Corporations’ Colonization of Human Life

This article has been on my mind for a long time.  I drafted it in my head over a year ago, then spent the past year observing reality and modifying my theory.  I didn’t want to finalize the article until my corporate life was over which, thankfully, is now the case.  So here goes…

I have good news and bad news.  Let’s start with the bad news: If you work for a large corporation then your life is being colonized, cultivated, and used by someone that isn’t you.  Whatever you believe life is, whether it’s a spirit given to you by God, or a random mix of organic compounds that have evolved into something magnificent over billions of years, or a mystic energy that hovers inside your vessel of flesh and bones – your life is being colonized.

That’s right, your life is being populated, cultivated, and overrun by a soulless inanimate object we all call a corporation.

There’s good news, though.  Although your inner being is being invaded, with your life being sucked dry into a walking, living death of an existence – there is an escape. And this escape isn’t complicated.  We’ll get to that later.

The Colonization Of Your Life

Try to imagine your life as a vast open field, rich with millions of years of developed topsoil.  The field is alive with color, and rich with life.  Wildlife roams peacefully and harmoniously across these plains.  This was your life before it was colonized.  It was calm and blissful, void of worry and want.  It just was.

And then one day your parents sat you in front of the television, and the colonization began.  With the very first commercial, the first crop was planted.  Soon, the corporate farmers began to move in by the herd, seeking the rich topsoil of your life.  And they planted and harvested, planted and harvested, using up your millions of years developed nutrients in just decades.

It started with television, then school, then more and more schooling. And with each year that went by, and each lesson memorized in school, the wildlife in your field became domesticated.  The plants stopped growing in a natural ecosystem, but instead became dependent on the colonizing farmers’ irrigation system.  The natural ecosystem of plants and animals that represented your creativity and innocence was eventually lost to television marketing and schooling.  With you creativity and innocence mostly lost, your life was ready for the final step in colonization – your entrance into the corporation.

Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.

– Ambrose Bierce

The corporation is the benefactor of your domestication, and it achieves this through colonizing your life.  Unlike schools that simply beat the wildlife into submission, the corporation ties the animals to a plow and teaches it to haul.

And so it grow it’s crops and kills everything that gets in it’s way.  The wildlife is fenced off, left to starve in the barren fields of past production – this was your creativity.  The animals that can’t be fenced off are killed off with pesticides – this was your innocence.

And just as the colonizing farmer doesn’t care that the dying wildlife was critical to the millions of years of balance to the ecosystem that provided the rich topsoil he’s now using – that won’t help tomorrow’s yield – neither does the corporation care about your creativity, individuality, or life’s spirit. (Sure, it will say that it does care and it will even nurture these things at times, but only so far as it can harvest more crops later).

And so as the wildlife dies in the field that is your life, you become the tool you unknowingly set out to be for the corporation – The Working Dead.


It Gets Worse

But wait!  It gets even worse.

Before I continue, let me clarify that I fully realize the cynicism that’s dripping from this article. And I hate cynicism.  But I could find no justice in smoothing out the edges of this truth – that as long as you are working for a corporation, then you are a member of this new class of human sapiens – the working dead.

I said it gets worse, so let me explain. Sadly, the situation I’ve described so far only takes us up to the 1980’s.  But corporations are smart and always evolving, and their colonization of your life has continued to improve in it’s efficiency and effectiveness over the past few decades.  Just like the farmer’s technology and methods have continued to change as their environment worsens, so has the corporations’.

Up until the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, work was limited.  Sure, office hours were continuing to get longer and longer, but when the day was over you got to “punch out”.  You were exhausted – maybe from a day of hard physical labor, maybe from a long listless day in the cubicle on your phone or filling out TPS reports – but once you got in your car you were free until the next day.  A few hours to relax, spend quality time with your family, and get a good night’s rest.

This all ended with the internet revolution.

Laptops, the internet, and cell phones have allowed huge gains in the corporations methods to further colonize your life.

“But BNL,” you counter, “these things have given me flexibility!  Now I can work from home, and I get flexible hours so I can see my kid play soccer and work after they are in bed!”

My reply is this: Exactly!  You can work from home, from the office, and from the car. You can, and will, work nights and weekends.  If the corporations and schools have really done their jobs, you won’t just dream about some new algorithm or presentation for your job – you will brag about how it came to you in your sleep!

And it’s all veiled in a mask of a new “caring corporation.”  One that cares about work-life balance.  But I’ll argue that work-life balance is simply a trojan horse to get through the gates of your home.

Enter: Modern Corporate Nurturing

The days of the ruthless authoritarian boss are over.  This is no accident.  In fact, there are entire books and training course on how to manage a team effectively using psychological and therapeutic techniques to maximize output.  I know this because I took the training and read the books when I made the jump into management a few years back.  The goal is to maximize employee output while keeping them just satisfied enough to come back another day.

Let’s talk about a few of these techniques so you can’t miss them the next time they’re presented to you at your job.

Manager “One On One’s” (1×1’s) – These are individual meetings where employees meet with their managers and discuss the job.  Usually held weekly or bi-weekly, this is an opportunity for the employee to bring up concerns about the job, tell them what’s bothering them, get help if needed, and discuss their future career path. If held correctly per the management training manual, it’s a non-clinical therapy session, and the employee leaves it excited to get back to work.  It appears good for the employee, but make no mistake that this 30 minutes is an investment by the corporation to get the most out of the employee first and foremost.

