Does Work Disconnect You from the Real Life?

After 15 years I have come back into the workplace from where I started. I worked in my early working life in approximately 400 companies. I have worked in Insurance, banking, accounting, law, advertising, music, television, brokers, video production, telecommunications, aviation, foundries, manufacturing, mining, wealthy individuals, and one of the most memorable was a submarine base in Sydney. Spoilt for choice with men there (haha). Although I have to admit I was self conscious walking past 1,000 of them in a huge hanger. So I worked in and out of many environments, I have seen a lot of workplaces and faces. Met thousands of people. All this led me to a realisation that we are here to be happy, we are here to love each other and we have the power to change. I certainly did. I didn’t read until I was 17 and put myself through education. I was actually dyslexic and used to mirror write (reversed the right way in mirror). I came from a working class background and dysfunctional family. I never saw myself as an intellectual as I was not a reader and was not praised as such, but later discovered I am intelligent, university was the door that opened my mind that I indeed could see the world differently. Had I not gone, probably would be still typing thinking I am a great deal less. So if I can do it, you can. So come on a journey with me through the world of work, put your third person glasses on, as we see it differently.

I am covering a job for a friend and found myself in a secretarial role. I have been independent and self determining for a long time, so this is a unique opportunity to observe the experience with different and wiser eyes. Let’s step back into the groove.

I walked around Chatswood and looked at the skyscrapers and imagine all the people sitting at their desks in air conditioned offices. Looking at these buildings they are boxes, they look grandiose like mountains, yet they house workers. I see the workers coming to work, grabbing a coffee, faces serious. The carrot of income is pulling them into patterns, that had they free choice in their minds, they would not have done. The argument is that they choose ‘you are in a free society’ but many feel they have no choice. Parents and those with mortgages are a case in point.

I think about what makes them feel they ‘have to’ do this. I know what we are taught, you must get work, you must make a living, find a career, be successful, attract a partner, raise children and participate in the society to belong. To be a success is the name of the game for many, but there are also a majority that work to live. They do not live for work. They would be the working class scraping through. Those who do not follow this line of thought of ‘working’ are seen as outsiders or somehow losers. For we must demonise or devalue those who appear to have slipped the net.

I remember thinking this with what we term ‘dole bludgers’ (people on welfare). Many years ago when I was working I recalled thinking about why they are viewed negatively. I realised people were jealous of their freedom thinking they were getting out of work. Deep down they didn’t want to work, but neither do they wish to be seen as ‘losers’ or ‘failures’ and have no social life as there is little money to live on or go out for dinner. So there were negative consequences of not participating, salient and overt, if you do not join in the occupational eco-system (echo system, repeated routine). Moreover, we become addicted to the toys we want to buy and in cities we are constantly tempted, so you have to have a job to have a flat bed screen and hot car.

So coming back into this different life called the mainstream, I am struck by structure that I must slot back into. I must get up at 7 am to catch the bus at 8.15 to be at work by 9 am. Don’t be late otherwise that gives the impression that you are not punctual and may be reported to the agency I work for, hence I may not get more work, that is how I am controlled. If I believe I am dependent, then I will tow the line. The workplace has strict rules of timeliness, tasks, process and adherence to what you are told (seniority, hierarchy).

When you walk through the door of work you leave your true Self behind. This threshold is where you have traded your own desires, wishes, emotions and freedom to work for another and do as they want in order to make money. Money is what you need to survive you are told, therefore you are dependent on this life-line. Afterall you don’t know how to survive outside of this (domestication). This is the first step of disempowerment.

In terms of freedom of speech, couched in the Universal Declaration of Human rights you can’t just say what you think, silence and listening is preferable, if you want to keep your job and not put your foot in it. As a salient part of the job, I am not allowed to say what I think and I must say yes to work requests, particularly in the role of secretary. This is why the workplace has been viewed as a form of slavery, you have a boss (master) and you must serve with a smile. This is heightened when you are a female, as women’s roles typically are seen as service or nurturing. Women naturally love to help and make sure people are okay but in the workplace it is a power dynamic. Given the status of women as primary carers they typically take the jobs that are strictly 9-5 or part-time so they can raise their children, their primary responsibility. So gender has an impact in this environment, particularly on status and hence decision making. In the other world that I come from gender is irrelevant, who you are is all that matters and your presence is a gift.

