Stop bullshit, start purpose at work.
Being raised up in a German middle class family ‘acting normal’ and have a secure and solid life, is in my genes and hard wired in my brain.
After high school, I did a two years administration traineeship at one of Germany’s famous industrial ‘Mittelstand’ companies. I started this traineeship because I just didn’t know what to do else. Being some kind of artist was not an option, I thought back then. Therefore, I opted for the solid solution as suggested by my parents. And yes, this was what I needed, a wakeup call which influenced my further path.
Working in the administrative departments throughout the company killed every sense of meaning and people seemed like living dead to me – shuffling paper around, to stamp, punch, staple, copy, and scan or just carry it to the next person. People just accepted to perform these bureaucratic processes without questioning the added value or the way it was done. The highlight of the day was the lunch. Being in a German manufacturing company, this was a sausage and meat intensive happening.
The company offered not only a secure lifelong job and a filling lunch. In addition, most of the employees also found their future spouse among the colleagues. The destiny was set in stone, apparently hard to break out one day. Just surrender to it in acceptance was not an option for me. After a couple of days, I asked myself: Can this be it? I had this fire burning inside of me, which I couldn’t really describe, but I knew that if I stay here, this fire would be extinguished.
At this point, I decided to change the way we understand work and the way of working. I couldn’t accept that people were just treated as screws in a warehouse. HR just assigned a number to it, put it in a box and placed it back on the shelf.
We are not machines. The industrial age is over. It’s time to bring humanity and meaning back to work.
I started to recognize that from very little, we grow up in a system, which tells us what to do, what is normal and we learn better not to question something. Our educational, economic and social system is still based on the requirements of the age of industrialization, which prepared people for a job and not life, just to function as a little gearwheel to keep this system of production and consumption alive.
Driven by my wish to change the world of work I studied business education. During my study years, I worked at an investment bank, strategy consultant and headhunter. Working at these professional service firms in fancy skyscraper offices was the total opposite of the ‘Mittelstand’ manufacturing company. Instead of surrendering to a modest, comfortable and stable 9-5 job, here people are chased by the never-ending and purposeless search for more: more money, more power and more status. Dressed in expensive uniform tailor suits looking like office soldiers. If you don’t make your way up here, you are out. I saw a lot of ugly behavior. The most stupid thing I experienced there: Face time. Working or better said, being present at the office for 12-18 hours, even if there was nothing to do anymore. Leaving as the first one means you are not busy, and not being busy means you are not important.
Face time beats everything I have seen before. It is the crowning glory of highly privileged so-called bullshit jobs.
Thinking about the world of work specifically and on life in general, made me realize that there is one thing we all have in common:
Fear and a feeling of lack, which most of us have been indoctrinated since we are little, is what drives us. Most people from the CEO to the student intern, from the local manufacturing company to the global investment bank are not able to break the spell we put on us. Unfortunately, I also can’t completely exclude myself from it.
During my last vacation in Uruguay, I learned about Jose Mujica, the former president of Uruguay. He is famous for being the poorest president on earth. He donated 90% of his salary to charity and lived in a little old farmhouse. Jose Mujica understood that true happiness could only arise from within. That we will never find it in consuming the outside world: not in our status, our salary, nor in our possessions. True freedom is to consume little, he says.
I recognized slowly how to break the circle of acting normal and of functioning as a part of our system. It’s is a lifelong adventure. Interested in my journey? In my next blog post I will write about what I did after my studies and where I’m today.
I want to change the way we understand work and change the way of working. It starts with you. It starts from within. Do what’s right and not what’s easy. Reconnect being and working. Now.