Childish Team Building Activities – Ice-skating, laser tag, miniature golf, picnics, waterslides, paintball, and bowling!  I’ve done it all in team building events.  What fun! It’s like we’re kids again!  But have you ever wondered why these activities are financed by the corporation?  Do you believe it’s really to help “build the team?”   The truth is, the intent is not team building at all – it’s nurturing what life is left in the worker.  After all, a completely dead worker is no longer a useful Human Resource.

Eventually, this deeper domestication of the wildlife and colonization of the land that is your life will only go so far.  Just as farmers run out of land, corporations run out of your time.  But colonization seeks growth – and so growth it will find.

The Colonization Into The Rest Of Your Life

As I mentioned earlier, in the old days you were free from work once you left the office, factory, or work site.  But just as a colony seeks new land as it saturates it’s existing land, the corporation seeks new time when it saturates your existing time.  And hiring more employees is expensive, so wouldn’t it be a lot better to find new unchartered time from the employee that is already owned?

Lo and behold, they’ve given you a laptop, free of charge.  Back when you got your first work-issued free laptop in the early 2000’s, you probably thought that was a pretty amazing gift.  Laptops were expensive and cool – they gave you mobility and even a little social status.  But these laptops weren’t a gift, they were a tool for spreading the crops to new land. Now, even at home you could log in and do a little work.

Think about what you make per hour, then think about how many hours you’ve worked from home in the past year?  In most cases, I’m guessing you’ve paid for that laptop many times over.

Then came cell phones. Who wants to pay $80/month for a phone service, when the corporation will gladly pay that for you?  I know I was damn excited to cancel my personal phone service and start using my free work phone.  The catch: twice a week (and sometimes 3 times) I had to hold evening calls with my work peers in China from 7-9 PM.

And so the spread of the colony continued into the evening and early morning hours.

At one point, a few years ago, I was always working.  I worked at 5am when I woke up, and I worked until 10pm, when I was getting ready for bed.  I worked in the office and I worked at home.  I worked from my desk computer, my laptop, and my phone.  I happily did all of this for a corporation that was taking advantage of me without me knowing it.

I like to think I’m a pretty smart and aware guy, so how was I fooled into thinking that I was the winner in this situation?

The answer is simple.  I’d been domesticated, and I’d been made dependent.  Just as a house pet needs it’s owner and wags her tail when she gets to go on a walk, I needed the corporation and wagged my tail when I got a new toy, or a promotion (even with the same pay!).  I didn’t know there was a world outside of this, and I was making the best of the world I knew.


There was just one final step for the corporation to make for me, and for everyone else.  Afterall, managing all these Human Resources was time consuming and expensive, and very difficult to scale.  So the final step was to enable the Human Resources to become as fully autonomous as possible, so that the scaling and effectiveness could be done with very little oversight, just a little high level organization.

People that can manage this autonomy are what the corporation refers to as “self starters.”  I know this, because I was a proud self-starter for many years.

If your average corporate worker is a horse pulling a cart, then corporate self-starters, as I was, are nothing more than horses that can strap on their own plow, rally a few other horses to come with them, and work through the night until the field is completely plowed.  The problem is, you’re still a horse, and the colony is still the benefactor of your work.

The Great Escape

I said there was good news, and after over 2000 words of cynicism, it’s time I finally share it. Unlike the fields and wildlife that were domesticated and overrun by our farming analogy, you actually can escape from the corporations’ colonization of your life.  I did it, although my way is not the only way.

There is only one critical action you must take to escape: You must physically remove yourself from the corporation by becoming independent of it.

in·de·pend·ent (indəˈpendənt) – not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.

You can do this by building up substantial savings so that corporate work is no longer necessary at all, this is what I did.  Or you can take a small amount of savings and escape to a cheaper lifestyle, supplemented by nano-businesses.  Or you can take a chance and venture out on your own doing work for yourself.  All are viable, with their own advantages and disadvantages.

What you can’t do is change the corporation.  I tried this, and it’s a fool’s errand.  To try this is to stand in the ocean and attempt to stop the waves.

You may also be tempted to stay, master the system, and game it for as long as possible while building wealth.  This is what I did for far too long.  And what’s your reward for doing this? I’ll tell you from experience, it’s wasted years and a more exhausting task of de-domestication.

The Rest Of The Story

Corporations will continue to colonize life, and they will succeed. The class of The Working Dead will continue to rise.  And because of that, anxiety and depression will rise.  With that will come the increased use of anti-depressants, and drug and alcohol abuse.  People will continue to blame The Man, without realizing that who they think is The Man is merely a higher paid Human Resource whose life is more thoroughly colonized than their own.

But how your life progresses is completely up to you.  You can accept the colonization and let it use the rich fields of your life until you’re 65, or you can reject it.  If you reject it, you can leave immediately or you can ride it out for awhile with an exit strategy defined.

The important thing is this: Your story is up to you.

47 Responses to Corporations’ Colonization of Human Life

  1. Your point is well taken, but I agree with you: the cynical voice in the article obscures your positive message, that one ought to take agency in one’s own life. Your citation of the Allegory of the Cave is apt.

    However, do you really believe that going into business for yourself is fundamentally different than working for a corporation? If your analogy is that corporate business culture is destructive for an individual in the same way that industrial agriculture is destructive for an ecosystem, how is self-employment fundamentally different than working for a business? It seems to me that both require the same business processes, and as Bob Dylan said, “You’re going to have to serve somebody.”