My observation of group dynamics is that I walk into a group of people who have a shared sense of ‘this is the way things are done here’ (micro culture). The patterns of behaviour from sitting at your computer first thing, turning it on and waiting for work to arrive. You must be seen to be busy and working all the time (most offices). Here it is more relaxed. I become a role not Susan and I am judged by whether I can do my job or not. There is some probation and allowance for error. If I appear incompetent or uncertain people may say to me ‘you did this wrong’. I have no come back other than to do it right. The job and myself are intricately linked. I am my job. I am being saliently controlled and monitored. I have no say in the matter of how I am judged. I am spoken to in professional tones devoid of personality, jokes are not permitted in this space, as this is viewed as unprofessional and unrelated to the job. My purpose is very specific, to do the job. My needs, feelings, desires, tiredness are irrelevant in this space. My feeling as a human being is disconnected as I am being paid to function not feel, so I suppress my true nature in favour of being seen to be.

It takes time to know people as they choose how much they reveal, for the most part the communication is restricted to ‘how are you’, the answer is ‘good thanks’ and then they go. Sometimes we may talk further about work or our lives. I find the women mostly open to speak and over time I get to see how wonderful they are. I spoke to one young attractive women about my life as I wish to share my experience. She felt I was very brave, I told her life is to be experienced, enjoyed, tested, challenged and expanded. As you step out of fear, life becomes alive. She really connected with it, who knows maybe she has a go at something new, I hope so.

Time for talking is limited as I am paid to work not socialise to get to know the people in my environment. For me human contact, learning about people makes me feel happy and energised, to disconnect drops my energy as it is not creative and I don’t feel myself in my body. I use my mind to type other people’s words and print the words on paper (ahh the forests). I have no thoughts that take me into a creative space. I have left that for function. From a human perspective it is natural for humans to want to communicate and join with others, to feel comfortable, to feel safe in their environment, and communication is a way. Smiling is also a communication that communicates safety and acceptance. In this environment people may or may not smile as they walk past, or say anything meaningful, we are in a world of business etiquette. They may not say good morning or good night on coming and going. So no welcoming or farewelling which is natural to humans. I am facing the wall in a cubicle so the ergonomics ensure my back is to people going past, it disconnects me. The idea is to do that so I work and don’t talk, so they physical environment is structured to ensure that. They can see my back but not my face, they can see what I am doing, not who I am being. So careful when googling (although here they are pretty good). In some offices IT monitors any activity that is not work. Here I can hear everything in the office, as in my corner I am divided by partitions, yet I am not in a quiet closed space to work. There is much noise of photocopies, phones, people talking, so the background stress is evident. Other times you can hear a pin drop as all are tapping away being productive, to make money, to justify their role and to receive money. I wonder what they would do if they were paid to do what they love. What would you do?

