Why I Quit Corporate Only To Go Back to Heal It
I was at a concert in Camden, NJ the summer of 1997, mere months before my college graduation.
Seated next to me was blonde-haired Grateful Dead enthusiast with a bit of a depressive vibe to him. We were there hoping to enjoy the summer breeze under the amphitheater roof, graced with some uplifting music.
What he turned to me and said was anything but uplifting.
"Stay away from getting a corporate job for as long as you can. It's incredibly stressful," he said, shaking his head in disarray.
I hadn't planned on hearing what I thought might be true that day, but in retrospect, he was right and I didn't listen.
Perhaps he was at the show to remember the freedom of his life before responsibility knocked. In counter irony, maybe I was there to savor the freedom I knew might soon end.
Think about this language. The language we speak to ourselves. "It might be hell, but I need the money." Yet, so many of us enter into the corporate world bracing for heavy impact.
I reflect on this scenario because he was trying to help me stave off stress. It didn't help. I walked away feeling pained that I was about to walk into the corporate fire.
Although I had worked in Princeton, NJ for a medical communications firm as my first "real job," I think of my first Portland, OR job for a marketing agency as being way more "real." That's because the stress was real. The lightning pace was real. The communication dynamics, the egos, the money, the expectations, the responsibility and the fervor was real. All to.
I worked intimately with many clients, visiting them in their offices. Here I began to develop a keen acuity for the "energy of the office." I would think, "I could never work here." Not because of the people per se, but the collective energy. At one company everything felt stuck in a bygone era. The wafts of old furniture tarnished the air as much as the heavy, plodding steps that employees took along the flattened carpet.
Upon working in a much different corporate environment I noticed that even though the space itself felt upbeat and bright, there was a heavy cloud of pressure. People breathed out hard. Like they had been chased down the hallway by a deadline. Circles under the eyes formed squares around everyone's body. It felt rigid and uncompromising. I thought, "I could never work here."
I began to assess my own work. The environment. The people. I worked predominantly in a converted loft space in the Pearl District. The old Doug Fir hardwoods gleaming red and orange, creaking like shattered bones, yet soft on the eyes and toes. I worked with no more than 3 other people, rarely spending time with them because of a busy workload. From the outside it look beautiful. On the inside I worked for a highly competitive, go-for-the-jugular company that expected perfection. I tried every day to rise to that degree. Over time I thought to myself, "I could never work here."
When I chose to resign I recollected on my decision. Why did I really quit? Was it the people, the place, the premise? Why couldn't I work in any of these places?
Taking stock I realized that I actually could work in all of the places - with different context. I wasn't meant to be an organizer, planner, strategist, executor, leader within a firm.
Instead I was meant to be an inspiration, facilitator, a bridge, a beacon of light, a leader of personal change and empowerment. A developer of humans.
It wasn't the company in question. The unanswered question was ME.
I knew at the very end of my tenure that I needed (not just wanted) to help other executives in roles where they need support. And not just business and leadership support in the MBA context. The kind of support that asks and heals feelings and thoughts and energy and helps them uncover potentially harmful strategies they employ throughout their life.
The risk if I didn't? Collective energy at many corporations would get no sustenance, no support and no change. I couldn't bear to think that someone like my own mother labored through countless corporate jobs that didn't care about her as a human and that I could potentially change that tide.
And for those already doing amazing work at keeping employees in a high state of health? If I didn't do this work they may slip. They may not sustain that same energy.
Energy needs to be sustained. That's why top performers continue to excel. It's why great companies thrive.
One of my assets was easing clients. They could trust me. I developed a relationship of rapport. I bridged for them anything they wanted.
I decided I need to pivot into healing work using the very natural quality because I was what I needed most - yet didn't often receive. I needed someone to be there for me.
I didn't care that I'd be stepping back into corporate offices that might "feel" heavy, negative, burdened or dysfunctional. I didn't care that I was going back into a world that I just stepped out of.
All I cared about was offering pause to overloaded executives. To give them a refuge, a retreat to come back home into their body for a while. So they can walk away shifted in energy and perspective. So they can do their work differently, more bravely, more confidently.
As I say to my wife, there are three areas in which need the most healing: corporate, government and healthcare. That represents just about every person in our country.
And, as my friend Michael says, that's a mission-driven business.