    I’ve enjoyed your blog, I’m glad you’re still writing after achieving your goal.

    Thanks, from Northern Colorado.

    • do you really believe that going into business for yourself is fundamentally different than working for a corporation? If your analogy is that corporate business culture is destructive for an individual in the same way that industrial agriculture is destructive for an ecosystem, how is self-employment fundamentally different than working for a business? It seems to me that both require the same business processes, and as Bob Dylan said, “You’re going to have to serve somebody.”

      I do. Sure, self-employment certainly has the potential for abuse of one’s self, just as corporate work does, but it’s not inherent to the system in the same way. To continue the analogy, if corporate work is industrialized agriculture that ravages the land and kills wildlife in order to maximize today’s crops, self employment inherently has a more balanced approach where the wildlife and crops are the ones running the show. They have no need to disrupt the balance of life in the ecosystem, until ego and greed get involved – which is exactly when self-abuse occurs when working for one’s self.

      In fact, I already see this struggle within myself. I have everything I need, and can work as little or as much as I desire. I don’t need more to survive. And yet, as soon as my ego creeps in I find myself thinking about future growth of nano-businesses, how I need to write more, how I should push myself harder at the gym, etc. All an imbalance to the ecosystem. Self-awareness helps combat this when working and living independently, but in a corporate environment that same self-awareness is at battle against the larger system.

      Either way, Bob Dylan was right. You are gonna have to serve somebody. But if that “somebody” is yourself, then you are more likely to consider your entire self, not just the ego that wants to win, win, win at all costs. The corporation, on the other hand, only cares about maintaining your relevant functionality for the work it’s paying you to do. That doesn’t mean your managers and directors don’t care about you (and hopefully they do), but the inanimate object that is the corporation, with decisions made by stockholders and board of directors, certainly does not.

      • Thanks for clarifying. I see where you’re coming from. If you’ll allow me a rebuttal, I’ll go quietly back to lurking.

        Being financially independent, with the means to do as you please when you please (including work), seems categorically different than a self-employed person who is not financially independent. To maintain the analogy, I see self-employment as small-scale agriculture, where there is still a farmer who is other than nature, as opposed to large-scale industrial agriculture.

        In other words, I see the small-scale farmer as still in “the system” because this person still has a vested interest in the crops that are produced. If the farmer were the state of nature, there would be no farming taking place. Perhaps I’m wrong to divest the farmer from nature in your analogy — If I understand you correctly, that seems to be where our views take different paths.

        Despite the fact that a self-employed person is indeed less specifically tied to the role of an employee in a corporate model, a self-employed person wears the hat of an employee at times, as well as the hats of a CEO, project manager, janitor, etc. Wearing these various hats, in addition to the employee hat, doesn’t seem “natural” to me any more than being an employee does: it’s all part of the same socio-economic system.

        Thanks again for writing.

  2. Insourcelife says:

    It sounds really bleak when you put it this way but the beauty is that there is always another way, just like you said at the end. While we can paint corporations as evil all day long the truth is that they provide one of the fastest and easiest paths to get out of the rat race. If you know the rules you can use them to your advantage. You did so you obviously know. If anything, we should be thankful to corporations for allowing those who can figure out a few simple moves to step out of the game after as little as a decade. For most of the history people could not even dream about having an opportunity like the one we have today. The real problem is that most people are like fish that don’t notice the water they swim in.

    I’m sure most of your readers have heard David Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech, but here it is again in case someone missed it:

  3. Hey BNL,

    Do you think you would hold the same views if you hadn’t let yourself get overrun by the corporation? The long hours you put in over the years definitely helped you get to the place where you could be free, but you sacrificed many hours of your life. What if you hadn’t made the choice to become overrun by ‘corporate saturation’ in the first place? Obviously this is theoretical – we can’t go back and change the past, but I’m curious.

    Great writing by the way.

    • I think my views would be the same once I became more aware of how the system worked, but my path to that awareness would have been slower and more obstructed because I wouldn’t have been searching for answers.

      I think your question implies a certain suspicion of bias on my part, given that I’ve only recently escaped the corporation. This is fair, I probably do have some bias despite all my efforts to avoid it. So I’ll just follow through with this quote from Thoreau’s Civil Disobediance:

      It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.

      This is the conclusion I reached as well.

      • Fair enough – I was interested to see what your response would be, and the fact that you evaluated whether you had bias because of your recent escape is impressive.

        BTW, the picture of your office when you left for the last time screamed ‘cubicle farm’!

  4. Dr. Doom says:

    Terrific post, BNL. It’s hard to skirt the line between negativity and telling it like it is. People tend to like other people (and blog posts) that are filled with optimism, but the work environment usually doesn’t foster such uplifting feelings and it’s important to be able to have a frank discussion about it. So for the record, I don’t see this post as cynical but rather mostly factual.

    The bit about learning how to live once you’re out of the office paradigm (de-domestication) particularly resonated with me. I think of it as becoming de-institutionalized myself, but I think it’s the same idea. Part of the reason I want to leave this mode of life sooner rather than later is so that there’s still part of my original self to fall back on, an island that hasn’t yet been colonized.

    Once it’s all colonized, you don’t remember who you were. You’re just a Company Man/Woman/Entity.

    I love Matrix analogies so I’ll draw one here: When Neo finally unplugs, he finds his real body is atrophied. His muscles are weak, he has trouble adapting to his new (authentic) environment. But he gets there, over time, through conscious retraining.

