Friday, March 8, 2013

The corporate catch

[Recording located at end of post]
Sopping up a meaty bowl of steamy vegetable soup in a notable greasy spoon, conversing with a friend and former colleague, the modern-age conundrum reared its ugly head. Right there between his bites of fried chicken. Are we to pursue our passion and hope the money follows or sell our soul for the big-bucks corporate job?

Such a dilemma. One I understand all too well. One I am hoping I have answered differently and better this time around. But, my friend must choose, made all the harder with two young sons to account for that were not in the equation when he previously lived the corporate life. That is the one where your life is not its own.

I am grateful I had that experience, but it nearly robbed me. Funny thing is, the company had a lot of integrity and the people were nice, really nice, but there was an insidious institutional shadow that infiltrated everything. As if things were done a certain way just because that was the way and no one ever questioned it. I remember being hired to think outside of the box. On my exit interview, I said it was more like think to the inside edge of the box, but no farther.

The corporate and creative do not mix from my perspective. In a time well before children, I still harbor these explicit memories:
• Well-dressed lemmings silently soldiering up the stairwells at 8 a.m. each morning. No kidding, it looked like the parade of the living dead. No one spoke to anyone, just ambled over to their cubicles.
• The sea of new vehicles that arrived in the parking lot the day after bonuses were paid.
• The big, beautiful homes those who lived in town owned. Tradeoff was you were trapped in the company town in a job you may not, exactly, like.
• Every six months there was an organizational shake-up just to have a shake-up.
• The unarticulated "facetime" of rating hours at work over productivity.
• The Friday afternoon AIM (actions in management) reports that took all day just to let your boss know what you had done all week because he had no idea and I mean he ... in a company of 3,000, there were 12 women in management.
• The acronyms. I was serious when I suggested a dictionary of them for new hires.
• Being in the office at 8 a.m. every day you were in town, even if you'd arrived from traveling at 3 a.m. Why? I always wondered.
• Being hired and paid well, but under utilized. Listening to an outside "expert" deliver a talk on public relations that you learned in PR 101 and could have given off the top of your head for free, no fee beyond your current salary.

Obviously, there were benefits or I would not have stayed almost three years, until the birth of my first child. Mostly, the paycheck. I did like traveling and my first assignment in product development. The people were genuine, but I always wonder who really was in charge.

Not too long after I began attending my Quaker Meeting, I asked our minister what he thought about evil. He described an institutional evil, something that grows up and around a culture. I am not saying where I worked was evil, but I understand this concept as a result of my experience. Of course, there were CEOs and presidents in charge, but there was this weird enigma that seemed to be running things, subtly, very subtly.

Once I left, I felt as if, out of the vortex, I gained a new and saner perspective. That not every important thing in life hinged on what was happening in my workplace. That, in fact, much more important things were working outside of it.

Which may be why I currently find myself in the midst of middle schoolers with limited life experience, but that little of it hard, sharing creativity and beauty and relationship with no paycheck. I am hoping, at some point, that will follow my passion. I pray my friend finds his balance and peace.

• When I have chosen money, what difference has it made?
• What experience do I have of money following passion?
• How much importance do I place on creativity?
• What values must I not give up in the workplace?
• How do I let Spirit guide me in these decisions?

years ago, we were
discussing metal caskets

today, it was
artisinal copper pots

talk about coming
full circle

I was the one
leaving to
start a family

mine is now growing
and  I am beginning
to carve out a new identity

his is younger
and on his own

caught between
family needs and
earning a better
living, reluctant
to follow his

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