Escaping the Matrix
Not to sound like a complete stick it to-the-man, hippie-dippie type, but corporate America is a personal pain point for me. When I think of my own “hero’s journey” (though far from being a hero), the days of challenge that led to personal transformation were the days wasted under the fluorescent lights and stark grey walls of an office, or what I now like to call a matrix, holding cell or waiting room.
There are people who thrive within structure, who love their jobs and are motivated by climbing the corporate ladder, managing a team of people or watching a brand and their wallet grow, and I don’t mean to discount that. But for the 53 percent of Americans who are unhappy at work*, corporate jobs can be a distraction from what might be a little more difficult but a lot more fulfilling. An easy distraction too. A decent paycheck. Benefits. Maslow’s own stability, safety and security.
I personally worked for marketing agencies and struggled with the concept of fantastical levels and titles. People are put down and belittled. They cry and hide beneath their desks wishing things away while brilliant, young creative minds are scoffed at because whatever they’re suggesting doesn’t “align with” the status quo, and common sense is commonly ignored. Judgement and criticism are consistent undertones of the day-to-day, and innovation is hindered because of bureaucratic BS.
When did human growth become about being smarter than the next? When did human growth become about profit and sales? I think human growth should come from within, for only the individual knows what is right for them. A “good” vs “bad” idea is completely subjective without all of rules, processes and procedures.
Numbers fall and people are blamed, but no one stops to ask, “Do people really need this? Are we doing anything for the greater good?”
And still, we schlep ourselves onto buses and haul our bodies beneath the stark fluorescent light and say it’s for something.
A new dress.
A good school.
When did all of this become more important than living? And is living like this really living at all?
In our hunt for money, who are we hurting?
For me, getting people to buy more stuff wasn’t a good enough reason to wake up in the morning. The amount of stress that went into the creation of a promotional store sign that would soon be thrown away with tomorrow’s trash became more and more preposterous with every passing minute. So I took a leap and left a stable job. Here are 3 things I learned from the outside looking in.
1. Once you lose a stable income, benefits, a justification to your means, is when you realize how much you don’t really need them. While I was working, I was always looking for outward experiences to make me happy. Once I left, I realized I didn’t need those things anymore. The coffees, the snacks, the happy hours, the big trips and paychecks spent on a pair of pants. I don’t really need anything anymore beyond the satiation needed for survival.
2. Humans aren’t meant to work at the capacity modern day expects and it’s physically draining at the most cellular level.
It took me months after leaving the corporate world to get over pangs of stress and anxiety, feelings like I wasn’t busy enough or that I was forgetting something. In a job, you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you do a good job and you finish your work quickly, you get more responsibility and more work. Good employees are rewarded with raises and promotions, but those are far and few between. You’re in a constant stream of stress. I think as an adult, with only one shot at this life, you should be able to make your own schedule. If you’re done with your to-do list because you are a focused and motivated worker, you should be able to go home. Instead, you’re stuck taking on more and more work for other people.
I used to wake up thinking, maybe even hoping, I was sick. And there is something inherently wrong with that. I never get sick anymore. In fact, Mondays have gone from being my least favorite day to one of my favorite days.
I still have moments where I feel like I need to be stressed out all the time to be doing something right because it is so deeply ingrained in me. I am still learning to let myself enjoy life without all the pressure. Just the other day, I couldn’t focus, so instead of sitting in front of a screen, I got up and went to the beach and had a great day instead. Why do we tell ourselves these stories? To work for the sake of working. Sometimes you’ll never know what your body needs until you give in to it.
Some of my best ideas have come during moments of rest and solitude. Working at a slower pace has made me more productive, creative and emotionally sound.
3. Self improvement happens a lot faster when you are alone. No distractions, no noise. Only you.
Colleagues can be bullies, like improvement comes from a place of “tough love.” People say you need “thick skin”. I like not needing thick skin anymore. I prefer to keep it thin, sensitive and ever-evolving.
Gratitude becomes a motivation and failure becomes fun. Because the only challenge you have to face is yourself.
How to move forward
I know not everyone shares my opinion….
Parents trying to make a dent in their kids’ college tuition.
The old “How would the world run if people just did what they wanted?”
All you can do is reflect. Is what you’re doing fulfilling? Are you making the world a better place to be? I’m not saying you have to do something that directly impacts the environment, but are you happy? Because that alone is going to impact the world you and everyone around you is living in.
You know if your heart’s not really in it. Honor those feelings. That is your wise soul telling you it’s time for a change, and it is worth it at any cost.
It’s normal to feel uncertain or unclear on where to go from here.
Grab a pen and a piece of paper and fill in this prompt:
“If I had _____ I would ______.”
If I had money, I would quit. If I had time, I would paint. Write down every damn thing you can think of and then rank them in priority. What is holding you back from those top priorities? Are they fear-based? If so, it's time to take one step forward. The fear is never going to go away, but the hardest part is just starting.
Taking the leap is scary. It’s scary as hell. But what’s scarier is to me is waking up in dread every morning until you wake up one day to realize that it’s too late to try. Living almost every day in this short life under a fluorescent light surrounded by people asking you for things or telling you that you’re not good enough. Looking back knowing that you could have done it or at least wish you would have tried. Because really, what is the worst that can happen?
Live for you. Be contagious. The world will smile.
*Forbes 2018: 10 Shocking Workplace Stats You Need To Know