    You’ll get there too. It sounds like you’re already on your way.

    • Speaking of muscle atrophy… I’ve spent my first 3 days of freedom ripping out old flooring and putting down new wood panels. I go to the gym 5+ times a week, but this “real life” exercise has my back, shoulders, and forearms begging for a relaxing day in a cubicle. :)

      But to your point, I think the de-insitutionalization should occur pretty quickly. I already feel much of my creativity and fun energy returning. The hardest part for me is to continue to control my ego that loves to compete, and that has been feasting on a cocktail of steroids and crack for the past 20 years in school and corporate life.

  5. I think it comes down to how you manage your career. Is it for maximum money or maximum enjoyment? Or something in between?

    If you let your job takeover your life, maybe you’ll make a bit more money. But you can also choose to work at a job that is OK with you “clocking out” after 5 and on weekends.

    My job is a bit of both. I’m often on call, but my employer also knows that unless something is on fire it will wait until business hours. Would I advance faster if I spent all night feverishly working? Maybe. But I know I wouldn’t be happier.

  6. Rebecca B says:

    Congratulations to both you and your wife for pushing past the fear and quitting the corporation!!! I did the same thing in November and had similar reactions from my coworkers – although I also had several people tell me they were envious of what I was doing. It is significant, I think, that they were all fellow women with children. I worked at a huge (300K employees) technology company. I got the question of what I would do with my time a lot as well, and worried that people were right and that I would be bored. Well, six months later, I can say I am rarely if ever bored and absolutely love my new life!! I asked myself the question “If I could do anything with my time, what would it be?” For me, the answer was to design gardens, coach kids basketball, and travel adventurously. I have done all of these things these past 6 months and it is nothing short of phenomenal!! I pinch myself every day. My husband works part time as a medical technologist, which he enjoys and is definitely more rewarding that working for a regular corporation, so we are both happy. Our travel habits have rubbed off on the doctor he works with, so now we make sure to sync our vacations so it’s not a problem at his work. For example, this summer we are taking a month long RV trip to Alaska while the doctor and his wife go see the Fjords in Norway. Win-win!! :)

  7. Klaas says:

    A few thoughts:
    1. “This was your life before it was colonized. It was calm and blissful, void of worry and want. It just was.”
    It’s been a subject of debate for centuries, and yours is probably the more widely held view, but I very much disagree. There are better and worse influences to be shaped by, and I’m with you that some of the inventions of corporate capitalism are definitely on the “worse” side, but there never was a blissful void. Historically, I would argue that from tribal to feudal to industrial culture, there haven’t really been very many societies that you can say were super great all around. Especially if you’re judging by how well individual choice and creativity were allowed to flourish.

    2. This is a very dark post. Especially in contrast to the tone of your previous one. I was wondering as I read–and this idea was somewhat expressed by Big Guy Money–if this tone might be coming from the place you’ve been rather than the place you’re moving into, and if you might see things differently in a while. Maybe even moderate your view on the role of corporations, or at least come at the same ideas from a less pessimistic and angry perspective.

    3. And speaking of corporations… you might be substantially right. Maybe about most large companies, certainly about your own. But I don’t think it’s impossible for there to be win-win situations in corporate employment. Work-life balance isn’t just a gimmick. There are surely some companies that have no good-faith stake in it at all, and probably few that actually do it well, but I would bet there are some.

    • Klass –
      Thanks for the comments… Here’s my response:

      #1 – I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with. I wasn’t trying to compare corporate capitalism with any other modern ages like feudalism. My reference to the calm and blissful state was referring to childhood innocence, where only the most critical of needs are concerned about (food, shelter, love, and the rest of Maslow’s hierarchy). Each age has it’s own set pros and cons, I was pointing out the negative aspects of corporatism to highlight some things that are so readily accepted by most people. I think you’re more agreeing with me than not agreeing with me, but I can’t tell for sure.

      #2 – Yes it’s dark, and as I said to Big Guy I admit that some of my perspective no doubt has some bias, although I did try to avoid that. It’s funny, the article has sat in my head for over a year, but I wanted to wait until I was “out” before I published it, in case my opinion changed. I suppose I could have waited longer, but I felt that I had a good view from both inside and outside the system right now. If my opinion changes after a longer hiatus from the corporate world, I promise to revisit this based on new experiences or perspectives.

      #3 – I do believe that “work-life balance” is a gimmick, although not a sinister and conscious one. I’ve sat in management meeting where this was discussed, and I’ve watched passionate managers and directors who genuinely wanted to help the employees by doing things that would improve this balance. I’m not questioning these individuals’ morality or motives on this. Instead, I look at the rise of things like “work-life balance” and “flexible hours” and other things more as random acts of evolution. People come up with ideas and, when they work in improving corporate output, they are then re-enforced. When they fail, they die. Just like Darwin’s theory of natural selection. If these things hurt corporate output, I do not believe they would stick and any successful corporation. Interestingly, I’ve seen a recent push for 4-day work weeks from some companies. I believe that if this helps a company get better employees and higher output, we’ll see it grow to other companies. If it falters, the concept will die away along with the companies that tried it. Again, just natural selection.

