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.