Wednesday, 10 October 2012


I have to be careful writing this.
So many people know where I have come from, where I have been, but I doubt many fully understand what brought me to where I am now.
I wouldn't want to upset any of the people I refer to as I write, I still have a great deal of respect for them, and what we all achieved together back in the old corporate days. I won't use names, I won't actually say where I was during the course of the events that I describe, but you may, and I'm sure you will, attempt to fill in the gaps that I leave for yourself. That is entirely up to you.

Hopefully too, my words will be of interest and a bit of a lesson into how chance comments that are made and how things that are overheard can make an enormous difference to someone who was in my position, they made differences to me that took all of my personal motivation away and caused me to question every aspect of my life in the corporate world, and to think deeply about where my life was going. They also, eventually, led me to leave that life behind for a much better, much more rewarding life, even though my 'new' life has none of the 'benefits' that corporate life seems to give you.

I was lucky, so lucky to be able to escape, even though it cost me a great deal, financially and emotionally. So many are trapped in this corporate life by the rewards, and by what they stand to lose if they leave it. The decision to get out wasn't mine alone, I admit that, but the life I have now is a far far better one, a much more rewarding one, and one in which I can truly be honest with myself and all around me, I don't need to pretend any more. That is a wonderful feeling.

I achieved a relatively senior management position in one company, but that was only after a great deal of struggle in my life. So, I was grateful for that position and I poured myself into the various tasks that I had to undertake heart and soul. I immersed myself into it completely, to the detriment of my personal life, a mistake so many make.

I had a fantastic team working with me, and together we achieved great things.
It was one of those company's that we all felt ownership of, we all had shares in it given to us as part of our annual bonus package, but it was more than that, despite being so large a company we were all a 'family' striving together for the good of the company and for the good of the people we served, our customers.
It was a company that had 'Values' like so many others. 'Values' that we were all supposed to live by to govern the way we all treated each other, and to make our working lives better. Values statements were posted all over the walls of our offices, statements that included words like 'respect',' teamwork', 'trust', 'listen', 'support', 'share knowledge', ''enjoy our work and 'have respect for our communities'.
I really believed in those values, and I tried so hard to live them.
I really believed the corporate hype that we were delivering good to the world in our expansion into other countries.
I even went out to various meetings during my day job and used the words we were being taught and spread the word of the 'good' we were doing myself, and I was very successful in using the hype to deliver what the company needed me to deliver in order to achieve their annual goals.
Like most such large companies we also had sessions and seminars where we discussed all of these things. Meetings and courses that were supposed to make us feel better about ourselves and to work better as teams...'one team'. We discussed the 'Values', we talked about keeping ourselves healthy and about our diets, we were encouraged to 'open up' and tell all about our true feelings. I even saw grown men cry during some of those sessions, the atmosphere of the meetings was so intense. Many of us completely dropped our guards and opened ourselves up entirely for our corporate bosses to see. 
Those were sessions that I now regard as nothing but brain washing, brain washing with only one end, which was to make us better cogs within the corporate machine.
Obvious huh? Only trouble was I didn't realize it then. I believed it all...........even worse.....I believed IN it, and I did my best to live it all.
As part of my role I was required to attend regular meetings with some of the most senior people within the company.
After one of those meetings I was sitting in our smoking room when one of those senior figures came in. In those days he did it quite often, and on this occasion he did the usual thing and bummed a cigarette from me. He, like all of the members of our Board was someone I respected greatly, for his intelligence and his inspiring leadership. He is a charismatic person, loved throughout the company for the person he is, and by rising through the ranks in the company had become a multi-millionaire. I always felt honoured to be treated as a friend by him and to be respected for my knowledge and my specialism, he actually listened to me, which, quite frankly amazed me. He was usually bright, smiling and optimistic, but on this occasion he looked tired and troubled. The meeting we had been in wasn't supposed to discuss the costs of a project, only the technical aspects of it that would affect it's viability, costs were supposed to be dealt with at another, far more senior meeting. However, we had discussed one project at this meeting at length, a difficult project which took the company to a new place in terms of it's growth and the public perception of the company, and inevitably we had discussed the costs that had to be borne to bring that one project in. We weren't always alone as we shared a late evening cigarette after that meeting, and  usually the conversations we had were trivial ones about nothing in particular. This time though we were alone, no-one else was in the smoking room and we continued to talk about this one difficult project and how he was going to be able to 'sell' it to the Board when they met. As we finished our second cigarettes he said a few words that were to start me questioning everything about my life. He was never indiscreet, he never said anything to me that he wasn't supposed to say, and I should feel pleased that he felt able to be so candid with me on this occasion, but the words drilled home just as easily as if someone was using hammer drill on my heart.