      • Klaas says:

        Re #1, I think I let my thoughts run too far before starting to write, so what I wrote was too far from the core of what I was trying to say. Which is that there’s no such thing as the untrammeled childhood innocence/freedom/creativity you’re talking about. Not that there aren’t people who end up with childhood experiences that are kind of like that, but I think they’re actually pretty rare and are the result of people (parents, society) making an effort to produce that outcome. It’s not the natural state that will arise if destructive influences can be kept at bay. There are influences for both good and ill within human nature, individuals, families, and societies, and I don’t think it works say that there’s a pristine way of being that we all would have access to if not for the work of outside negative forces.

        #2: Cool. I’ll be curious to see if your perspective shifts.

        #3: I think here we differ on a pretty major point. I pretty much agree with everything you said, but to me the fact that “work-life balance” initiatives must contribute to the bottom line isn’t damning. I guess because I don’t agree that corporations are necessarily trying to engage in slash-and-burn human resource cultivation. To me it seems totally reasonable that there would be situations in which improving work-life balance would increase the value that the company gets out of its employees not because it tricks them into sacrificing even more of their time and energy but because it enables them to thrive, so that both the company and the employees get more because there’s just a lot more to go around.

  8. Mr. FI says:

    It certainly paints a sinister picture. I think those who are on the boards and the CEO’s, they don’t think along the lines of “infiltrating” our home lives. Sure I think they understand that happy employees are productive employees, and that improves the bottomline…but I don’t think they have such sinister intentions.

    The irony here is that they were domesticated moving up the ranks. And those before them, the same. They believe that corporation is natural and right. Because many of us can’t remember a time before the corporation existed.

    In any case, these types of posts make me wonder if staying in the corporate lifestyle for 10 years will be worth it. I don’t hate it here per se, but it’s definitely suffocating at times. I’m afraid my domestication skews my perception on this job and if this means to the end is worth it.

    Something to consider daily. Nicely written!

    • this reminds me of a question someone once posed to me. He asked me if I would dive into a lake if I saw a kid drowning and yelling for help. “Of course I would!”

      He then asked if I would do the same thing if I had just bought a new outfit for $100, there was no time to take it off, and that it would surely be ruined when I jumped in. “Yes, of course I would still jump in!”

      1.5 million children will die this year from hunger. I do what I can to help people when and how I can, but I don’t help them as much as I could. But how is it different to buy myself something discretionary than choosing not to dive into the lake to save a drowning child?

      There are a number of reasons for this, but one of them is psychological. It’s less natural to have compassion and empathy for someone you’ve never met or seen, and it’s easy to come up with valid explanations for not helping. But no matter how good your reasons are (over-population, etc), we all know that if you physically stood in front of a starving child and could help them in that moment, you would.

      This is how I see corporate conscience. It’s not that CEO’s or anyone else has sinister intentions, it’s just that they are disconnected from the people that they affect. So decisions tend to be made to get the most out of people and raise the bottom line. This is the inherent problem with large corporations that I see – and as you said, not that there are bad people trying to hurt others.

  9. Brian says:

    Well said BNL. You’ve got me fired up more than ever to throw off the chains.

    Long Term Brian

  10. Brenden says:

    Great post. I think I am starting to think more and more like this at work. Last month was very busy and I put in a lot of overtime. Looking back it feels like April was a wasted month in my personal life. I am plowing someone else’s field as your analogy would put it. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  11. Fincorp guy says:

    Excellent writing and analogy. Obviously it’s not a treatise everyone, but this is real human life we are talking about. Thank you for your honest perspective BNL, it’s very powerful to me and I’m 7years in, hoping no more than 10 left to go and grappling with the balance of sacrificing my time free time for more money/raises or taking the next 10 years easy and enjoying weekends and evenings with friends and fam while I’m young. It seems more a function of time and investment returns not extra savings from my view to be FIRE. Thank you again, I’m always glad I keep coming back.

  12. Wade says:

    The problem that I am churning on is whether corporation, small business, or working solo, you still need to sell a service or product to people completely overwhelmed by services and products.

    Consumer and service driven to the brink.

    If you don’t sell a product or a service, what do you do for income?

    I worked for a very large software company (95,000) for 19 years. I left and now work for a 400 employee company. Nothing really changes except I get paid less. I work from home and have more flexibility. For that I accepted less pay.

    I guess I understand part of it, but working solo will again net me less money and I’m still pushing a service or product.


    • I wish I had a great answer, but so far I’ve neither come up with one nor stumbled upon anyone else with a good one. “FI” is a logical resolution to your “stuck”-ness, but it’s easier said than done – I want to be careful not to trivialize that. The purpose of this article, while coming across as pessimistic, was really meant as an eye-opener to people that saw the corporate system and economy as an inevitable system they were born into, rather than a choice. It was meant to point out the problem, even if there’s no easy answer just yet.

      Here’s how I view this whole deal… You don’t need income, per se, but you do need some things that are more easily gotten from that income. In other words, you can’t eat money – but you can buy food with it. You can’t shelter yourself in money, but it goes a long way in buying a house.

      The services and products you mention pushing are to fulfill other’s needs and wants, so then they pay you for it, and then you can buy your own products and services. All this is a complicated way to say that the fastest way to eliminating your need to push products and services is to require less of your own products and services, which aso means reducing your needs and wants. Money/income is just a middle step, and although it’s a useful and flexible middle step, it’s also really good at masking the simple fact that the more you desire/need/want from the consumer economy, the more you must first put into it. If you don’t want to peddle products and services into the economy, then first you must reduce or eliminate what you take from it.

