As a deeply creative person and introvert, I have always tried to work for myself since I entered the proverbial workforce. And besides the various restaurant jobs I took on when I was young (actually, I grew up in my family’s restaurants or bars), I have done pretty well in keeping away from the corporate monster.
I call it thus because, for those of us who are sensitive and/or introverted, corporate culture can easily devour our spirit and spit out an empty, soulless husk. I speak from 35 years of experience in working both for myself and attempting to survive the Monster. Without fail, every single occurrence of me entering the belly of that beast ended badly. And though this is not a post about bashing the corporate culture (many people seem to thrive within it), it may come across like it. Just remember, I’m speaking from personal experience, and don’t pretend to speak for anyone else. Having said that, I have worked as coach with hundreds of introverts and HSPs (Highly Sensitive Persons) in career guidance. Sometimes, though, the coach is the person who needs to heed his own guidance the most.
In 2000, I suddenly (and perhaps compulsively) decided to stop working for myself and go to work for someone else. It was a seemingly benign choice, because what could possible go wrong working in a public library? Sadly, my naivete worked against me. I lasted five years before moving on to working for my State government. In an agency full of petty bureaucrats and political warriors, it took everything I had to survive it. From there, I jumped job to job to job, never really stopping to analyze the fact that each instance ended in a less than positive way. When having to maintain a steady income in order to survive becomes the priority, we sometimes make poor choices for ourselves.
What I mean by that is, as soon as I chose a company based pretty much solely on income opportunity, the less happy I was in each respective position. Let’s face it…none of us wants to be homeless and destitute by choice.
Last July, after another fiasco with a local hospital, I found myself set adrift from a corporate atmosphere. Realizing that I’d been making the same judgment error over and again for over four years, I took a step back.
What are you really good at? I asked myself. Well, in my opinion, I felt that I was really great at a number of things…but when I narrowed the list down by what I excelled at over what I had merely experienced a few times, the list was considerably shorter. Thinking that the short list had to be filtered then through what types of positions I would thrive in and what types did I want to avoid, I created a list of careers that would best suit my character and temperament. Not one of them involved re-entering the belly of that corporate monster again.
I don’t work well where decisions are made, not on what’s best for the individual or the team, but what’s best for the bottom line of the company. It’s pretty straightforward. When you are absorbed by the Monster, you are expected to act like the zombiefied employee every one else seems to be. You cannot be separate from it….you are it.
Many introverts, ambiverts, and HSPs experience similar things within that atmosphere. We tend not to feel valued, important, or that anyone hears what we have to say, no matter how insightful or valid our ideas and thoughts might be. Our brains are not wired for being assimilated to a Borg-like state. Many of us do not subscribe to “hive-mind” mentality. And these are qualities that are pretty much a prerequisite for immersing ourselves in corporate America. You exist solely for the benefit of the company and never the other way around. Sure, many HR salesmen pay lip service to being focused on us as individuals, but that philosophy never seems to extend much further than their office. (please note: I’m sure not all companies are the same. However, in my experience, I found myself in the same atmosphere over and over and over)
I felt, back in 2000, that I needed to land a position that paid well and had good benefits. I figured that I wasn’t getting any younger, and putting in my time with a large corporation was the *only* way to proceed. I didn’t take into account that I am a strong individual, and don’t respond well to upper management or mid-management. In fact, I tend to be obstinately defiant when I feel I’m not being treated like a person instead of a robot — expected to do exactly as I was programmed. I’m that one guy who cannot be programmed by others. I am the bane of a corporation’s existence. They despise my “type” because I see through their flimsy attempts to reprogram me and to assimilate.
On the other hand, it’s really tough to start over again in your fifties, and that’s what I decided to do. That thought nearly derailed me numerous times. “I’m too old for this shit,” I’d think. But then I’d realize that I’m never going to be too old to work for myself. So I sat down and created a 52-week plan to implement my own company. That meant setting my own schedule, working from home, doing work I am passionate about and thoroughly enjoy….and never having to worry about the Beast again.
When we open our eyes to our personal reality, we can often discover amazing things about ourselves and our environment that changes our direction. We limit ourselves through statements such as I made above, or thinking we “have to have benefits” to survive. In this current economic climate, that doesn’t necessarily hold true any longer. We must stop thinking “can’t” and start believing “can.” It’s a process, don’t get me wrong. But one of the goals I made for myself was to counter every single argument I presented as to why I “can’t” with five “can”s. Soon, I had learned the lyrics to a whole new song — one that I’d written and composed myself. And while I continue to struggle at times financially and mentally, the need to avoid the Monster outweighs the false need I had created to assimilate.
I can take care of myself. I’ve been doing it since I was 12. If anything, I’m smarter and stronger now than ever before. I have confidence in my skills and abilities, and have proven time and again that I’m very very good at what I do.
How about you? Which do you choose?