I have been observing people and thinking out loud for some time now. This has been in my head that whole time.
If you love your job and the company you work for, you may want to skip this post. If you believe in what your organization is about and that resonates with you, this piece was not written with you in mind.
In this post I will discuss things as broadly and generally as possible; it is up to the reader to see how these ideas fit into his situation if at all. It might sound vague, utopian and unstructured. I am nervous that if I do not get this thought out, it won’t crystallize into what it wants to be. More people are saying this and maybe the winds of change will carry it where it needs to go.
The thing is, I’ve overheard too many conversations that go like this:
“So yeah, I told them I’m resigning.”
“I’ve been dying to leave this hellhole too. You’re so brave. And lucky that you have an opportunity to do it.”
“Yeah, I’m doing it. I’m leaping to my freedom and chasing my dreams.”
“Awesome. Where are you going after this? You have found a job to go to, right?”
This is my issue:
What makes people think that changing jobs or companies resolves the problems they ran from where they were before?
What is “brave” or “lucky” about moving from a bad job to a somewhat better job – in other words, from one slave-master to a slightly more merciful slave-master?
What changing jobs does, at most, is move someone into the next honeymoon phase with the next company – before the reality of that work environment sinks in as well and people need to jump ship, again. And again. And again.
There are two types of people in the working world. There are those that fit well in the environment they are in, and there are those that do not. The biggest delusion we have bought into is that to add value to humanity, each person has to work in one of a few very narrowly defined fields. It is possible for people to exchange goods and services without locating themselves that strictly in a revenue-producing entity: the only stakeholder that would lose out is the government in bed with everyone except the man on the street (aka “We, The People” – remember us? They loved us voting season). So I am advocating for a very mixed type of economy.
It’s like relationships. Most people move from one to the next before they find a good fit or settle for an okay one – or remain single – but few are lucky from the start. And as in relationships, most people never openly talk about the backdrop paradigm that creates a lot of frustration. Instead, they let years slide by without deciding what they want. The reason people don’t discuss the backdrop paradigm is that they’ve never imagined a more authentic way the world could work. So they’ve never known a reason to question the way things are being done. Instead, they will accept that the defect must be within themselves and shut up about their misery. People of good conscience will feel guilty for feeling miserable, and observant psychopaths will milk that cycle for all its worth. Manipulators rely on people’s reliance on whatever they think is stable and safe, and they create systems and situations and environments where their prey can be exploited. I submit that much of the world we live in is precisely such a system writ large.
So if talented, smart people hate their jobs it’s probably because they work in toxic environments in toxic economies and toxic paradigms; they seek validation and stability in something that will give them just enough to make them stick around. Government s are run by humans everyone believe to be infallible but are not; economies are ruled by super-rich elites everyone think know what they’re doing but don’t always; all human power is in the hands of a few who seem to know best but don’t. If they knew – if they really knew – we would have more education than war, more nature flourishing than pollution and destruction, more peace than violence and more equality than discrimination. Those basics would be in place. But they’re not. So it has failed. Given centuries, what we have regarded as correct has failed to fulfill the promise of a better civilization. Civilization has not worked out well.
If anyone is going to have power, everyone must be empowered. The onus is not on the powerful few to surrender their power but on the many to take power up.
The onus is not on the powerful few to surrender their power but on the many to take power up.
The super-powerful cannot hear those under their feet either because they have no communication with them or because they do not care. At any rate, this is not about them; it is about each person becoming more of himself or herself. Far more important than changing jobs, then, should be changing the system and making it work, sustainably, for everybody, for good, for ever. If that cannot be our first project, we have failed as a collective.
