Let me just start by saying that I don’t want to be that guy – You know, the self-righteous hippy that slates “corporate sell outs” and all of that; rest-assured I am not that guy. We all need to work for a living, the corporate environment just isn’t for me.
Throughout University, I worked incredibly hard, excelling in every class and graduating with first class honors. I accepted my first graduate position with pride and put my all into my career, sacrificing my personal life to accommodate short deadlines and international business trips and thus quickly working my way up to an international management position. However, as I spent more and more time immersed in the corporate culture, I realized the true nature of it.
We graduate University assuming all is well and equal. We believe that if we work hard, we will be recognized and rewarded accordingly. In reality, the “old school” way of business is still very much existent in today’s corporate society, no matter how much we try to insist that it has changed, or that the working environment has become more equal.
Recognition is all about who shouts the loudest and whom draws attention to their ideas and achievements. Promotions and opportunities still favor those who play the schmooze game and are well connected with the senior management team.
The hard worker who arrives at the office early in the morning and leaves later in the evening? The more you act in this manner, the more that you will be put upon and it assumed that you can handle or even, desire, the additional workload.
As a woman in the workplace? I am a strong believer that you are still considered a woman first, and a co-worker second. People still make assumptions about you as a person based on appearances. For me, working in a very male-dominated procurement environment, it was a struggle to be taken as seriously as my male counter parts were. The first few months at a role were spent proving that no, I am not a Bimbo and yes, please don’t worry, I am indeed familiar with VLOOKUPs and pivot tables.
It is almost as though your professional and academic achievements are considered negated by a flick of pink MAC lipstick and a pair of high heels.
I didn’t care to jump on the heads of my colleagues just to be recognized for my work over theirs, it isn’t in my character. I found those that acted in this way rather embarrassing. The way that they would treat senior executives in an almost God-like manner, deemed unapproachable for normal topics of conversation made me cringe.
I realized that I was just not all that motivated by money. Coming from a working class background, I have never really had a lot, so I have never needed a lot. I was partial to the occasional pair of Jimmy Choos, but they were not a prerequisite to my happiness.
My only reason for entering this career path in the first place was so that I could earn enough to live a comfortable lifestyle – enough so that I could afford to travel the World during my vacation days and enough that I could socialize with my friends during the weekends and evenings.
Sometimes it feels that our self worth in the western world is measured by our job title, the money that we earn, and the brands and cars that we parade around in.
I was a walking contradiction: negotiating multi-million dollar deals during working hours, and then packing up my hiking gear to backpack and volunteer in Asia on my vacation days.
I would meet inspiring people on each trip that I took – travelers who valued life and experience over material possessions and status, local people who were incredibly happy despite having very little.
Returning from my trips to my cubicle made me realize that I wanted to do something with more substance. The negotiations that I was conducting, and the work that I was doing was purely lining the pockets of the investors.
I wanted to do something whereby I was helping people, and making a difference. I wanted to be able to look back on life and know that I had done some good.
I had been living a life that I thought that society expected of me, and not following what I really wanted to be doing.
My colleagues couldn’t understand why I would want to go off trekking through jungles and off-the-beaten track villages in my free time, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t have more desire to explore the world around us. Having lived abroad and traveled long term previously, I found it difficult to settle back in to the 9-5 lifestyle. I couldn’t relate to people on the same level that I could as friends I had met on the road, and I missed the international community that shared my wanderlust.
People thought I was crazy and foolish to step out of such a high paid job, and hey, maybe I was. Perhaps I shouldn’t have put so much thought into the moral side of it, and just enjoyed the pay and perks that came with it.
It wasn’t an easy or sporadic decision to leave my career behind. I had flirted with the idea for a few years before making the leap.
Travel is wonderful, and I am sure a lot of us would love to travel permanently; however this lifestyle is not sustainable. I had to assess my options for making a nomadic lifestyle possible. Thankfully there are a plethora of working and volunteering opportunities around the globe for us millennials today. I have a few freelance writing gigs to help fund my adventures, and at the moment, I’m also teaching English in Korea.
I don’t expect to change the world, but if I can continue giving other women the confidence to travel through my writing, and if I can make an impact to people’s prospects and education through teaching and volunteering, I know I can sit back and reflect when I’m a chubby old British lady sitting in my living room, stuffing my face with tea and biscuits and be pleased with the eventful life I have lived – even if it did mean living it in slightly less impressive footwear than my Jimmy Choos..