Those who are deemed in higher positions are in offices with doors, they too can hear the noise, but they are segregated as they have important work to do which requires concentration. The other people are there to support their work. So that is why the emphasis on function arises. Those who are in the professional class are valued through their intellectual skills and are paid accordingly, they have titles and are treated differently, with more respect and interest, such is the allure of power. People more likely to be excited when talking to them or if they are complimented it means more, ‘I am noticed’ they may think. Therefore class division is clearly inherent in the workplace. The fact that those supporting are mostly female, subtly reinforces the position of women in the workplace, to serve. So any comments that may challenge or may reclaim power or a sense of equality (reality), are discouraged by those in the positions and those higher. Often it is those who are in the lower positions who believe they are not as important or of equivalent value. Comments may be ignored or simply not entered into. Silence is a powerful controller. Thus you become subtly oppressed as you work. Just do the work and communicate about the work. It was interesting today as this actually happened. My boss became annoyed at my printed blog on the desk (just sitting there, wasn’t editing it). In this office if you have no work you can get on the computer and keep busy, people are pretty good. However, in my case he didn’t like the idea of me working on my work. I challenged him by saying I only had the blog on my desk to remind myself to take it home and that doing my own work I thought was fine in this office, this was the truth. He didn’t say anything. Yet he judged it, I felt unfairly. I was perplexed, how is it okay for the others when there is no work to play solitaire or jigsaw games, but not work for themselves? The issue of ‘we are not paying you to do your work’ would be the thought, yet my work is not paid or profit making, in truth it is no different than spending time on solitaire. Yet he was not generating work for me. So I found the psychology very interesting and felt the disempowerment in it. So their work is the priority, games are okay but not my work. I see I am literally living in another world here, but not my own. I have no ownership. I am not the priority. I am not valued as a person, just a function. Probably liked, but no real connection or human bond. So I am with strangers for the best part of this time. I do not really belong as I am not really here, just my functionality. Thus the structure and culture of work facilitates the detachment from who we really are. We learn to ignore ourselves, our needs in favour of what we do, not who we are being. This is how we lost ourselves and how we can be lonely in a city. We became disconnected from our tribe, our family and those emotional bonds that give us a sense of who we are, where we belong began to break down as the world of ‘work’ dominated our lives. When we leave our jobs, that is when it becomes too much to ignore our needs. Our unhappiness is so great that we must leave. So we find the courage through our suffering to leave. Many unresolved issues walk out the door without apology or healing, they carry their wounds into the next job. Smile during the interview process, but really it is just a job, I don’t care just give me the money. I am detached from you as well. So we learn it and live life in a detached state which isolates us further. To really acknowledge the person is so important in order for them to feel again and to feel of value, then they turn around and value you. Thus disconnection disempowers us and equally empowerment empowers us. Empowering is essentially positive reinforcement of values such as respect, empathy, honesty, love, awareness (of others needs) and oneness (on the one team). As you disempower, people they immediately distance and you lose their heart, that is where the term ‘his heart was not in it’. So working in a heart based society is a completely different experience, joy and passion is central to job satisfaction.

We spend 7 – 10 hours a day at work. We spend time travelling in the traffic to get home. Then we cook dinner. If we have kids the work doesn’t stop until you go to bed. We are tired and we plonk in front of the t.v. to unwind and watch shows that don’t involve us, we are simply spectators. Enjoying the program as we escape into others lives and imagine ourselves there. Most of your time is serving others, travelling back and forth, you have little time to be alone with yourself, to check in ‘what do I really feel’, ‘what do I truly want’ or ‘is this who I am’. Therefore, we don’t speak to ourselves and this is the loneliness we feel, we may not even like ourselves or indeed know ourselves. We are what people say we are, so friends define us. We are not in touch with ourselves and our real needs, we deny them in favour of following societal mantras that are not there to serve who we really are. That is why many feel like ‘cogs in the wheel’, they don’t feel part of community, they are in a group. They may get to know each other over years, but really we are work colleagues, not family. As humans we need to belong and have a sense of place.

People dream of holidays and live for 5pm to arrive. I often ask people how they are ‘nearly 5 o’clock’, ‘so busy but at least the day speeds up’. These are silent protests that they don’t want to be there, but they feel they have to. This is why the misery of stoney faces is all around us. People feel trapped. Yet beneath that there is sunshine. Just open your eyes and see what is so.

I was told by my friend that maybe it is better people are dumbed down, that they don’t know. It would be hard for them to handle the reality of their lives. I simply say I see the life I have had so dynamic, exciting, challenging, inspiring, heart rendering, yet so ‘alive’, why wouldn’t I want others to have this life. Why let someone sleep in when there is excitement when they wake up. Although I do know they wake up on time.

