Today, I tendered my resignation and walked out of white-collar purgatory for good.
No, really. I’m as shocked as you are, if a little more at peace. (Not that you would have enough emotional investment in this thing to really care one way or the other, but you know what I mean.)
If this story were to have played out the way it might in an indie movie (featuring a downtrodden Joaquin Phoenix as yours truly), my relationship with this blog would have been a little more dramatic. I might have started out writing as purely a matter of good-natured hobby, then (as if beyond my control, seemingly) watched as those writings turned gradually more serious, telling of a changing perspective on the world around me. Playful satire becomes biting cynicism becomes epiphanic realization, culminating with me (Joaquin) quitting in a moment of clarity and walking out with the weight of a thousand iterations of the same memo lifted from my (his) shoulders.
(Front-facing tracking shot of Joaquin walking toward us, having just uttered the climactic sentence – “I quit.” – free at last of his corporate chains, frothy-mouthed boss heaving empty threats in the background while startled colleagues poke heads out of cubicles and offices. Joaquin, eyes ahead, sports the first hint of a grin that we’ve seen all movie. Boss’s ranting and other office sounds are gradually drowned out by the uplifting opus of some obscure indie band who will go on to moderate fame because of this one scene. Fade to black.)
Joaquin and I – we’re not so different, maybe. But here’s the reality of the situation.
This blog hasn’t been around long enough for it to have captured my entire trajectory from playful observation to existential crisis. (The movie would take place over more than the measly month that I’ve been working on WCP.) The little writing you see here has been produced at a time when I’ve been much closer to the end of that trajectory than the beginning. To wit, beneath the clumsy analogies, cheesy pop-culture references and sardonic musings has been a glaring disquietude: I have been deeply troubled by the meaninglessness of my livelihood.
Before I elaborate on that point, let me reiterate something I’ve said previously: I don’t begrudge those who do things to pay the bills. My colleagues and the legions of white-collar warriors the world over are not bad people. Recall that I, like them, have devoted my entire working life to date in service of The Corporation. I have coveted raises, promotions, respect, recognition and all the other things that come with the pursuit of an ostensibly fulfilling career in this environment. So I’m no better than anyone.
Personal prosperity aside, though, I’ve always felt a nagging guilt that my work was not really benefiting anyone outside the context of The Corporation’s business pursuits. Sure, The Corporation (note that I’m now speaking in generalities – I could be talking about any of my employers to date) provides a service that may meet a genuine need on the part of The Client. And if you’re inclined toward particularly favorable distortions of reality, you could make the argument that the delivery of such a service and/or my function as a credentialed professional constitute positive contributions to society as a whole. But in so doing, you’d be conveniently omitting the fact that everything I’ve just described wouldn’t happen if it didn’t also make a certain privileged collection of people very wealthy in the process. I have been one of those people, by the way.
So, to lean on a tired, corny and very apt phrasing of a simple question: what’s it all for?
My disquietude, while not new in the chronological milieu of this blog’s existence, has perhaps been forced to the surface by my writing about the observations that it breeds. The rituals, the mundanity, the awkward pleasantries. The ‘milestones’, the ‘celebrations’, the ‘strategic initiatives’. The earnings releases, the quarterly town-hall meetings, the annual holiday party with its two free drink tickets. The politics of workspace assignments, the epicurean ennui of a rotating cafeteria menu, the unjust inconvenience of a vending machine awaiting restocking. The ‘rewarding roles’, the ‘scope of responsibility’, the ‘compensation commensurate with skills and experience’. The recurring ‘touchbase’, the self-congratulating manager’s pontification, the placation by complimentary danish. The commuter challenges, the competitive suffering, the ambitious colleague’s subtle undermining. The leadership by stick, the leadership by carrot, the leadership by self-servitude. The protocol, the policies and procedures, the photo ops. The CEO serving the rank-&-file at the pancake breakfast, the Executive VP in the dunk tank, the Management Team parodying a Christmas carol. The RSVP to a meeting to prepare for a meeting, the patronizing post-meeting pat on the back, the performance appraisal.
All of these (randomly selected from a veritably infinite list) are evidence of an uncomfortable truth: none of us would be here if it wasn’t a means to an end. We need a paycheque, we need a house, we need a car. We need a bigger house and a nicer car. We need to save for a similar standard of living in retirement. We need an all-inclusive cruise. We need an even bigger house and an even nicer car. The shareholder needs a dividend and sufficient return on investment. The shareholder needs portfolio growth and a more expensive suit and a reserved table at the newest steakhouse in town. The shareholder needs a bigger house and a nicer car.
I’m aware that this is devolving into a hopelessly bitter invective. But like I said, I’m no better. I’ve participated in all of these things for all the same reasons. And I understand that many of the ritualistic attributes of the office environment exist to make the experience of the 9-to-5 employee more tolerable, and I will happily concede that maybe they are effective for some people in that way. I begrudge no willing or unwilling participant to the ins and outs of white-collar purgatory.
I have simply, now, reached certainty that those things are not for me.
I have spent the entirety of my career speaking about my livelihood in apologetic tones. Always with disclaimers: “I know it’s not super noble, but…” or “my work is fun if not very meaningful…” or “this is what I do but I don’t identify with it.” And yet, I was never willing to give it up, because of the things it enabled (see three paragraphs ago). So when I spoke with someone whose work helps people or things – children, the less fortunate, the environment – I felt a very real discomfort. A very real desire to cut the conversation short or change the topic, because I couldn’t justify what I was doing. Not to myself, nor to anybody. I always felt like I should be doing more.
So I’m going to do more. I don’t know what yet, but it will be more than what I’ve been doing. It’s time to disembark, florid and sweaty, from the hedonic treadmill. (If you’re not familiar with the term – do yourself a favor and click that link.) I am firmly among the privileged few who have the means to cut off their income and live comfortably for a period of time, while plotting my next move.
(It should be noted that, for all my criticism of it, I’m thankful for the gainful employment that has put me in this position of financial privilege and – by virtue of basic tautology – equipped me with the skills and inclination for whatever is to come.)
Don’t congratulate me. I haven’t done anything yet. And even if I do find a way to do something meaningful, I’m not interested in accolades. I remain, as always, self-interested: I’m confident that this new pursuit will end up being something that I enjoy more than everything I’ve been doing to date.
As for the future of this blog, I don’t really know what I’ll do with it. I have immensely enjoyed this foray into the world of writing, so I don’t think I’ll give that up. I just may not post here as much. We’ll see. Check back from time to time, or subscribe (still plugging…jeez) to be notified of new content.
Finally, it seems only fitting that I take this opportunity to come out from behind the curtain of anonymity. This is a gesture of no practical value: if you’re reading, you either know me or my identity is of zero consequence to you. But as a symbolic act of defiance, or liberation or some other cheesy thing, it kinda makes sense, right?
Thanks for reading.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada