I LOST MYSELF TO A CORPORATE CAREER

THOUGHT-PROVOKING, WORK & MONEY

The author of this list wishes to remain anonymous, but what I can tell you is that he is in his mid-thirties. And yes he is MALE (gasp).

It was never an intentional choice that Mother of All Lists should be made up of preforming female voices, it’s just panned out that way. So more men please. Especially ones willing to be as frank as this chap. Who lost himself to his career.

  • “I need to find myself again”. It’s ok, I cringed too. What a monumental cliché, right? Well, as with all the best clichés it comes from having been said many, many times and that is because it is a very real thing for many, many people.

  • What I hadn’t previously considered when hearing it was that in order to find one’s self one must have in deed lost one’s self to begin with. The funny thing is I didn’t even know I’d gone anywhere until one day I woke up and realised I was genuinely, completely lost.

  • To give some perspective, I am a thirty-something manoriginally from a small UK town and I now live in the city. But let me start at the beginning.

  • I’ve always been pretty keen to express myself. Drawing, singing, writing, to name but a few ways I’ve sent my persona out into the world. Those who know me may be surprised to discover I actually don’t enjoy being the centre of attention but I do have a need to create something and to share it.

  • As I grew out of childhood and raced through my teens this need to make my identity known to the world worked its way out of my pores and into my wardrobe. Cue the piercings, mohawk, the inevitable ripped jeans. I played in rock bands and moved around my small town with a ragtag crew of artistic misfits. We studied art, listened to loud music, made bad amateur movies and transported ourselves on BMXs. We may have been smalltownboys but we were going to change the world one day with our ideas for a more free, creative world.

  • My persona for many years was fairly ‘punk’ and though the edge would soften as I moved through my twenties, ‘I’ was always there with my strong opinions and ‘vintage shop’ clothes.

  • When I moved away from home and into the city for a three-year party at university, I was not bothered about grades or qualifications. My goals were to join a great band, meet girls and – if I found time – give some more thought to changing the world. It was a time of alcohol, drugs and guitars. There was camaraderie, love and through it all a feeling of freedom and expression. I suspected it would have to change one day and that made me fight all the harder to maintain my non-conformist principles.

  • By the time university came to an end I was in debt. In time I would come to understand the principle of ‘no regrets’ and to understand that the path I’d taken would make me what I am, but at that moment in time I was broke, aimless and falling into depression. I made a few attempts at self-employment but lacked the drive or knowledge to pull them off and eventually I hit rock bottom; my ‘endless’ party had been tons of fun but ultimately left me in tens of thousands of pounds in debt. The party was over.

  • Inevitably, I begun a tour of recruitment agency offices and unbelievably (my self-esteem was at an all-time low) I eventually landed a decent job with good career prospects. I would be working in the world of investments; a world of slick suits, expensive cars and general machismo. With my long hair and earrings I never really expected to get this job – a job that desperation had pointed me towards – but the company director liked a bit of ‘personality’ and thanks to me being reasonably bright and still able to summon some youthful vigour I was offered the job and got off to a strong start.

  • That’s when the most subtle and dangerous deviation began to manifest itself.
  • To begin with my shirt and tie carried my characteristic charity shop flare. But as time passed and I spent more time with straight-laced colleagues I began to feel the need to fit in. I saw the money they were making, the watches they wore, the posh restaurants they could take clients to and I started to get hooked. Thus began my slow, almost imperceptible slide into ‘the corporate world’ which from around the age of 29 saw me not just ‘upgrading’ to a new suit but also covering my tattoos, removing my piercings, then eventually cutting my hair short. It was like my persona was dying a death by a thousand cuts.
  • The craziest thing is, the person inflicting those cuts was me. No one had ever asked me to dress differently or told me off for wearing piercings but I convinced myself that the only way to gain access to my newly desired riches was to conform.
  • I did well. I received several promotions and worked my way up the corporate ladder. I became responsible for a team and serious projects. But as I climbed each wrung I shed a little more of myself in a weird, subconscious belief that no one would take me seriously at the top if I didn’t look just like them.
  • At this point, depression begun creeping its way in again. It wasn’t just that; the stress and unmanageable workload led to physical illness, angry rants at my wife about my useless boss and ‘fucked-up system’, tears and panic attacks. One attack was so violent it put me at serious risk of injury. This was bad.

 

  • I realised I didn’t know myself anymore and that it was hurting me. The person staring back at me from the mirror on Monday morning didn’t have my hairstyle or my piercings or frankly much of ‘me’ about him at all. Perhaps that’s not entirely fair – he had my eyes and I did choose that tie and those cufflinks – but the fact that I had spent the weekend as a shaggy-haired, ripped jeaned hippy only to now be faced with a dull, characterless minion made me feel suddenly sick.

