The floors were hard. Some sort of commercial tile, the surface worn dull by the miles of nervous pacing in that eight by eight space. From a window I watched as people went about their normal lives, unaware they were being envied for the freedom they had. The chair was stiff, arms that supported in times of loneliness, anguish, and pain. I was grateful the ceiling was too high to touch, it gave me room to breathe when the walls closed in.
There were reminders of previous occupants, small bits of paper, a scratch or a chip here and there. It had the smell of unhappiness. Of valuable lives wasted in mindless tasks and dreams.
I was alone in that cell for years, then a roommate was added, then another. Privacy was replaced by mindless chatter and the friction of differences. I counted the years, then the days, then the hours until I was released out of that hell. That’s the day I walked out of my job of 28 years. I was a cubicle prisoner.
Even after a year away from that job, I am still recovering from the amount of hours, effort, ass kissing, and destruction of my personal life that were given up for money. Sure, I appreciate that it afforded me what I am able to do today, but I am beginning to realize that had I chose to do something else, I would have been just as or maybe more successful. I made a choice to stick it out, working for the “Man” as it were, and justified it by claiming it was for family. It was and it wasn’t. I was paralyzed by the fear of doing something else and failing. Give up the desperately needed benefits for an unknown future.
I’m not usually one of those “If I had to do it all again” people. I live with my choices, and move on. Now looking back, however, I do regret that I sold out to the establishment, the way you are supposed to do things, instead of relying on my talent and skills to forge my own way. Sure, I tried a few things on my own and they didn’t work out. Maybe that’s what locked me into that cubicle hell.
I remember so many late nights driving past restaurants and bars where friends were meeting friends, families out for dinner, lovers locked in an intimate gaze, and I was heading home from work, too tired to socialize, too tired for my family, too tired for life.
I should have known early on that this career wasn’t the right move for me. I grew up with a self-employed Dad, who was very successful for a long time, lost it all, then never gave up hope or spirit until he got it back again. He always told me you will never get rich working for someone else. I now know what he meant. Sure, you might be comfortable knowing the bills will be paid, but you will never have that feeling of accomplishment and pride in making it the way you want it. That is what he meant to be rich.
Working for someone else, doesn’t matter who, is a death sentence for creativity, innovation, and spirit. You may be told to do what you want, when you want, but you are still under the control of another. I have had great bosses and lousy bosses. They are still bosses. And if you think for a minute that you are valued, then you need to step back and think about it. You are valued as long as it serves their needs, and when it doesn’t anymore, you are like a pair of pants that don’t fit anymore. You get donated to someone else or thrown out not to be used again. You don’t get to choose. Believe me, I have been in hundreds of management meetings where good employees have a bad month and are out the door.
My last boss told me to look around at what I considered to be my friends. He said there is no loyalty, they just want your job. Whether he was right or not, it showed me how valued I was. Just another piece of meat to chew. I mentally left after that. I no longer gave value to them. I was done.
If you haven’t noticed, this world and this economy have changed. No longer are you given a position for life, that ended years ago. Everyone knows that. Now you can expect to change jobs, and careers, multiple times in your working life. And that isn’t all bad. You lose when you get too comfortable anyway. The middle class is shrinking. The rich are getting richer, with no intention of making life any easier for the poor. And the poor are scraping by with the cost of everything keeping them a slave to jobs that don’t fulfill the spirit, or use them to their full potential, just to keep food on the table and a roof overhead.
Is there an answer and a way out? Of course, but it takes courage and effort. The new currency is ideas. People don’t act the way they used to. People don’t spend their money the way they used to. If you want to be successful, you have to add value. If you add value, then money will follow. If you just stick it out waiting for something to happen, it will. And probably not going to be your choice. Driverless cars are taking away drivers. Drones are taking away delivery methods. The internet is taking away stores. Telecommuting is taking away traditional workplace jobs. Manufacturing is moving to cheaper labor. Underemployment is at an all-time high. A College Degree gets you an interview at McDonald’s. Open your eyes to the possibilities. Find a need and fill it. It’s a big new world just looking for opportunists. Old businesses need fresh ideas. New businesses need talent. There is so much money out there looking for answers, all you have to do is solve them. Doesn’t matter when you start or your age. Great ideas are ageless.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right”.
I gave 30 years working for the Man. I don’t want my kids to follow in my footsteps. I will encourage them to think with their brains to carve out their own world, one that gives them pride and satisfaction, and improves the quality of every aspect of their lives. That is my wish and my legacy to them.
Do I believe in the American way of life? You bet I do, more than ever. But the rewards have to be earned. And now is the time of the individual to earn them, not the corporation, not the status quo. Watch Shark Tank a few times, and you can see the need.
In prison I have heard you get three meals a day, free. In my cubicle, many times I was lucky to eat once, and I had to pay for lousy fast food because I couldn’t find the time to eat. I hear in prison, you get some time to exercise. I couldn’t in my cubicle, I was expected to be at the beck and call of everyone else who had an issue or a problem to solve. I gained weight and my health suffered. I got pills from the doctors for that. My blood pressure has dropped thirty points since I got out. A heart attack was not too far off had I stayed. I have never been to prison, but it doesn’t sound a whole lot worse than working a job you don’t like with no way out.
My time has come and gone, and now I am free. Are you?……………..