Like most people, I have tried my hand at a variety of jobs. While planning my career in college, I dabbled in University research (robotics and motion), market research, programming, sales, and IT. At the end of my junior year of college, the best offer came from a Fortune 10 IT department – it paid well, had a good career track, was a respected company, and would help me avoid the senior year job search stress. So I took it, knowing at the time that although it wasn’t the ideal job, it had much to say for it. Nothing else had inspired me either way anyway, so why not?
Over the following years, I grew in my business and technology skills. I moved several times for the company – away from my friends, away from my family, away from my girlfriend at the time – always away. I was promoted several times, eventually becoming a manager. My salary doubled every few years. I could buy a new Prius in cash. I lived in nice apartments. I ate out a lot. My hours increased accordingly, taking up some evenings and weekends, though in the past year I have eliminated that.
As a result of this lifestyle, I slowly, almost without noticing, became estranged from the people around me and different from the man I once was and the man I had hoped to become. I stopped talking to my friends on a regular basis, and didn’t find time or space for new ones in new locales. My girlfriend moved in, then moved out and we went our separate ways. I entered into a weekly rhythm talking to my parents over video every Sunday. It was clockwork, and destiny. My energy went into the company and my career. For what, I was never certain but it seemed that if I could move up the ladder, I should. I came home tired, and wanted to relax in quiet ways – reading books, reading the news, watching movies, or going out to eat with my new girlfriend and soon to be wife. Those times were the best times, but they were all too rare – an hour a day perhaps. Sometimes less.
I came to realize after my first year of work that work-life was no life at all. Perhaps some people are lucky, and they find work that is part of them, flows with their personality, and improves them. But not so for me, and I could see no evidence of such in my friends, co-workers, or people I met on the street or read about in books or papers. It seemed everyone was the same – we all worked for something, but none of us were quite sure just what it might be. Houses, cars, food, or wealth? I don’t think anyone works for those things. I certainly don’t, though they become a byproduct. Like a drug, once you have them, trying to eliminate them becomes life changingly hard. We become entangled.
I climb the ladder because there is only one path laid out for us by society, a straight and narrow path with cliffs on both sides. One step out of line and you risk losing everything your life has led to – being ostracized and labeled immoral. But when I stop to rest along the way, and gaze up at the mountain top of corporate achievement in front of me, at the people who made the climb to the very end, I don’t see happiness or fulfillment. It seems to me that the people who have gone the farthest – the business leaders, CEO’s, movie stars – look the most unhappy of all. I can see it in their eyes and the way they act. The black hole inside of them has gnawed away the humanity, and all they can do to feel alive anymore is drive a fast car, buy a speedboat, or have sex with a beautiful young person.
Is that what everyone is working towards?