In networking circles it is popular to announce ourselves as “corporate refugees.” When someone proudly declares they finally left their corporate career, they are met with a round of cheers, applause and high-fives.
That frequent celebratory scene is harmful on a number of levels – five levels, to be precise. It actually undermines all of us – from entrepreneurs starting out to those still in corporate jobs.
Business, no matter the size, drives a tremendous amount of our personal sense of self-worth in the world. The way we talk about ourselves in relationship to what we do for a living is significant. A constant dialog that defines us by what we are not, such as “corporate refugee,” limits what we are able to be. It creates an unnecessary “us and them” mentality that suppresses the trust and authenticity so important to conscious business today.
Here are some of the things we are unconsciously communicating, without actually saying them, that undermine our own business aspirations and demean the choices of others. When we choose our words unconsciously for the easy (and short-lived) high-five we lose a lot – including our own self-worth.
LEVEL 1: THE BACKWARD BRAG
When we brag about how happy we are that we finally escaped our corporate job, we are communicating that we have all the skills and expertise that a corporate job afforded us. We’ve got cred! We have instant respect through our connection to the same background we are simultaneously slamming.
Our corporate employer paid us fairly (we can argue this point) well, with benefits, in order that we could grow our thought-leadership by association. Meanwhile, we were biding our time until we escape to do what we actually wanted to do in the first place. We were miserable there.
Our mixed message is: The thing that supported me as I became more fully who I am is the very thing I despise.
LEVEL 2: RESPECTING UNIQUE CHOICES
Hard as it might be to believe, not every corporation is dysfunctional and dehumanizing. There are many individuals who actually enjoy working in a large organization for a number of reasons, including the same ones that inspire others of us to start our own businesses. These reasons include:
Doing meaningful work – making a difference
A good income that affords the ability to do other things in life that they enjoy
Respect and influence
Learning and growth opportunities
There is no single way to realize these deep human needs for safety and self-actualization. Some of it is personality driven, and sometimes it is the corporate situation. Therefore it is unfair to assume that our disgust with corporate culture is remotely universal.
Many of us have corporate clients that are a large part of our financial income. It isn’t even necessary to validate our choices as right by implying their choices are wrong. Instead of claiming your “corporate refugee” status, you can say with greater empathy and even greater credibility, “I recently left my role at XYZ Corporation so I could dive deeper into helping small businesses get the same results. I am so grateful for everything I learned there. It opened my eyes to how fortunate we were, and I began to see a way to help others thrive too.”
It isn’t even necessary to validate our choices as right by implying their choices are wrong.
LEVEL 3: HOW WE LEAVE IS HOW WE BEGIN
Whether it’s a job or a marriage, when we leave a relationship filled with unresolved emotions, we bring all that junk into our next relationship. It’s unavoidable, and often why history seems to repeat itself with confounding regularity.
When I left my first career job, working at what was the largest communications and production agency in the world, I was exhausted and depleted. I felt I had been used, marginalized, and manipulated. I decided I would start my own agency, and create a thriving, harmonious space for myself. Oddly, the opposite happened. I became an even worse boss to myself than the one I had just left. I quickly became overwhelmed and depleted again, just as I had been at the agency. It took me years to resolve and release the resentments I had towards my previous employer. When I did, however, my own business took off – to the tune of millions of dollars. Those invisible resentments were blocking the very success I wanted so desperately.
The word refugee implies being forcibly ousted from your homeland. When you are a refugee, you are in hardship. You have no home. You are to be pitied that perhaps you might have the chance to rebuild a life on the ashes of all you have lost. Actual political refugees will tell you –that’s the energy of conflict and suffering.
Better to resolve any outstanding resentment sooner rather than later, but above all, try not to define yourself by your resentments. When you assign yourself the role of outcast, there is no honor, only a long, hard road out of a land of misery.
LEVEL 4: SELF-LIMITING BELIEFS
Dissing corporations as a category implies any and all large organizations are bad. Broad generalizations like this are the foundation of prejudices – and prejudice is a distortion of the truth. A similarly inaccurate statement is “too much money is bad.” However, it has been proven that individuals who believe this have money avoidance behaviors, and their belief system was significantly correlated with their income and net worth.
The same is true of those who look at the idea of large corporations as “bad” will avoid growing “too large” for fear of losing their purpose, values, or mission. Nothing could be further from the truth. When a company leads with their purpose and values, they generate greater sustainable growth than their less purposeful counterparts. Purpose-centered organizations outstrip their peers by 10 to 1.
When a company leads with their purpose and values, they generate greater sustainable growth than their less purposeful counterparts.
But before you get too excited about that, be mindful that you aren’t harboring a belief that “big” means “corrupt” or “inhumane”. In order to become more influential, and create a greater impact on the world, you might just need to become a corporation. Instead of being a corporate refugee, perhaps you might think of yourself as a fledgling corporation in its infancy, preparing to outshine all the rest.
LEVEL 5: MISSING THE POINT
If it took you 5, 10, or even 20 years to recognize there is something greater for you to do in the world, and then another 5 or 10 years to screw up the courage to take that leap into an unknown universe, then don’t demean your courage and insight by framing your grand reinvention by what you no longer are.
I am grateful for all my teachers – however irritating, frustrating and painful their lessons might have been.
I am grateful for the knowledge I gained along my journey, without which I would not be able to be who I am or do what I do with as much skill and confidence.
Don’t demean your courage and insight by framing your grand reinvention by what you no longer are.
I am most grateful to be where I am right now – passionately helping others to shine brightly in their businesses, demonstrating a process and real results for them.
They don’t care as much about my background as they care about, and trust in, my ability to help them grow successfully right here and right now.
The point is you have a passion, a purpose and (hopefully) a plan to get out there and grow. You and I weren’t wasting time in corporate, and we weren’t a captive there. We were there while we chose to be. Now we are boldly choosing this – and the world should be grateful we are here!
We aren’t corporate refugees. We are the businesses building the future of humankind. We are about growing our businesses consciously for a healthier, more sustainable, benevolent world.
Want some applause and a high-five? You got it!