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Empty promises

Glasses on Newspaper

It is nearing the end of December. In a few hours, it will be Christmas and then 2012 will be all but over.

As we all know, endings usually lead to new beginnings, but for so many people, the end of the working year will just be followed by the beginning of the next working year (after the obligatory “breakaway” from it all).

For me, 2013 will be much more than that. I have a deadline. In just over two months, my work contract expires, and I have no intention of renewing it.

I don’t have a new job or career lined up. In fact, I intend to be free from work forever after February 2013.

I’ve been with the same company for six years now. Initially, the honeymoon was great. It was great for a really long time, actually. But, like all relationships coming to an end, we have both  (myself and my company) been in denial about the relationship’s waning status for quite some time now.  And, like so many relationships gone bad, we were both just sticking it out, despite mutual knowledge that it’s not working for either of us any more. It’s familiar, even though it’s horrible. It’s comfortable, in a stuck-in-a-groove sort of way…

I budged first…

My unhappiness with my work situation, the absurd and archaic notions that the people “in charge” stick to no matter what, the corporate red tape – all of it culminated in my purchasing a copy of South Africa’s most popular career classified paper.

After going through basically every category in the entire paper (except for Medical), I found that I had only highlighted about four or five jobs. I felt no excitement towards these jobs. Then, the realisation slowly crept in that I didn’t highlight these particular jobs because they were ones that I thought sounded really exciting. They weren’t careers that I could envision throwing myself at passionately and doing till the day I retire, despite promises of being “exciting” and “fulfilling” career paths ideal for “self-starters” and people who are “passionate” about x, y and z…

They were merely the ones that required a skill set that I more or less possessed, but more importantly, actually paid enough for me to survive on. Please take note: not jobs that would make me rich… Ones that I could actually just survive on.

For months now, I’ve been working at a job where, whilst being quite a bit of money for the required output, doesn’t pay me enough to even cover basic living expenses. As a result, I’ve been going deeper and deeper into debt each month.

Kind of defeats the purpose of having a job… I’ve been trying from my side to come up with suggestions to make my situation work better. Over the years, I’ve written a number of letters to people in “positions of power” highlighting suggestions and ideas. Yet every time, I basically get sidelined with a “that’s just not how we do things” or an even more infuriating “I agree with you, but it’s out of my hands”, which essentially puts me back on square one each time. There is never any willingness from the company’s side to compromise, but so many times I have heard that I should keep “an open mind” when offers, counter-offers and suggestions are made.

And every single time, absolutely nothing changes. The promises never come to any sort of fruition. They are simply the carrots at the end of the sticks to keep us donkeys in our place.

My disdain for the corporate world grows by the day. The exploitation we put up with simply to scrape by; the meagre scraps people have to pick up, often at tremendous cost to their personal well-being and home life, is simply unacceptable.

The epiphany that I had after this experience, was that it was really quite pointless for me to search the pages of career classifieds; there’s no use in me signing up to career placement websites… There is no predefined, boxed-and-labelled “career” out there that is going to suit my needs and is going to provide the meaning in my life that I so desperately yearn for.

The jobs advertised in these mediums are mundane, easily defined, cut-and-dried roles that are required simply to keep the machine running. Flywheels, cogs, springs, gears and levers all have different roles in the machine, but not once would any of them think to improve, to move up, to advance. Because they can’t. Because they need to perform their one specific task to keep the machine running. Because they’re cogs.

But we are humans, not cogs. That is something that the industrial revolution worked really hard to make us forget (and was so efficient in achieving in some respects, that people who run companies actually really seem to believe that we are cogs and have no choices). If you think you have no choices, if you are taught never to question authority, you will stay complacent and perform your role. You will be easy to control (and the people “in charge” almost always have serious control issues).

“Work” as we know it, is not, as the saying goes, “love made visible”. It is the death blow to human creativity, experience and self-actualisation. I want work to be love made visible. I want to have a full, rich human experience.

The only way for me to find such a life, is to create it for myself.

This is simultaneously an enormously exciting, yet absolutely terrifying conclusion. Because, finally fully realising that I can do whatever I want to do with my life; that it’s all up to me, is profoundly liberating. But… Realising that it’s all up to me… Not so easy to process…

The night of my realisation, I dug out a book I had bought over two years ago (when I was clearly already in the grip of the stifling, draining effect of the corporate world) but had never read, and started reading it. The book is “Screw Work, Let’s Play” by John Williams. I read the first chapter that night and it already changed my life. I will undoubtedly be referring to this book a lot on this blog. It is my “life guide” at this point.

My realisation, in conjunction with the material that I then started reading, made it crystal clear to me that I was living a cycle of very unhealthy “addiction” and insecurity that I urgently need to break free from. A raise in pay won’t do the trick – it will merely delay the next crisis. More responsibility and more challenging tasks at work won’t do the trick – it will only raise my stress levels. Doing the same job from home might do the trick… but then, why do something from home that bores me and provides me with no intrinsic meaning, if I could rather do something exciting, stimulating and meaningful from home?

No more commuting, in charge of my own time, in charge of my own destiny and not depending on the whims of “top-level” management who are firmly stuck in primitive business logic. What’s not to love?

The bottom line is: when you’re working every day of the week, commuting up to three hours a day, only to have to take extra credit at the bank at the end of the month so you can survive, it can’t really get much worse… Even if you do give up the “security” and pursue your own dreams.

And I’ve always believed, deep down inside, that if you do something you love, you will become good at it. When you become good at it, people will notice. Your passion will inspire others and you will be successful. Success is not about money. (Actually, nothing is really about money – another long discussion.)

Therefore, I am off to start 2013 with an entirely new perspective on life and “work”. When my contract runs out, I’ll be on my own. But I can’t wait. I can’t wait to be responsible myself for decisions affecting my life, rather than depending on someone else with absolutely no insight into my being, to make them for me.

Even though the plan is extremely hazy at this point, it’s distilling and becoming clearer every day (this blog being just the first step).

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