Overcoming fear of regret and breaking free of corporate shackles

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“Don’t you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret?”

This line from the Christopher Nolan film Inception hit a chord with me the first time I heard it and often replays in my mind. The concept of regret is an interesting one – this often intangible feeling of sorrow and remorse over something either done or not done. People often say that you will always regret something you do not do rather than something you do, however what if you are faced with two paths of potential do-ing. To do one will be to not do the other, and vice versa. Frustratingly I am often consumed with thoughts on regret – not anything I have particularly regretted in my own life, but an awareness of it as a concept and a result I would like to avoid at all costs. This can be unhealthy at times as I preface actions, behaviors, ventures and plans with this murky nonsensical question of ‘will I regret this?’ or ‘will I regret not doing this?’ How can you rationalize with a potential outcome based on an emotional state of remorse in some future unspecified time? How can you have a back and forth debate and deliberation leading to an informed decision when essentially you are discussing against a vapid mist of maybes, unknowns and ifs- all of which fluctuate based on mind set, emotional context and a hundred other variables.

As an avid appreciator of the occasional uplifting quote, clichéd maxims and inspirational food for thought type proverbs I tell myself the usual throw caution to the wind – live for today – you will regret what you do not do – life is short – plans make fools of us all – type clichés.

But the reality is, though that may be my sentiment at the core, years and years of conditioning have created something to the contrary and I have become the very antithesis of these Paulo Coelho seek your treasure range of clichés. I have doubts and worries about grown up things like mortgages and pension plans and rainy day savings and property portfolios. Verbalizing this out loud (or via the written word) makes me realize how dull and terribly uninspiring that is. I’ve seen firsthand how easy it is to lose money accumulated over years of hard work and for the safety blanket to be pulled right from your arms. This has perhaps resulted in an unhealthy relationship with work – from working three jobs at the same time throughout University, to going on to delve straight into the corporate world after graduation with travel aspirations confined to 25 days throughout the year. I’ve envied and sometimes scoffed at peoples leisurely approach to finding employment, in between all the extended gap years, post Uni gap years and mid employment gap years. Sure it’s great when money is not a concern – people from well to do backgrounds have all the time in the world – unsuccessful endeavors are never failures, just learning curves and great networking opportunities. Time out of employment is not seen as a negative but as a testament to ‘life experience’, and after all the finding oneself and pontifications there will be something comfortable, lucrative and stable to fall back on. This is great for those who have that luxury, but as someone who hasn’t I have calculated every step and career move and life plan based on maximum returns. I have set yearly monetary goals and when not achieved I have bounced out of companies and gone to competitors where I can negotiate the 20% bumps that my own employer would not brandish out to current employees.

8 years of corporate life later and I feel tired and disillusioned – burnt out almost. Burn out before even turning thirty? Ridiculous I know. But it is a burn out of my creativity, potential and ambition that comes with spending 5 days a week pursuing someone else’s ambition (in my case the Investment Banking CEO’s) and the remaining two days recovering. Spending the best part of your day, for the best part of your life working and exhausting brain power for something that does not give back to anyone other than shareholders pockets – and that you do not love or does not fill you with excitement is sad, just really sad.
When you actually break it down and think about it in a vacuum independent of all the consumer driven capitalist conditioning we receive and reinforce on a daily, no, on a minute by minute basis that tells us we are lucky to go to work every day building someone else’s empire, buying things we do not need and aren’t even sure we want (to again build up someone else’s empire) for what? To impress people? To impress ourselves? To feel worthy? To own more things? The irony is that the more we own the more our possessions own us, and the more we want the more insatiable our want becomes.

So no, I am not lucky or privileged for having a role to play in the rat race and being a  cog in a huge corporate machine. I am privileged because as someone with access to clean water, food every day, an education and free healthcare I belong to a disproportionately tiny percentage of the world’s population. As part of that population when I stop to think that I am working for an even smaller and more privileged group of people rather than the overwhelming masses who have none of the aforementioned basic needs we all take for granted I feel like an unwilling punch line in a twisted ironic joke. Some will say that working your day job and giving money to charity is fine but this self reassuring idea that throwing money on a problem as a solution is naïve ignorance at best. I am talking about people who feel that they have more to give than a tax break donation to a click-cause online. People who know that they can give more whether by their time, brain power, skill set or anything else. The business acumen and effective project management we put on our CV’s to secure high paying jobs at Banks and Consulting Firms – surely those same skills are more valuable and needed elsewhere?

These are the thoughts I have as I am in the midst of embarking on a new chapter of my life– one that entails a break from the corporate life, both its shackles and its advantages in pursuit of finding more meaning than that which is found in status reports and project plans and risk assessments. There is no great cause or sign on the dotted line to change the world manifesto, I just know that what I am doing right now is neither brining myself fulfillment beyond the materialistic, nor is it serving anyone other than the top 1%. If I am going to be a cog in a machine I would prefer that to be my own machine; of travel, experience, mess ups and learning curves and when I have these nagging doubts that tell me “don’t be reckless you will regret it later” and try to convince me that youth is best spent for accumulation, and old age spent to enjoy the fruits of labor I remind myself how unpredictable life is, how the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, how time is the most valuable asset and experience the best return on investment (even Paulo Coelho and the Tumblr girls would be proud of this cliché orgy going on here).

I think by writing this I have finally put to bed the nagging doubts and concerns playing on repeat in my mind and can now be at peace with the exciting changes the next few months will bring where I will finally be able to take off my self-imposed corporate shackles.               

3 comments

  1. Hi,

    I was reading your thoughts agreeing so strongly with it and excited to reach the end to see what is the solution you have found, yet it doesn’t seem clear? I feel the same about work and I wish to travel and explore yet in order to do that I sadly need money and so am stuck in a loop. How did u manage to escape? How would u solve the money issue ?!

  2. Hi Zaynab,

    I am pretty much feeling how you are feeling. I took a year out to try and start my own business and look into alternative ways to make money and although I managed to start a small on line business it is very small and I find myself back in the rat race. But I have been thinking along the same lines as you described. I just feel stuck in the never ending cycle.

    I’m glad you have found a way out.

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