      I know this isn’t the answer most people want to hear, but it’s all I got so far. What I can say from my personal experience is that taking less in order to give less has been a great decision for me. It’s not instant gratification, but it’s a rewarding destination.

  13. Delighted says:

    I really enjoy your writing. I think some readers find it abrasive for its honesty, without bows and ribbons. You cannot communicate the sobering nature of what you have outlined with affect. It just has to be honest and true.

    My DH and I are far from FI — I’m just getting on board and aware of a lot of the frugal living, cost reduction and debt payoff tactics out there — and am gradually changing our saving and spending practices. I have always been more of a financial worrywort than DH, which also presents challenges in executing the strategy I am developing.

    I quit corporate life about six months ago, after working for a major company, government and other entities for years, including through two pregnancies and the childhood of my nine- and six-year-olds’ lives. We moved to a new city, and my husband gave me the blessing to leave the grueling workhorse-style of life I’d been living for more than a decade.

    I had missed so much, but worked so hard, earning a master’s degree and promotions in the process. But I was just tired – worn down, worn out, having anxiety symptoms and just totally disconnected from much joy in life.

    Now that I haven’t been working FT for half a year, I still struggle with my conditioned corporate mindset. I still look at job boards every day, and have culled together several freelance gigs that make use of my professional skills. I have yet to be “free” and in the moment.

    I also struggle with being so since we are not FI. Should a woman/wife/mother opt out of the workforce without FI being established? How can FI happen on a single income?

    Also, any tips on becoming mentally free from corporate contamination?

    • Delighted – thanks for your complimentary response. You said it better than I have been able to, that some ideas can’t be explained with bows and ribbons and still have effect. I didn’t mean it to be pessimistic or angry, just honest and sobering to people that have sensed something wasn’t right but couldn’t put their finger on it. And, of course, it’s all just my opinion anyways…

      You asked a few questions, so I’ll try to answer:

      I also struggle with being so since we are not FI. Should a woman/wife/mother opt out of the workforce without FI being established?

      That’s a personal decision. I can tell you that my wife quit working 6 and a half years ago, right before my first kid was born, and long before we were FI. In fact, I’d never heard the term before. That made sense to us, and it helped that I made good money. But she was also an engineer making pretty good money, and we were tied down with some expensive golden handcuffs. We adjusted, and have had no regrets about the decision. But that’s just our personal experience, and can’t necessarily be applied to everyone.

      How can FI happen on a single income?

      At the risk of sounding trite, it’s not complicated. You must spend significantly less than you make. It’s the ratio of the two variables, and not an absolute number. If you’re just barely getting by on the one income, then FI is not realistic without substantial lifestyle changes. But FI doesn’t need to be the only goal, either.

      Also, any tips on becoming mentally free from corporate contamination?

      Learn to be happy with what you have, and to live in the moment (here and now). The single best resource I could point you to is the archive of books by Thich Nhat Han. His books are easy reads and great information – he’s Buddhist, but he doesn’t push Buddhism so much, but rather pushed the ideas of living in the here and now (a Buddhist staple). He also walks through meditations, which have been great for me.

      Quick anecdote – I’ve had no issue prying myself from my job, and I don’t expect that to change over time. However, I have had real struggles with relaxing, particularly with my kids. I could take them on bike rides and hikes and do projects, but I had no patience to just sit and read their mind-numbing 4 year old books, or play their painfully boring games. I couldn’t sit still – I needed to DO SOMETHING! But learning the mindfulness techniques, meditation, breathing exercises, etc has made all those 4 year old activities possible and even enjoyable for me, which of course makes me a better dad (not to mention a way happier person).

      • Delighted says:


        Thank you for the detailed and meaningful response. I appreciate your perspective and insights.

        I am happy with what I have, but I could certainly improve in the area of living in the moment, the here and now. I am a planner by nature, and as such always thinking about the future much more than the present. Being Type A and an INTJ personality type will do that to ya …

        I have decided that working from home is the best thing for me/the family right now, as I have a need to direct some of my energies in that direction AND we have a few gaps to fill in our budget/debt payoff plan. I don’t know if you believe in prayer or what your faith system is, but I asked God to provide a path for me to make XXXX.XX per month minimum, at home, with minimal inconvenience to our household, and it has now manifested. It’s not the high falutin’ type of work I’ve left behind; it has neither the prestige nor the pay level. But it is interesting, respectable, makes use of my talents and helps people. I am so thankful.

        Once we are DF (debt-free, though not FI), I imagine I’ll be able to rest a bit easier. But for now, downshifting is what I’ll make peace with.

  14. Henk says:

    I like the cynical tone, at least a “shock” will get through the numbness of the working dead :-)
    Personally, I think we cannot get rid of the big Corporations anytime soon, but awareness helps you to make a more conscious decision how you would like to play the game. From the 20 years that I have been part of this system, 15 years I have been living and working around the world, so had a chance to experience difficult cultures, people and great locations, and it provided at least 50% extra cash and free benefits (so quicker road to FI). It still means, you need to play the game, and sell your soul, but it was a smoother and more interesting ride than staying in my home country.
    I do see changes in society, there is a “movement” coming from bottom-up, that is changing the Corporate chains, and make people more collectively responsible for a certain function in society, and stop the management nonsense (and high overhead in payments). I have now seen this happening in Elder-Care, Alternative Energy, Transport/Travel, etc.. and I think, this is going to spread further. So I am positive that we will face more alternatives. The traditional big Corporations will get minimized in the future.

