(Watercolor by J)
A good ol’ friend called to chat with me. She was also at Microsoft for many years, and she left the company a few years before I did. A mutual friend had told her that I left the company, and she wanted to hear directly from me whether what she heard through the grapevine was true. I was happy to catch up with an “old” friend, and grateful to receive her congratulatory words and best wishes for my new adventure.
We reminisced about our days as corporate lawyers, and what went well for us and what didn’t in our former workplace. Especially after my musings yesterday resulting in writing a post about my realization regarding how everything and everyone that had appeared so critical during my seven-and-a-half years of tenure was “all gone,” I smiled at this sweet synchronicity: re-living my past experience through sharing it with a friend who knows the context so well, both the culture and the people in that culture.
Yet, I am no longer part of that world. It feels almost freaky to see the stark difference juxtaposed in this way: one day I existed in one reality (i.e., in a global corporate ecosystem as big as Microsoft), but when I stepped out of that world, I stopped existing as far as that corporate ecosystem was concerned. I mentioned this to Charles the other day and added, “I suppose it is not unlike death. When you die, you leave the world, yet the world goes on without you.” It is only illusion to think that the world revolves around me, I know; however, I wasn’t even thinking that the company revolved around me when I was working there. Perhaps it was because I was so deep in the thick-and-thin of everything happening at work that I saw my work and my life merged as one. In addition, most of my waking hours were devoted to work (as defined by my corporate employer) and work had a way of either inundating or creeping up incessantly. Personally, I struggled with setting a healthy boundary between work and not-work because for me saying “no” was much more challenging than just buckling up to meet others’ needs and wants. No wonder I feel not only a huge relief of pressure and liberation from stepping out of corporate employment, but also what may be found on the other side of the relentless pace of a produce-or-perish environment: a gigantic open canvas and nothingness. The funny thing is that it is comforting and scary at the same time. I’m finally learning to practice my philosophy of “both/and” now. Yes, life can be comforting and scary at the same time. Work can be exhilarating and “pulling teeth” at the same time. Creativity can be in flow and out of flow at the same time. It’s all good when I am put in a position to practice what I believe because practice makes it mine!
I also find it paradoxical that the corporate ecosystem is “real” in some ways but “fictional” in other ways. Corporations are made up of real people working to make a living; they are busy with daily money transfers and transactions as well as revenue generation and gyration; and they make human communities small and large possible within the broader corporate umbrella. At the same time, I also experienced feeling disconnected from reality while working in the corporate environment. Many corporate discussions and discourses weren’t “real” in the sense that they didn’t seem to make a real impact on human lives or communities. Instead, many hours of meetings and tasks involved spreadsheet of numbers and figures, revenue projections and target populations, as well as graphs, charts, documents, strategies and plans, which all seemed to reflect someone’s endeavor to understand and analyze the real world, but at best these work products were only real in the minds of the “worker bees” who created the presentations, spreadsheets and documents, and the “executives” who commissioned and consumed them. Real connections were missing because everyone was focused on making head-to-head connections, but rarely heart-to-heart or head-to-heart connections. Without these missing connections, the real conversations necessary to find solutions that took all constituents into consideration in a holistic manner were not possible. How about starting a product planning session with a question such as: “Are we creating a win-win solution for all of the shareholders, management, employees, customers, vendors, and business partners?”
Personally I often felt so removed from the real world because most of my work, work environment and workdays required me to function “neck-up,” most preferably in the cerebral region of my anatomy, and even in that isolated region, more to the left side than the right side of my brain. I was not able to bring my whole self to work. No, perhaps it is more accurate to say that I was not expected to bring and apply my whole self at work. Most of what was required of me was my brain cells, and the rest of me became restless. We commonly say, “When you don’t use them, you lose them,” and my heart and hara didn’t want to be lost. They wanted to contribute to my success as much as my head! However, opportunities to use the genius of my heart and hara were too few and far between.
I accept my corporate death willingly. Although my departure was voluntary, I do not view it as analogous to “suicide.” Rather, I view it as the start of my “second life.” It is literally all about the second half of my life. A second chance to create the life I would have liked for the first half of my life. The paradox in this quest, however, is that I couldn’t have started my second life without the first half of my life being exactly the way it was. It’s all good when I am able to accept what has happened in my past for what it was, so that I can build on that foundation. In the lessons I’ve learned during the first half of my life, I see a strong theme of integration. I continue to practice and experiment with integrating all parts of me as I integrate my work and life. In the same vein, I’m practicing the “both/and” philosophy across the entire spectrum of my life before choosing my rightful place of balance, harmony, and wholeness, as I nurture and cultivate the garden in which my second life will sprout.
We are upon the winter season now and I sense that it is time for me to go under and inward as Nature does. As I enter the most fertile and enriching winter I have yet experienced in my lifetime, I feel my tide of joy and gratitude rising.