Some years ago I walked away from my super-high paying cubicle job in the financial district of London, and haven't been back since. Believe it or not, I was a proper corporate dude working for some of the largest companies in the world.
For years, I showed up before time, unfailingly come rain or shine, sickness or health. I had to! Part of my job was to ensure all the trading systems were up and running before market open, otherwise millions of dollars would be "lost". It was one of those zero-tolerance, fail and get fired, high octane jobs.
The second part of my job was to produce complex analysis of our trading activity from the technology point of view, as well as detect (and fix) any problems with the system. It was basically one of those "it's all your fault" jobs, where you take the fall for anything that happens.
I was an analyst.
Truth be told, I really wasn't cut out for that environment, even though I was really good at the job. It's not surprising though. I, like most other people with a western education, have been prepared for this sort of job all my life.
Since the beginning, I was made to sit at a desk of some kind for a structured number of hours, doing a structured number of things. It was less strict in nursery school, but as I approached working age, the education style became more and more like the eventual working environment I'd find myself in.
By the way, it's the same regardless of class - with the exception of the elite class. If you find yourself in the working classes, you'd be in a factory assembly line of sorts. In the middle classes, you'd be at a cubicle, or a virtual one like I was in.
I didn't actually sit at a cubicle. I had my own lovely desk space with some high end computer equipment. I was pals with the IT guys, so I was always negotiating for the best gadgets. Also, because I knew as much about computers as the IT guys, I was often the de-facto IT person at our department, hence saving the IT guys a lot of time and effort. They loved me.
They loved me, of course, until something went wrong. Then I become public enemy number 1, and the cause of everyone's problems. It was a really challenging job, with a pay to match. I'm proud to say that I did it with distinction, like a good corporate robot.
There came a time when we started experiencing "cuts" due to the global financial crisis. Hundreds, of jobs were lost at our company and dozens of departments were closed altogether. I survived three rounds of redundancies until I was left with just one colleague.
The two of us did the job that was previously the responsibility of eight team members! Because we were both quite good at our job, and upped our game, the company assumed this situation was ok. We pilled on some more work from other departments that had closed too.
This went on for about a year or so until I started feeling the stress pretty badly, and it started to affect my wellbeing - both physical and mental. My immune system took a nose-dive and I got ill for the first time in five years. It was just the common cold, but I never used to get colds. I got a few of them back-to-back, and for the first time in a decade, I think I got the winter blues.
At the same time, I also had some family issues, and my dad took ill. The whole situation was just too much for me. I had a great manager at the time so I spoke to him about it. He advised me to take some time off, but I couldn't - since I only had one other colleague and there was no way he could do the job on his own.
The higher-ups agreed to hire someone extra to give us the ability to take the legally obligated 10 concurrent days off. I decided to wait until the new hire before taking the time off to recharge. One month became two, three, four, five, and no new hire. There was always some excuse why. We even had one guy come in who declined the offer after understanding what the role entailed.
Then came another restructuring, and I lost my awesome manager. Another person was brought in that seemed more concerned with the bottom line than the wellbeing of the staff. The only respite I got from that was the fact that we were merged with an offshore team, meaning I could then finally take that time off. I intended to travel somewhere warm and peaceful to regenerate my body and mind.
I had put on some weight and let go of my diet and exercise regimes. I used to run quite a lot, and would even run home from work at least twice a week. I was fit and healthy before the long, stressful hours made me swap my home-cooked meals for restaurant takeouts and sugar laced cappuccinos from the coffee machine. I must have been drinking about three cups an hour. It was bad.
So I finally booked the time off on the system. My manager was supposed to approve the holiday on the system, to enable me to actually take the time off. The time came and, nothing. He didn't not approve my holiday, he just didn't notice I had booked one.
I was a given. A part of the furniture, expected to be there come rain or shine. I had been taken for granted.
In hindsight, that was probably the best thing that happened to me in that place, because it opened my eyes to my real status in the corporate beast. I was but just another number to be milked and squeezed dry, and discarded of when no longer needed.
I decided I wanted no more of it, and handed in my notice that very day.
The thing is, because of the sensitivity of my role, the notice period was zero days. So I should have been escorted off the premises by my manger and not allowed to log back into my machine. I had access to everything and had the potential to cause serious damage to the company if I decided to be malicious - hence the policy.
Because I had worked there for so long, however, I was allowed to work for another month. Besides, they had nobody else to turn to. My colleague had called in sick that day, and the offshore guys were marginally above useless. So, actually, it was out of desperation that I was allowed to work there, not because of any trust or love they had for me.
The funny thing is, for the last four weeks I worked there, most people didn't even realise I was leaving. Only some of the friends I had made that really cared about me realised.
It was customary in the company for the manager and the leaving employee to give a mini speech on their last day. The team members and other interested staff would also normally raise a little pot of money to buy some kind of departing gift.
On my occasion, I got a card with some haphazard comments from the people I worked for. There was one of them that came over to have a chat with me. I remember him, James, he was very caring and a genuine person. The only thing that almost teared me up a bit was that a relatively new hire in another department - an American, had gone out of her way to buy me some parting token gifts from her own pocket. She is the only person I stayed in contact with till today, even though she's now back in America. I really value people like that.
If I can offer some advice to someone who's currently in the situation I was in, it would be to get out now, before it's too late.
I get it. It's hard, very very hard to do. It's easier if you're single and have no children, but if you have a family to feed, it's infinitely more difficult. If you do get the slightest chance to remove yourself from such a toxic environment, do it! Run and don't look back.
It took an epiphany to make me realise what path I was going down. I had been prepared for it all my life. I even wanted it, but deep down, I wasn't cut out for it.
Don't get me wrong, some people ARE cut out for the corporate rat-race. If you are one of such, then more power to you. You should stay and achieve your best. The rest of us, if you're like me, are not. I am a creative person by nature, so even though I was good at my corporate job, I wasn't operating in my excellence.
I'd like to think I am closer to my correct path now. I am doing more of the stuff I love, creatively and otherwise, but for much, much less money. I am a lot happier than I was, and I'm less likely to die of high blood pressure, or jump out of a window like someone actually did in my building back then.
I have since travelled to so many places and had such wonderful experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. I have also created alternative ways of making money to sustain myself. It's doesn't have the apparent "security" of a city job, but as I learnt the hard way, that is a false sense of security.
In the corporate machine you're always a redundancy round away from the unemployment register.
I know it sounds easier said than done, and you've probably heard this over and over, but;
Life is short. Do what you love.
Peace and Love ✌🏿
All copy and photos are original content by me.