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How I Escaped Corporate Prison and Chose Myself

The future leaves clues in those who come before you

By Jamie JacksonPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
How I Escaped Corporate Prison and Chose Myself
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

"Once you realise you deserve a bright future, letting go of your dark past is the best choice you will ever make." ― Roy T. Bennett, 'The Light in the Heart'

We all make bad choices but often they only become apparent when your life is pulled so far off course you don't recognise who you are anymore.

When this happens, confusion sets in, fear sets in and some of us double down on certainty, we grit our teeth and push on through and never stop making the wrong choice, even when truth stares us in the face.

This happened to me.

Corporate work gave me a stark vision of the future and helped me realise I had been making the wrong choice for 20 years. Two decades of ignoring my intuition, two decades of lies, two decades of choosing misery over uncertainty, two decades of hiding from my authentic self.

It came to a head last year. I was in my early forties, working in an office, looking in horror at my manager, eight years my senior. He was unhappy, under pressure, pale and balding, the archetype of middle-aged misery.

He boasted about how much TV he watched. He had an app that tracked his hours of mindless escapism, a gauge of existential despair presented in prime colours and interactive graphs.

He'd made a bad choice, never corrected. He wasn't meant to be in that office, in that life, but I saw his mistake even if he didn't. Somewhere down the line, he'd chosen to stay small and now, he was reaping what he sowed, under the luminescent hum of strip lighting.

Unhappiness erupted out of him every couple of days. He'd berate his team, swear, shout,  the rage bubbled over as incongruence gnawed his soul.

Of course, he didn't realise the cause of his woe, he didn't connect it to anything deeper even as the existential angst caused him to hot-foot from leader to child, back and forth and forth and back as he held on to a crust of sanity between two extremes.

He'd made a mistake. I saw it. But he's 50 now and this is his bed, a bed of nails.

Someone once told me "If you can't find someone you want to be in the place you work, quit."

These words rattled in my head as he loomed a singular rung above me on the corporate hierarchy, a walking, talking man on autopilot, who dared not think too deeply about happiness and meaning else the walls of reality would come crashing down and a tsunami of truth would sweep him away like a bamboo beach hut.

One day, a new man came, a new boss for my boss. This senior manager arrived with smiles, big ideas, ugly PowerPoint presentations and buzzwords of encouragement from the book of 'How to be a Leader'.

Immediately, this newcomer displayed signs of cracking under pressure.

It's easy to understand why, his predecessor didn't play ball and there he now sat, in the vacated throne, a Damoclesian sword dangling above his hairless head. He'd been brought in to solve the political machinations above him and everyone considered him "their man" but because of this, he could be no one's and the stress of this awkward truth was his burden to bear.

He looked more stressed with each appearance. He arranged his face to talk to others, but I saw him because he was the same as my manager, only another rung up, just one choice ahead, a little older, a little balder, a little fatter.

He too had made a mistake. He too shouldn't have been there. Whatever, it no longer mattered, he was tied in, committed, this was his only egg, his only basket.

He was mid-50s.  His life could have been anything, but it was crumpled suits from long commutes, high-pressured meetings, weekend working and the endless toil of trying to please everyone but disappointing them all, one person here, one person there, watch how it unfolds, watch how it unravels, watch his undoing as the corporate gods play football with his sanity.

I observed these two men, both my superiors, live out their bad choices every day. I watched as they chose them again each morning, I witnessed them both losing the war of attrition on their spirits.

Regret hadn't consumed them wholly, not yet, it had only frayed their edges, but I saw it coming. One day, it will be all they feel.

It is in my reflection of these men that I realised it never stops. The bad choice never ceases to be made, unless you actively choose again, choose differently.

I was these men too, just a bit younger, just a bit slimmer, just with a bit more hair.

The three of us were on the same road, the same conveyor belt, the same mouse wheel. Their mistake was my mistake, It was our mistake.

The only difference between the three of us was how far down the wrong road we had decided to travel, how much we had gritted our teeth and doubled down on our wrong choices.

It doesn't need to be this way. Life is not a trap.

The stars in the night sky shine down from the past and looking up at them is looking up at what once was.

In the corporate world, looking up at those above us is looking at what is to come. At what could be.

Above me, I saw the ghosts of Christmas Future, but those two men did not yet know they were ghosts. They seemed alive, they walked, talked, made tea, buttoned-up shirts, put on ties and sent emails, but were simply not there.

These two men had abandoned a search for meaning and disconnected from intuition. Instead, they found themselves in the reflection of a gleaming axel, a shiny cog, a turning wheel, seeking answers in the grinding gears of corporate machinery.

They didn't realise they too were made from cold, hard steel.

For almost 20 years I had wandered down the corporate road, for almost two decades I was empty and miserable, sacrificing my dreams on the cross of certainty.

It took that long for my bad choice to come into focus. There it is, I see it now, there it is, my inevitable future shown to me in the reflection of two broken men.

That day, the day when I saw my bad decision and a painful epiphany arrived, I left the office and never went back.

The reality, of course, was messier, less impulsive, less romantic, but that day I spiritually checked out. It was the first day I did something right. It was the first day I saw my bad choice and decided to choose differently because it never stops unless you stop choosing it.

And that's all it takes, one new choice for one new life. Choose again, choose wisely. Choose authentically.

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About the Creator

Jamie Jackson

Between two skies and towards the night.

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