Whenever anyone leaves a corporate job by choice there’s normally a whip round and they’re given a card and some sort of leaving gift.
After the presentation has been made, and the person’s boss has mumbled some platitudes about what a great worker they were, it is the turn of the deserter to make a speech saying goodbye.
On such occasions, presumably feeling it rude to say ‘thanks losers, I’m out of here’, the leaver will normally utter a few words that culminate with something like ‘the best thing about working here is the people.’
(In other words, the work was boring and repetitive, soul destroying and meaningless, but my fellow human beings made it just a little more bearable to have to ship up here every day).
I would both agree and profoundly disagree with this.
On the one hand, without a doubt, I have made some great friends through my time in the corporate world. There are of course some supremely intelligent, gifted and kind people who just happen to have had the misfortune to have wound up with corporate jobs.
That just leaves the other 99% . . .
I’m joking, of course. Most people who work in offices are not inherently bad people any more than any other group you might care to mention. Yes, you get a few sociopaths—and as we know, these people tend to rise quickly to senior management positions—but in general corporate life presents one with a microcosm of wider society. Meaning that its inhabitants are neither good nor bad, they just are.
That doesn’t mean they are easy or pleasant to work with though. For one thing, having been out of it for a little while, I am more convinced than ever that the corporate structure itself corrupts people rather in the way that a totalitarian state will, making informants, snitches, and mini-despots out of otherwise normal people.
These people likely wouldn’t behave like this in a different environment. At home they are doubtless entirely different. Their friends and relatives probably wouldn’t recognise them from the way they act at work.
But that doesn’t help the poor unfortunate sucker who has to put up with them.
You see corporate work is so pressured now, so bloodthirsty, as formerly stable and profitable industries are thrown down the toilet by the effects of the internet and the growing threat of automation, plus macro-economic factors like the falling pound, that is is less a Darwinian survival of the fittest scenario and more a mandingo fight to the death.
Under such stress even the sanest and most reasonable people can begin to lose their humanity and start acting in ways they would previously have deemed unacceptable.
Perhaps even worse, though, is the crushing conformity that rules every corporate environment these days.
I’m not talking about political correctness here, by the way, although that is without a doubt a major part of the modern office.
No, I mean the way that everyone is expected to think the same way and to broadly live the same kinds of lives.
Having worked in offices in London for over a decade I can report that the main topics of conversation remain football, what you did at the weekend, how smashed you got the other night, childcare, property prices and weddings.
And given that my interest in each of these subjects hovers somewhere below zero, I can tell you that much of the last ten years was pretty dull.
So it’s not the office politics that I object to so much—you have to be tough to work in the corporate world, yes, but then you also have to be tough to be self-employed. There is no free lunch, and while I was certainly on the wrong side of corporate politics on several occasions I always fought back, and often had a lot of fun doing so.
What really irks me about corporate life—and the reason I will never return to it, can never return to it—is the dismal conformity that is forced on each and every employee. For an introvert like me who needs his own space it is especially challenging.
Because in the modern ‘caring, sharing’ world of work where there is a ‘team night out’ or someone’s birthday / engagement / leaving / starting drinks to attend almost every day of the week there really is little escape.
And the conversation (or ‘banter’) at these events is always exactly the same. Instead of art, The X-Factor is discussed. Instead of poetry, it’s reality TV. Instead of philosophy, it’s the difficulties of commuting in from suburbia. Instead of literature, it’s football. If you deviate from the script, even a little bit, then you might be tolerated, but you are also looked at with some suspicion. You are an oddball, an outsider, someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else.
In the end it became intolerable for me to inhabit this world of faux-blokey chuminess that masks the increasing desperation and fear that its inhabitants experience. I could not allow my personality to be diminished and boxed-off any more. There was no option for me but to get out, or inevitably at some point I would have imploded.
I have always despised groupthink and I have always hated being one of the crowd. This is a blessing and a curse and I’m not saying it makes me better than anyone else, it’s just a fact. But the sad truth is that when you look around a corporate workplace, most of the people there don’t want to be there. Most of them are only there because they have children to bring up and a mortgage to pay.
I have neither of those things (I used to have a mortgage but I got rid of it), and so, as a former colleague of mine used to tell me, why the hell would I work that kind of job?
Of course you don’t have to go and work in an office because you have a kid. There are a myriad of other ways to make money. But as soon as you do put a ring on it and start popping out babies your pool of options shrinks. And a couple of years ago, as a bachelor without a family, it became apparent to me that mine was pretty broad. It was only a matter of time before I struck out on my own. I should have done it a lot sooner.
The most important thing to me, above getting girls or money or a fancy place to live or anything else, is freedom. And the ultimate freedom that any of us can achieve is the freedom to do what we want with our time. I have no problem at all with hard work—and in fact I’m working harder now than I ever did in my corporate days—but I want it to be on my own terms. I want it to be meaningful.
I got there. I’m working hard, but I’m working for myself. It feels meaningful. And most importantly, I’m not pretending to be someone else anymore. And that is more important to me than anything else you could mention.
That is a freedom I will fight to the death to preserve.
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