Recently, someone invited me to a social thing that I didn’t want to go to. Luckily, I was coaching that afternoon, so I replied that I was “working”. However, I hesitated momentarily mid-sentence, which made my genuine excuse seem like a falsehood. But, what really underlay my hesitation was something deeper. Because I do not consider what I do to be “work” at all. My hesitation was caused by using a word for convenience sake that in my mind was not strictly true.
What I have realised in recent years is that I do not do a single thing in my life that I consider to be “work” in the traditional sense. I just do things that I find meaningful. And, some of these things happen to be revenue generating (work?) and some of them not.
Of course, it is often far easier to engage in some mundane, or if you are lucky, moderately interesting activity that delivers you a predictable monthly salary — perhaps working for a “reputable” large corporation. But, choosing perceived economic stability over doing meaningful work that deeply excites you can have certain costs. Human costs that come in the form of damage to your wellbeing, creativity and individual voice as a person. Too much corporate mundaneness and the associated stress can turn us into androids.
Large corporates are structurally unhealthy
Large organisational size and layers of corporate hierarchy are particularly toxic. Often, they reduce people to numbers — abstract entities to be hired, fired and moved around at will. “Resources” that are almost machine-like, kept in place to serve. Furthermore, the centralisation that comes with large size and hierarchy is not healthy either. Hint: That’s why communism failed — too much centralised top-down management at a national level that simply couldn’t cope with informational complexity and on-the-ground supply and demand. Bad decisions at the top ruined everything dependent on them – in this case the economy. Such problems compound non-linearly with size.
Furthermore, communism also turned vast swathes of people into zombie-like bureaucrats. Something we seem to be trying very hard to re-create with the large corporation today. Generally, the larger the organisation, the more toxic the environment and the more arbitrary the sh*t you will have to deal with, unless you happen to be part of one of those rare more autonomous teams within it.
Nobody said it was easy
Let’s be clear, leaving the comfort of a monthly corporate salary to go solo or be part of something more nascent, but more exciting, is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. And, each one of us will have our own unique challenges in life that shape our particular circumstances. But, whatever these may be, you can still move towards creating a more healthy work-life environment for yourself.
The first step is seeing the true nature and potential toxicity of your work environment. Without honest acknowledgement of where you are, there is little hope for change. The second is noticing the social conditioning and pressure that might keep you stuck where you are, and keep you believing that it is the only path. It certainly ain’t. Finally, it is about looking for more meaning and connection in everything you do and really demanding this in your “work”.
Of course, all of this is probably not going to happen overnight and requires courage to action. But, if you create a vision for yourself, it is something you can plan and work towards.
There are many in the world whose main concerns are about being free form physical harm and securing their next meal. They do not have the luxury of even considering this question. For those of us lucky enough to be in a position to contemplate the possibility of finding more meaning in what we do, it is ultimately a path that we must each choose.
It is about choosing to not settle for soul destroying mundaneness. Choosing to not be treated like androids. Choosing to not settle for “work” that is just work. You are worth more than that. We all are.
Find out more about Harsha’s work