I’m on the plane returning from a reunion in Europe of my university days there. It’s been 20 years since graduation. And 20 years is enough time to get frustrated about corporate life – and actually, it is plenty of time to get over the frustrations, too.
On the dance floor in the wee hours of last Saturday night I didn’t do statistics of the people who might have gone through a mid-life crisis. What was very obvious is that many of us had gone through a period of asking ourselves questions like, “is this really it?” or “Is this the kind of life I dreamt of when entering university?”. From what was an elite study programme, it was very noticeable how many of us made a switch to university lecturers and small business owners over the past couple of years. This shift came after having successful career in banking, consulting and various MNC leadership positions. 20 years back, we all strived for corporate success, however, corporate life did not fulfil us on the long run. Yes, it even dragged quite a few of us down.
Why does corporate life fail to fulfil so many talented people?
One of the main factors for me going the entrepreneurial route was the lack of fulfilment in corporate life. You work long hours – and it is extremely difficult to connect to corporate values and to recognize how your contribution is adding value in the big overall scheme of things. It was extremely hard to connect to the values that the company represented; optimising shareholder value, sustainability, diversity, – the list goes on. Corporate companies all say similar things (and they might even strive to live by these principles).
I’m happy I quit corporate life.
How I defined and connected to my values
Going to work in corporate life was draining energy. Now, to me, work is energizing. Yes, facilitating a workshop means I am more energetic at the end of the day. Having sales conversation makes me feel good. And I can relax late evenings by writing my blogs and my book.
What’s the reason? It is quite simple – I was finally doing something which meant something to me.
To become fulfilled, first ask yourself what’s truly important to you. Connect to your deeper values. When you do work that you find truly meaningful, it pays positively to the energy balance, rather than draining it.
Right after quitting corporate life, I spend a lot of time on the beach. While I was there, I asked myself what I truly wanted in life. This made me get to know myself and my values a lot better. A very large part of me wants to travel and explore. Part of me longs to make a difference to people’s lives. In corporate life, these two factors had manifested themselves through continuously striving for higher leadership positions. However, these two goals were not always complementary. Since my husband and I moved countries regularly, I had to move away from positions that I had built up and start over again, which at times restricted my opportunities for promotion, and therewith the opportunity for making a difference.
Sitting on a beach and asking myself deep questions also made me aware that there were other things in life that were important to me. For instance – being happy. That was one thing that I had completely lost touch with over the previous years. I also longed to make true connections with interesting people around me. Plus spend more time on developing myself and helping others to develop themselves.
I started exploring ways to achieve this. Eventually, I found that entrepreneurial life in corporate training, facilitating workshops, was the answer. It checked all of my values. And because it was everything that I was looking for, happiness then came as a welcome freebie.
Is an exodus from corporate life into entrepreneurial life the only answer?
Absolutely not. Although this is what has now made me happy, I’m not of the opinion that leaving corporate life is the right thing for everyone. To me, the cause of this disconnect comes stems from a two-pronged problem.
First, people don’t connect to their true values. They might identify “family” as their most important value in life, and then work 12 hour shifts to earn a good income (providing for the family), instead of spending quality time with the family (which might be what is better for the family). Worse, many people don’t even know what their true values are. They’ve never taken time to ask themselves.
Second, corporate companies don’t spend enough time defining and communicating what their true cause is. My experience working for large companies is that leaders have lots of passion in making a difference – however, they don’t spend enough time spelling this out. And if it is not spelled out, it’s not used to attract the right people with similar values, and it is not providing people in the companies with the rightmotivation. They fail to inspire the people to get up in the morning and deliver the optimal performance that many entrepreneurs do, because entrepreneurs typically love to do what they do.
What’s your opinion? How can big corporate companies get their employees to connect to their values? What do you do to make this happen in your company?
Mette is a corporate trainer and an author of the book “how to make yourself promotable – 7 skills to help you up the career ladder”. She is an expert on soft skills, including communication skills, leadership skills and workplace productivity.