February 10, 2016

Trapped at work?

Dear kids,

There are some that truly thrive in a corporate environment. There are many who simply go with the pace. And then there are some who hate it and feel trapped, yet remain nonetheless. Today, I’ll talk to you about the third group.

Somehow I’ve met a lot of people throughout my career that are stuck working a job they dislike in a corporate environment. Most have unfulfilled dreams of entrepreneurship or significance that never materializes. Work in real life is not like the movies – I’m sure Wall Street (the movie) motivated many wide-eyed youth to join Wall Street (the financial district), only to realize that beneath the sexy veneer exists mundane tasks, bosses with moronic ideas and colleagues you’d never associate with outside of work. To people who had a youthful dream this reality can hit them quite hard and they can become depressed or even passive aggressive.

These people don’t simply quit and pursue their dreams for many reasons. Some are in debt, some have families and others are simply too scared to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. So they feel trapped.

Let me end the sob story here. Nobody should feel sorry for these people.

1. Most of these people are doing things most citizens of the world could only dream of. Or said differently, they’re not doing things the rest of the world is forced to do: work in dangerous environments with minimal protection for crappy pay. If you’re safe and making an average wage in a developed country you are the envy of much of the world.

2. These people still have a choice. Financial independence (or what I sometimes call ‘career independence’) can be a long-term goal, requiring long-term planning. People in debt are often in debt because they don’t have the discipline to get out of debt. If debt is keeping someone at a job they hate, they should cut their spending and pay off their debts. Many people are trapped because they are too lazy and undisciplined to change their predicament.

3. Those who are truly trapped should learn to play the game. We get one life and can only walk down one path, so make the most of it. If a person is trapped in a box they should make that the best box they can. When properly understood, a corporate environment is actually one massive social and psychological experiment. What it takes to succeed often has little to do with competence at a specific function. Instead, success in a corporate environment is driven by understanding and manipulating the motivations of your colleagues and superiors. People who hate their jobs but are stuck can treat their career like an social experiment or psychological game. This might make the entire experience more interesting. Of course, shifting to this kind of attitude can be difficult for those who truly want to make a difference.

Having said all this, ideally one never enters a situation that they dislike in the first place. I will write more about that later, but it is critical that young kids and teenagers make career choices based on a true understanding of what they’re getting into. For those already stuck in the rat race, it’s not half as bad as you think.

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