searching for an outlet of relief from the burden my career started to feel like I was carrying. The inability to create sustainability, continuity and fulfillment through my job became possible through the small business I started. People can say all the bad and negative things they want about selling products on the side but compared to corporate work it is actually fun and what work should feel like more often.
It is the lack of options we belief are not possible that keep us stuck in this situation we find ourselves in with corporate work. We have to make a living and things like health insurance and paid time off are positive aspects of working. Yet there comes a point when we realize our health and mental well-being matter too. It is that realization that causes so many of us to stop pursuing corporate ladder growth and instead use our jobs as a means to an end benefiting ourselves as much as possible. It has led to the job hopping every few years to eke out that living too. Our focus shifts to what is really important in life and how best to protect and preserve it against the stresses caused by our jobs. We do what we must to get by and do crazy things like start selling products and looking for opportunities to live outside the corporate cubicle.
It is not so crazy after all though is it? I prefer to think of it as creating my own path against the rocky road I have been traveling in my career. If that speaks to you too, let’s connect and see if this may be a relief for you too. Chat with me at dragonspitapothecary.com