This Is Not Your Father’s Job Market
If you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work.
So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.
—Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons in Office Space
Some of the most seemingly successful corporate movers and shakers have a dirty little secret. They hate their jobs.
Bob in Accounting is burned out and on the verge of going postal—better stay away from the mailroom. Diane the VP of sales just got downsized for the second time in two years, and Ted the new marketing guy is counting the milliseconds until five o’clock.
The corporate career path can be exciting, well paid, and highly prestigious. On the flip side, Corporate America can also feel like a creativity-destroying, soul-deadening maze of politics and bureaucracy.
While some thrive in the rat race, others feel trapped. If you’re sick of trying to conform to the corporate dress code, the corporate mind-set, and the corporate “culture,” you’re not alone.
If you picked up this book, it’s because there’s a part of you that dreams of a career more fulfilling than your current nine-to-five rut. A little voice inside has been telling you that something has to change.
So why haven’t you made a break for it? Wiggling free from the golden handcuffs of a “good job” that’s making you miserable isn’t easy. The idea of walking away from a steady paycheck and health benefits can be terrifying—especially if you’re not 100 percent sure what you really want to do with your life.
That’s how millions get stuck in lives of quiet corporate desperation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to choose between cubicle slavery and abject poverty.
Today there are plenty of job options beyond the corporate ladder. And there are plenty of ways—both practical and radical—to make the leap from a life of daily distress to a career that inspires you.
I Hate My Job
Recent surveys show that a record 50 percent of American workers are dissatisfied with their jobs and 80 percent fantasize about leaving their current gigs. Surprisingly, despite higher salaries and better benefits, corporate workers are more miserable than those in other types of jobs.
Studies have revealed that employees of small companies are more than twice as satisfied as employees of large corporations. Meanwhile, free agents and entrepreneurs are even happier, with 87 percent reporting they are satisfied with their jobs.
“Corporate America is not aligned with the needs and requirements of its increasingly diverse workforce, and radical changes in attitude mean that a growing number of young Americans are dissatisfied, disengaged, and unproductive,” according to a report by researchers from The Concours Group, who conducted a survey of more than seven thousand U.S. workers.
“Sometimes I fantasize about getting hit by a car,” confides Dina P., a midlevel manager for a large financial services corporation. “Nothing too serious. Just bad enough that I have to miss work for a while.”
Of course, millions of people in other professions experience similar issues, but corporate types face unique challenges. After years of ascending the corporate ladder, most have attained a certain salary level and a certain degree of career success. Feelings of identity, self-worth, and belonging are all tied up in their job titles. They feel like they have a lot to lose by walking away.
Suck It Up, Cry-Baby
So what’s wrong with these people? They’re not ditch diggers or sweatshop laborers. Dina and David have cushy office jobs, make good money, and enjoy generous 401(k) plans. They should be happy, right?
Your grandparents would have scoffed at the concept of job fulfillment. Previous generations mostly saw work as a necessary evil—you weren’t supposed to like it. They felt lucky just to earn enough money to feed their families and pay the rent. After all, does anybody really like his job?
The answer today is a resounding yes. There is a fortunate segment of the population made up of people who love what they do for a living. Their eyes light up when they talk about their work, and they’re proud of the contributions they make.
“I was always in a sour mood on Sunday nights because I had to wake up the next day and live a bad, bad nightmare all over again,” says David R., a corporate attorney. “I felt like I was trapped in the movie Groundhog Day.”
Today work is more personal than ever before. Who you are is what you do. Sure, it’s important to maintain perspective and not take opportunities for granted. With so much poverty and suffering in the world, the ability to choose a career that brings joy and fulfillment is a privilege. But for those who have the option, why waste the majority of your waking hours in a job that makes you miserable?
The average American spends more than one hundred thousand hours at work over the course of a lifetime. And that’s a very conservative estimate, given ever-increasing workloads and later retirement ages. If you truly believe that work shouldn’t be fulfilling or interesting, that it’s just a means to a paycheck, then you’re missing a lot.
No job is all fun and free beer. That’s why they call it work. Let’s face it, even the most tedious corporate job beats cleaning toilets at the bus station or running the deep-fryer at Mickey D’s.
And not every corporate job is a pit of Dilbertian despair. Some corporate executives love their work. They believe in their products and services and get a charge out of helping their companies succeed.
All jobs have both positives and negatives—and the negatives are different for every individual. One person might find number-crunching financial reports tedious while another thrives on the challenge. One employee may love the excitement of a demanding, competitive work environment while another gets ulcers just thinking about it.
Executives with seemingly great jobs can be just as unhappy as anyone else if their work lacks the elements that they value. For those looking primarily for financial gain or prestige, high-level corporate gigs can be very rewarding. For others who prioritize flexibility or exercising their creativity, corporate life can be hell.
It’s not just about the money. A recent survey by The Conference Board found that 17 percent of those making $15,000 a year say they are satisfied with their jobs, compared with just 14 percent of those who make more than $50,000.
Marcus Buckingham, the author of The One Thing You Need to Know and an expert on employee satisfaction, told USA Today that some of the most disengaged people he’s encountered were senior executives running empires and earning millions of dollars.
Excerpted from Escape from Corporate America by Pamela Skillings. Copyright © 2008 by Pamela Skillings. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.