— 10 May 2012
My decision to walk away from corporate life a few months ago, from what people would consider a peak of career in the early 50′s, has been examined and conclusions are drawn according to the inclination of each individual. It is not as clear to people, like another friend’s very recent departure into politics. That is dealing in blacks and whites as he is going to correct the wrongs of Pakistan, Inshallah; much more cut and dried and with a clear goal in mind. My decision has tones of grey in it and therefore is less palatable. Is this the musings of a wandering minstrel?
Well, as a first benefit of my decision, take this fact, that I would never be able to write in Borderline Green so openly, if I was CEO of a large corporate. The value of that freedom alone is something which I have not tasted these past 28 years and makes life worth living again. At least I am not a hostage to fortune anymore.
My career went through its chronological mental stages, best described as:-
- “need to do this because everyone does it”
- a feeling of importance and finding one’s own feet
- interesting work, I am mentally engaged
- “I need to do this for my family”
- “oh I am a CEO” (very short satisfaction period!)
- then “what a burden of responsibility this is”
- to “why am I doing this?”
- “my work is done; others will do the job now and I will live a better life Inshallah”
- Lastly, relief at a job finished and freedom
The problem was the feeling of “I am in this for myself only“. I think it was prevalent in the background throughout this 28 year period. It was a battle within, fought continuously and never overcome. For all one can imagine a larger purpose to one’s career, the reality is that you are doing it for yourself and not for society, country or other altruistic reasons. Unfortunately, there exists a very human tendency to fool oneself into thinking that it is worthwhile, because “I am doing it for others”.
Not for long though. Eventually the dreaded question comes back in the silent beat of the night. Why? Why this soul-killing regime of travel, meetings, hours of useless discussions, putting on a mask, and acting a role. And if you happen to work for an MNC, it becomes worse. At best I found MNC, as real phooey work. The most senior of CEOs operate within a strict band of authority. It is like that dog who uselessly runs besides a speeding car, barking at it. All bark no substance.
You are actually serving a master called the international stock exchange and you will never humanize that in a millennium. Profit and share price are the only operating goals, though you might think it is CSR or building capability or globalization etc. You are fooling yourself and others. What you are now applying is another bugbear, which is ever present at various stages of a career. Our ability to provide “spin”, to this lifelong exercise. Many do it expertly, others reluctantly and some are never good at it. But the truth is that your career prospects improve, if you have learned to apply “spin” to your corporate presence.
So good citizens who are reading this diatribe, sometime in the night over your career you will hear a call, and that voice will ask in ever more urgent terms: “why?”
You can choose to fool yourself, stay addicted to social edict or you can start the intense self examination on whether you should open the door and walk out to something more fulfilling. If you choose not to do anything, then it is no different to 99% other humans. Fine! But know that when you are 80 and look back, there is almost certain to be massive regrets at not taking action. A life uselessly spent in the search of the legal tender and position in society.
If you do decide to do something, don’t kid yourself by putting bandages on your wounds. That is time and money spent on a fool’s errand. Better to do it wholeheartedly. It could be that the eventual result is failure. That is always a possibility. However, if you succeed, then also understand that there is no better feeling one can have in this life. To really live for the larger good is the true purpose of existence, as shown by Prophets, religions and great reformers.
I know there are many of you out there, as you speak to me regularly. Open the gate and go out. Inshallah you will be in an adventure and will not regret it. Just reclaim ownership of your life.