On New Years Day in 2002 I dumped a corporate job in the sales department of a national office supply chain. Leaving shocked my boss and one of my colleagues. I remember having the discussion with my coworker. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “Anything but this,” I said. “But for now I plan to go back to running my own business” which is what I did. My work at that time was mostly seasonal, so I did telecom sales work in the off season, and worked on building my company. Both things were quite lucrative.
Why did I leave? Well, like a lot of sales departments, they jacked with the commission and the leads and hamstrung most of us. I’ll make money for someone, but not standing on one foot while blindfolded, and not if I don’t get paid right, or if the deal keeps changing. But also, there was a lot of the kind of corporate dysfunction you find in shows like The Office (about another office supply company). One team doesn’t let its’ people go to the bathroom without permission. Sorry, but I don’t ask to pee. There was political and religious coercion, and I don’t accept push in those directions. And I wasn’t able to close deals at times, because gossip and office drama were more important to others. Often corporate environments operate like frat houses, driven by cliques, sex, and personal bigotries. It just looks sane, because most people are in on it.
My one friend there who loved that I stood up for myself dumped his job at the same place soon after. When I saw him years later, I still hadn’t figured out the whole story of what I was going to do in life. I wanted to do something that used more of my mind, less of my brawn, so I did the misguided thing that a lot of young people conditioned by the parental state do – I went back to school and got another degree. Yep, I still wasn’t fully deprogrammed – I thought the underlying system still was basically sound, and it was only the examples I saw that were badly implemented. Of course, anyone with a brain got a wakeup call in 2004, which is when I started this blog.
But if I saw that man today, I could tell him I figured it out. Sure, I could go back to the cubicle, the corporate health care plan, the salary, and starring in The Office. There’s nothing wrong with the resume, if I were to revive it, and I could still still dig out a neck tie. But it’d be like going back to 2002. I’ve been in much higher paying jobs than the office supplies company. I was told it wouldn’t be like that once I moved up the chain – that the gossip, social drama, and nuttyness wouldn’t be there. It’s there. It’s just barely less overt. There’s a kind of sickness that pervades much of corporate life. The Gervais Principle barely touches on it, but at least I can appeal to that, since most people who work in corporate life will deny it and say they’ve no idea what I’m talking about (just like they did when I discussed the dysfunction of public schools and undergraduate “education”). Or else they’d say that only people who can’t “make it” admit this stuff, and my leaving is evidence of that. Hey, if not being “The Office” enough for the office is my flaw, I’ll take that as a compliment. But no, even at the time I left, I didn’t fully get how farked up it was. The first few months of the last gig was spent waiting for a couple of poisonous personalities to stop being taken seriously by management, and get removed from the team, at which point I became the longest standing member of it – not that I think that’s a prize – I don’t need other people’s approval like a blue ribbon. Today, I dish out my own kudos, because I’m exceeding my own standards.
If I saw Jeff B. today, I’d tell him that typing up that resignation letter and having it in my pocket when I came to work that day was exactly the right thing to do. I didn’t have the perfect answer then, but it’s still a significant milestone. I’ve never been happier, frankly. I write a lot about life experiments here. For me, the ultimate life experiment was getting out on my own – an experiment in freedom. It’s about the healthiest choice I’ve ever made. I now work in a true merit system, a performance culture, and a results only work environment (ROWE). I don’t have to argue that I should get paid for my work and not my presence. And I certainly don’t have to listen to gossip or wonder who likes me and whose approval I’ve earned. I’d be remiss if I didn’t chalk this up as the ultimate successful experiment. Wherever you are, Jeff, I hope you’ve made equally successful decisions.
Experiment Results: Success.