For too long, the system has been the unquestioned, unshakable constant. It is protected by people’s need for security and stability. It promises a future the one day but eats that future out of people’s mouths and strips it off their backs the next. It divides. It has also been protected by guilt. People have been tacitly told that they have to stay in bondage because they deserve it. Because of that home loan they took and must pay off. Because of that better lifestyle they tried to afford. Of that spending spree they’re still paying off. That mistake they made. Those medical fees they have to repay. Because of those children they brought into the world and need to feed. Of the extended family that depends on their income. People have a thousand reasons to give pieces of their soul away, and lawmakers – not as individual persons but as unwitting agents of impersonal systems – serve to produce and protect the environment where people sell their minds, bodies and souls away. On the surface it looks like a fair deal. But as a species we can do better than that and if we are not trying to then it is a damning revelation of what we are plugged into. Putting food on the table cannot become first priority; if it were, then we would have to be okay with theft as a means to an end. A wise man said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God” which I understand to mean that if it comes to a decision between principle and survival, principle should get first preference. Bank on truth first, stick to your guns, and other people will (eventually) follow you because they will see their vested interest in doing so.
He also said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?” Read into that what you will. If we allow systems to continue as they are, they will deteriorate further. If we stand together for what we know to be right, true, just and equitable, the system will have to adapt itself to our commitment to our values or die and be replaced by something else.
The only thing that should keep people in jobs they hate is their not knowing what they’d rather be doing instead. This isn’t to mean people shouldn’t leave their jobs until the next one is lined up – that reasoned, unreasonable hesitation is precisely what I’m arguing against – but it is to say that people shouldn’t leave their day jobs until they have a fair idea of who they truly are and what they’re about. Some people need to be immersed in what they are not so they will figure out what they are. Clarity is key.
Feeling inadequate and obliged within this very responsible-sounding paradigm, people will surrender their best years and energy to jobs and paradigms and relationships and religions they don’t fit into. Because they do not know themselves. For a pay that often does not cover all their bills. Men will sacrifice hours they could have spent doing something more meaningful because the definition of manhood they’ve been given tells them this is the necessary sacrifice. Because they do not know themselves. Women will do the same. Because they do not know themselves. Armies of young people will spend decades paying off study loans because that’s the price of a “good education.” I believe in education, but for decades the best education in the world has led the most educated people in the world to believe that there was something just about inequality in the world. What kind of education is that?
“Education” has been wrong about many things; empathy has seldom been wrong. We bought into a bad, bad deal and we are still recovering from the effects of moralism and many other counterfeits of goodness. The very people who remind us of our obligations from pulpits and from across desks of power have often broken theirs. It is important to meet obligations but it is more important to add concrete value into the lives of people around us and be authentic – not line the pockets of an elite few shareholders in super-rich companies that make their money out of the little man’s stomach. And right now, more of us are just meeting obligations than adding value. That is a slave.
You cannot create value if you do not know who you are and you cannot know who you are if you have acclimatized to a paradigm of inauthenticity. And somewhere along the line, many of us were taught that the way we fundamentally are is wrong, while another way of being in the world is right. We masked up and forgot we were wearing masks; we dressed up, and forgot we had been born naked. When everyone around you is wearing clothes, you don’t see it. It becomes the normal, and everyone becomes terrified of the alternative. Reality becomes our greatest fear while illusion promises us our biggest protection. It’s really the other way around: reality sets free while illusion enslaves.
Shakespeare has Polonius say in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” You need to know the hill you would die on. Know thyself. Know yourself relative to history and the world and – if applicable within your worldview – know yourself relative to God.
Some companies and businesspeople are wonderful. Others only appear to be. Deep down inside you know the difference. If you haven’t got the guts to act on the difference, you have sold your soul and have a far bigger problem than your lights being out and your table being bare: the light of your consciousness is off, and your soul is starving. If saving face is more important to you than being authentic, then there is nothing behind the face anyway.
There is a time to get a “normal” or “real” job and work at it. There is also a time to recognise that the system upholding these jobs is fundamentally flawed and unequal – and that we must work on fixing that instead.
The thing is, we do not need everything that money can buy, nor is everything we need only obtainable through money. If enough people decided to drop the ball at the same time – if enough people told advertisers and banks and the whole system that it does not own them – then the one side would be less likely to take the other for granted. Because so long as we need the system, its brokers can call out any price for any essential service it can render. Vast numbers of people are enslaved and need to be set free.
It comes down to authenticity. The world is starving for it. But you’ve got to make the first move towards it. If not you, then who?
Isn’t it time to take a leap of faith?
I am just observing people and thinking out loud.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.
Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.