"After all, we really are only here for one thing, and that is to make our shareholders, who are already very rich people, even richer"

He went on to talk about how those shareholders needed to be convinced that such a large investment, when there were so many other cheaper opportunities, would be a good investment and would yield greater profits for them than the others. I didn't really hear any of his subsequent words, I had just had my whole life blown away. OK I know I was a shareholder in the  company too, but I wasn't the sort of person he was talking about. I actually believed in the 'Values', that we had, I actually believed in the corporate hype that we were delivering good to the world, and I had completely immersed myself into that life on the basis of that hype. I definitely wasn't doing what i did just to make rich people richer.

When I drove home that evening, I was tempted to stop and have a drink, just to think, but instead I parked up along a country road and went for a walk, a long walk. By the time I returned to my car it was already getting dark. I had thought through the whole of my day and my conversation in the evening, and even though it had affected me so much I decided that I had to put it behind me, try to ignore it and get on with things in the best way I could.
That's what I did, I hid the conversation away in the back of my mind and I carried on getting on with my job. A few weeks later, I was present at the meeting where the finances of the difficult project were discussed. The meeting was chaired by the CEO of the company, and much to my pleasure (and a sly wink from the Director I had spoken with) it was approved, and eventually went ahead.
Things carried on like this for some time, I carried on in the way I always had done, doing my best to live the 'Values' and to deliver what was right for our customers. However, I was also aware of a nagging doubt that I now had in my mind. I was aware of a larger number of fundamental questions that arose in my head when I was at some of the later meetings. I didn't dare air any of the questions that did come in to my head at any of the meetings, but maybe I should have done, maybe I should have been braver. Doing so would probably have speeded up my exit from the corporate world anyway!
I'm certain that my colleagues would have seen a difference in me, would have sensed a greater cynicism in me than they had seen before, but none actually said anything to me about it.
Then, a few months later I was to hear of another instance of more candid, unguarded words, this time from the CEO of the company, and when I heard them they completely destroyed everything that I had come to believe in within the company. It was another one of those difficult, financial approval meetings, and as usual our CEO was honest and straight with his opinions regarding certain proposals made by another Technical Director within the company, and his refusal of those proposals. There was no open vote, the CEO just refused it, bluntly, as he had a right to do. Upon hearing the CEO's frank views the Technical Director said;

"I don't think that is living the 'values' very well" 

To which he received this very firm response from the CEO, as he pointed at the entrance to the Board Room;

"That crap stays outside that door!"

When I heard those words my corporate world came crumbling down. I had just been so naive, so trusting, so open to all of the suggestion, so succumbing to all of the brain washing.

It was at this time that words from my youth came flowing back into my mind. Words that may appear now to be crass, pretentious and from another time, but words that I had once promised myself to try and live by, but also words which I had forced into the deep recesses of my mind to be forgotten.

They are words form a very old album by a band called The Moody Blues. The album was called 'Threshold of A Dream', and as with many of their albums it had pieces of poetry intertwined into the great music they played. It was the final verse of this one poem that was there again. The whole poem takes the form of a conversation one man was having as part of the struggles going on in his mind, and it is called 'In The Beginning';


 I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.


Of course you are my bright little star,

I’ve miles and miles of files

Pretty files of your forefather’s fruit
And now to suit our Great computer,
You’re magnetic ink.


I’m more than that, I know I am, at least, I think I must be.

Inner man: 

There you go man, keep as cool as you can.

Face piles and piles of trials with smiles.

It riles them to believe that you perceive the web they weave
So, keep on thinking free.

Yes I know, some people might think that the words are crass, pretentious, in some ways meaningless, definitely very 'hippie', definitely very outdated, but at the time, and ever since, very meaningful for me, just as the words were when I was young.

I wish i could say that I just stood up and walked out at that point, that I went and did a 'Reggie Perrin'. I'm afraid that I didn't though, I carried on trying, I carried on trying to pretend, but my heart wasn't in it any more
In the months, years following over which my painful exit from the corporate world occurred I tried to move on, to start again, to renew my faith, but I couldn't.
Ironically it was another entirely unrelated 'Corporation' that enabled us to come to this new life and work in the way we wanted to, with the children of Romania. Another 'Corporation' with 'Values' dedicated apparently to making a difference in this world. They proved to be just the same though as any other large company in the corporate world and after only six months of running a programme with children in Romania, they pulled out because the 'top line' wasn't good enough. We should have known. 
There is more to be told now of how my new life came to me, it was bought to me, in a sudden unexpected moment. After that I suffered badly from stress caused by a very messy and painful divorce, and my work suffered badly as a result. I also became unwittingly involved in office politics that were designed to remove me, and they did, but I give thanks for that every day, because my life now is an honest one, no pretence, no brain washing, and I live every day just being me, 'thinking free' if you like.


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