  15. […] Brave New Life shares how corporations take over your life.  Luckily, he has fought back and won.  I look forward to doing the same in the near future. […]

  16. Nice post BNL.

    I think that certain corporations are starting to do more stuff that doesn’t directly revolve around profit and employee output however, although they may still be in the massive minority. Or maybe I am wrong and it is just that the company is also benefitting (I am thinking along the lines of sustainable practices and so forth. I guess if they invest in renewable energy for example, it may end up actually saving them money, so bang goes my theory of just doing it for the good of the world/people). Either way this can not be a bad thing!

    And let’s say eventually people end up working less hours but producing more while they are actually at work, and getting paid the same amount of money, I can’t see many people complaining about that (as long as work doesn’t leak too much into the home!). I think a full length working career would be much more palatable for the likes of you and I, and there would be far less websites devoted to acheiving FI and quitting the work force for good, if that were to happen.


  17. Jon says:

    What an excellent, thought povoking piece. I absolutely loved it. Just as certain movies are too dark/violent/raunchy for some…clearly this post came off a bit too dark for their tastes…and I can appreciate that. But I couldn’t agree more with BNL’s point of view here. It makes me very happy for his recent exit from his corporate correctional facility like Andy Dufrane’s escape in Shawshank Redemption. It really reminds me that I need to get out sooner rather than later. As Andy so poetically put it…”Get busy living….or get busy dying!”

  18. dude says:

    I kinda hate corporations for all the reasons you mention and more, but know I am a big, fat hypocrite because I am relying on these corporations to fund my financial independence. Without being invested in the broad market — dominated by corporations — there’s no way I’d be able to cast off the chains (I’m government, not corporate) of 9-5 drudgery and take that red pill, so to speak. So I sit here and hope that some enlightened employees within them will change corporate culture and perhaps slow our planet’s demise, though I remain highly skeptical on that point.

    • I don’t like bees, but I realize they are critical for pollinating plants that ultimately feed me.

      Like you, I used to think that shunning corporations was hypocritical, but then I realized that this is the environment we’re born into. We can make the best of this environment, and steer our lives in a way that most efficiently uses what we’re given – all without being hypocritical. It’s an unnecessary handicap to try to achieve the things you want without using certain resources (corporations) when those same resources can work against you in other ways.

  19. Yabusame says:

    I really liked the directness of your writing. As another has said, these things are usually wrapped up in ribbons, unicorns, and rainbows.

    I am no where near FI, but I have no debt, and spend minimally. I have dropped my hours to part-time (at college when not at work) but I realise that if I want to be FI, then I need to return to the working dead. I’m battling with myself on that one. The thought of it horrifies me, and yet, how else can I reach FI? I recently had to make a decision on my studies; continue on the path or do something else. The original path didn’t appeal so now I am preparing to follow what interests me now (living in the moment) but I’m not too sure where it will lead. I just hope it leads to Fi.

    I wish I could’ve stuck to the corporation until FI but I was burned out and needed to get out. Tell me BNF, do I really have to go back there?

  20. It sounds like you could use this and refine it into a message a broader audience could relate to. You’ve got some really good points. Maybe you can just try writing it in different tones. Some really positive, maybe even some much more cynical just to see where you can take your message.

  21. Mr. Grump says:

    After sitting in dozens of those one on one meetings I had the same epiphany. Sure, I felt better after voicing my concerns but in the end not much changed and I was supposed to feel good about more work being assigned. Ironically (not really) when I stopped pretending to enjoy the one on one meeting due to its ONE sided benefit I became a full time stay at home dad and that idea was there idea!

  22. Sir Salty says:

    Interesting thoughts BNL. Thanks for sharing that perspective.

    It reminds me of a line from The Accountant: If a man builds a machine and that machine conspires with another machine built by another man, are those men conspiring? You would appreciate that movie…it’s short (35 mins) on youtube. Excellent short film comedy w message from early 2000s about corporate “colonization” vs farming way of life.

  23. DreamChaser4Life says:

    Poignant and gripping post. The picture the post evokes in my mind’s eye is dark and telling. I read this post at work, at a time I feel so stagnated and frustrated. The candor was much appreciated and warranted given the grave inevitable consequences of not questioning my work life.
    Colonization of human life. I am not even 40 yet and I have seen and heard of so many atrocities.
    (1) A lawyer permits the managing partner to whistle at him and beckon him like a dog
    (2) A Manager comes back too soon after a hysterectomy because her job is threatened and as she walks around the office her eyes well up with tears because she has not fully healed
    (3) A middle aged woman had to undergo chemotherapy due to a cancer diagnosis, she sat on the side of the steps in the office to take a break because she could not take another step
    (4) A vacation cancelled by a Vice President after plane tickets were purchased, reservations were made on the day she was scheduled to fly out at the behest of her boss because this deal was too ‘important’
    (5) Untold graduations, soccer /basketball games missed
    (6) Parents working the night shift and pre-teen and teen aged children go unsupervised
    (7) A secretary fired after over a decade of stellar attendance because her elderly husband and brother both became ill and needed her care causing her to be frequently late and absent over a period of probably two months- they both ultimately died.
    (8) Delaying a medically necessary surgery because of a lack of vacation time or because you are new to the job
    (9) Grief is regulated to 3 paid bereavement days to manage some of the most debilitating losses one can experience. Corporate policy does not permit bereavement for an aunt, that’s not your immediate family
    The commonality in all of this is that no one had any passive income. People live from check to check; this month’s check takes care of this month’s needs. Lifestyle inflation or ‘creep’ means no end in sight. The psychological trauma of becoming a hamster on a wheel sometimes engulfs your mental faculties.
    The absurd becomes the norm. There are 52 weeks in a year, of course you are entitled to one or two weeks’ vacation. ‘Catching up’ is critical – working on Sundays is necessary. It’s a privilege to leave the ranks of a wage earner; you are on salary now ……the main benefit to the company is that there’s no correlation between time and compensation.
    The crowds incessantly heckle people who try to break their chains. Oh, you have only one car – that’s too bad. Oh, you still live in apartment, my oh my. Oh, you haven’t gone to Europe -you must go to Rome.
    The working dead, exhausted to the point that they can only sleep on the weekends, catch up on chores because Monday is looming.
    Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
    Developing a consciousness that there’s A-N-O-T-H-E-R way is half the battle. A job is a means to an end, not a permanent lifestyle