  • I put my earring back in as an act of defiance but then I couldn’t get in the car. I’d crafted myself into a serious industry ‘contender’, I had no right to start slacking off and showing signs of weakness now.

  • Weakness? Yes, weakness. These symbols of ‘me’ – the jewellery, the scruffy hair – were as a comfort blanket to a child. And I suddenly both needed and rejected that comfort blanket at the same time. I broke down.

  • I’d like to say that I took a few days off to recover and to review what needed to happen next but true to my conformity I carried on going to work, thankfully though finding the strength and making the time at least to search for ‘life coaches’ in my area. I booked a consultation.

  • I spent a year visiting my chosen life coach. The early sessions were akin to counselling but as she explained to me, the difference between counselling and coaching is that the former is about spending time on the past and the latter is about finding the best way to move forwards. And so we spent months trying to discover who ‘I’ was – who I am – all over again.

  • I was relieved to find myself still very much intact once I’d searched for long enough but I was hidden under layers of assent and a heavily embedded need to fit in.

  • The first step to bringing a little more of ‘me’ back into my work persona was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my adult life and would now seem worryingly pathetic if I didn’t have such a clear memory of all that came before and after: I did finally wear my earring to work. A little piece of metal on the side of my face. I entered the office. No one noticed. I attended meetings with the board. No one noticed. I had a one-to-one with my boss. He didn’t notice. Or at least didn’t say anything. All the worry had been for nothing.

  • In time I started to add my favourite bling back onto my fingers. I changed from black socks to colourful ones. I spent less time slicking down my hair. I became more ‘me’.

  • But something was still missing, I felt like my transformation wasn’t yet complete. I’d reintroduced many of my trademarks but I still wasn’t quite ‘me’ enough. A new realisation was forming: it’s not just the clothes, it’s the job itself.

  • But what would I do if not this? After a decade this is all I know, how would I survive doing anything else? Well, frankly, there are other things I’m good at and that I could make money from. Moreover, there are other things I would do for a lot less money that would make me much, much happier.

  • I talked it through with my wife who reminded me that we’d had far less money when we were younger and we did ok. Younger…I began to realise that I haven’t just reached the end of a chapter, I’m about to start a new one, one with glorious, untold freedom and potential!

  • A job isn’t just a job, it comes with a culture, a social policy, a set of beliefs to live by. And despite there being some great people in my current working life, I have come to realise that it’s just not right for me. I needed employment all those years ago when I landed the interview and over time the lure of eventual wealth (and importantly, the belief that a job like this is the only way to attain that wealth) had led me to a dead-end.

  • Today I stand a few feet from that terminus with a knowing smile…because I have made a plan.

  • The article you are reading marks the start of my 12 month exit strategy from the deeply integrated lifestyle choice that is my ‘day job’.

  • Why 12 months? Well, my job does have it’sblessings, those being ample pay and a good pension, so I have made the decision to hang in there – if I can – for one more year while I continue to contribute to a slightly more comfortable future. It isn’t going to be easy; once you’ve seen the light it’s hard to turn back, so I know that staying committed is going to be a challenge.

  • I’ve made this decision to draw it out over a year in the full and happy knowledge that if I absolutely had to, I could walk away right now. My wife and I have talked it over and over and despite having very little cash in reserve I know we’d make it work. I’m fortunate enough to have a partner in life who understands my need for freedom and is prepared to support me. At worst, we’ll survive – because that’s what humans do – but I’m pretty sure we’ll actually thrive. Would the same have been true if I was single? Well that would be very different but I wouldn’t have the same pressure to not let the other person down, so I think I’d get by. A much greater problem would have been if I was with someone who didn’t understand and wasn’t willing to take the chances I needed to take in order to be truly happy. This is why communication and openness are so important; I could not have done this without talking.

** I’m going to be journaling my escape and will be sharing it via my twitter handle @execimposter. I hope to release a book documenting the journey when it’s all over. I’d be delighted if you want to follow my journey. **
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2 Comments

  • Reply Mama July 19, 2019 at 6:57 pm

    What utter self indulgent shit… and surprise surprise trying to monetise the experience.

  • Reply Julie Seal July 21, 2019 at 7:46 am

    I love this. It’s very familiar. I feel I know so many people who feel this way too. It’s scary to realise you’ve gone irrevocably in the wrong direction and can’t see a way out and so brave and inspiring to hear how someone corrects that and finds themselves. Good luck sir!

  • Leave a Reply to Julie Seal Cancel Reply