    • Those scenarios you listed sound far worse than anything I experienced personally, I’m glad I got out before things ever got so bad.

      It really is a shame that we have such advanced technology and efficiency and rather than use them all for good we get caught up in competition that necessitates the scenarios you described. Luckily, most of us have personal choices to make that can reduce or eliminate our chances of finding ourselves putting up with such atrocities.

  24. Kathy says:

    As I kept telling my hubby when trying to get him to quit his job after 33 years working primarily the graveyard shift usually 6 days a week: The only way to win is not to play the game. The “win” is claiming your life back from the corporate honchos who suck the life out of you by turning you into the working dead (that’s their “game”). Hubby’s boss was taken very much by surprise when the boss finally loaded that last straw on my poor hubby’s camel back and hubby asserted his independence by quitting. Hubby had some health issues that I was very concerned would turn him from the working dead to the actually dead. Since I had a well paying software engineering job, and already knew we could live on my salary alone, not wanting to be a young widow was motivation for me to talk him into quitting. It took me quite some number of additional years before I finally came to realize that I too had become the working dead and needed to retire as soon as possible. I am very glad I was able to retire in August 2014 at age 55; I’m just a bit sad I didn’t figure out the game much sooner. I applaud anyone in their 30s, 40s, or 50s who can make their escape!

  25. […] is an alternative optimistic follow up to my previous post on corporations. It wasn’t my intention to be pessimistic in the last post, just honest.  But I know a few […]

  26. […] New Life provided a great, albeit dark, view of corporations use of their employees.  I enjoyed Corporations’ Colonization of Human Life […]

  27. […] thing. Why don’t smart people see this? Why are smart people so willing to sign up to be robots of the system? Why are they content with doing everything that matters – like exercise, rest, leisure, […]

  28. SF says:

    For anyone that has told you “corporate colonization” is too negative, I offer you a real life example. San Fran high tech company ($BBs per year) trumpets work-life balance, flexible schedules and employee empowerment. I bought it hook, line and sinker. For years I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t manage the corporate creep into my life because “well, it’s my fault for not taking responsibility and I need to be more efficient/proactive/etc. I need to do better/be better”. Well… senior management have made a few slip-ups lately. Work-life balance is a myth. Their approach is to work the employee as long as he/she can take it. Mandatory “fun events” to give the illusion of “happiness”. Bring in flex seating because the compant didn’t spend enough so that everyone has a desk.

    For those that say- you can fight the system and hold onto your personhood. The power and pervasiveness of this herd mentality cannot be underestimated. You cannot not do this working dead shuffle- you’ll be marked as underperforming and be out the door. You’ll like your coworkers and by spending 12 hours a day with them, you will slowly become them- you’ll be blind to the chains that tie you, be grateful for the fluff the company throws at you, laugh and jeer with the crowd to the underperforming ones and in doing so, lose yourself.

  29. Jack says:

    I tend to agree with much of your post. If you are employed by a corporation, you have a very limited control of your life. However, amassing savings and becoming FI does not necessarily free you from their grasp. Corporations still dominate a large part of daily life whether it be food, internet or whatever. Unless one substitutes purchases with skills (or selectively purchases/does without), they are still somewhat in the corporation’s control.

    • Yes, I agree. Actually, I’m working on a post with the same sentiment – that there is an extended definition of FI that considers the need for money (even when earned passively) is still a dependence on finances.

  30. Before you sell off your old car to a junkyard, think of ways you can use it in your house.

    It’s up to you whether you want to use both,” she says. The junk-yard companies remove steel and metal parts of your vehicle and make use of them in some other processes.

  31. […] Wenn man Mitarbeiter begeistern will, unterstellt man ihnen quasi, schon tot zu sein. The Working Dead, sozusagen. […]

  32. Differentli says:

    Daaaaaamn, *shivers* this is so 1984 and scarily accurate! I think everyone can relate to the feeling of staying in something to try making it better, and maybe even the guilt of leaving all the people behind if you were to escape!
    As soon as I started planning my FIRE beginning of this year I felt a huge relief about my future and excitement at the prospect of all the things I could achieve after leaving the corporate world!

    …at least until a month later when I realised that I still had to live in the corporate world I’d come to fear and despise until I reach that magic number! Which is about 10 years at present!
    Until then I Am a working dead, desperately trying too keep my passion and creativity alive outside of work where no one can mould it to their whims!

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