Perhaps I am living in the future. We will move towards a free society, but that only happens when we free ourselves. The situation in Egypt is a classic case of the people saw through the Tunisian experience that they can be free from oppression, through that example, the Egyptians took the risk and agitated for freedom from Mubarak. As they came out in such large numbers, supported by others, feeling a sense of community, feeling the freedom, feeling their own power, the will of the people became one and change was inevitable. You can’t suppress them all, you end up with insurrection. Moreover the conscious thoughts of people created the change, when they believe or can see another world is possible. This is why world peace is not only possible, it is a choice. Imagine what you want and step into it. Be the change you want.

We are not in democracy at work or indeed in life generally. We don’t know how to consult each other as equals, to check in, to allow others to say yes or no, to give them the power of choice. We typically live in a world where people tell you what to do, or they announce their opinion without venturing to find out yours. We seldom ask each other questions to find out more, to really get to know others, we tend to talk to be heard and liked, not to understand the other. In the workplace, I am aware I’ve never been asked my opinion, only told what to do. Although my experience has been a little unique here in that the manager here saw my C.V. and decided to get me to write his blogs. As a result of that when I was going through his paper I had to question him to find out what his true objectives were, this changed the power dynamics, as I was helping him to reflect on what he was trying to communicate, to get clear. I moved out of my role of submission and put on my analyst cap and asserted myself, I am sure he was aware of that. Managers are use to decision making and everyone mostly following, when you free yourself and become your own decision maker, that changes the deck chairs or indeed the cards you play. People who are typically comfortable in routines, find the sand shifting and they don’t feel secure in that. So that is why we structure everything, so everyone knows their place, no-one is acting independently or a wildcard. It is predictable, routinised and unchallenged. This is how we get locked into unchanging patterns and find we wake up at 50, to find our life is gone. You just get into the groove and forget yourself. No blame just the reality of life as we have constructed it. Managers feel it too, when finally they retire and have a new lease of life, reinventing themselves, or they can’t stand the boredom of having nothing to do. A lifetime of working. They think quiet time has to be filled. Yet the reality is in the quiet space you can hear your own voice. When you do, you will never be bored again.

A last point I will make about my journey back into office space is the physical structure. The fluorescent lights are very unnatural and by contrast I felt coming in on the bus, the energy through the rays of light. That energised me. The fluorescent doesn’t, it is too bright. Yet it gives the sense of daytime all the time, which is meant to keep you awake (they do that in casinos). The air-conditioning temperature is usually a little cold, this also keeps you awake. It is an unnatural air, it is not the wind blowing on your face full of energy. It is conditioned air, recycled through the building, not from an open space. The air conditioning broke down the other day and the space became so hot, I really noticed how our environment is controlled.

When I leave I close down the computer, say goodnight and head for the lifts. Everyone is keen to leave and have their life, freedom. Not verbalised but felt. I notice my body is stiff and I have put on some weight, as most of my day is spent sitting. It is not natural for me to sit. I notice my back is hurting like it used to and I have been getting cramps in my legs. It is not healthy for me to type at a keyboard and sit non stop. But people get used to it and end up having to go the chiropractor. This is largely unquestioned. Wellbeing is second to getting the job done.

For me the world of work is not my scene. I have never found satisfaction in it. Which is why I felt so called to follow my own rhythm. I love free thinking. I love to create new ideas and act on them. I love to not know what the next day will bring me. For me that is living in my authenticity, my humanity. I think to indigenous life where the only thoughts were survival and community. Can you imagine your life being simple, about growing vegetables, hunting for food and then enjoying your tribe. You don’t have to think about whether they are fair-weather friends, they are with you from the moment you are born until you die. They are part of your world, your sense of identity and there is much love in this family unit. It is our true nature to be close to each other and to love. The negativity we see so prevalent in our world comes from unexpressed needs, suppression, unnatural structures and forcing people into boxes that are not natural for them. As we are so adaptable, we adapt to our environment and after a while we no longer see the discomfort, we just accept and go with it. We think it is normal, can’t bare to think it could be otherwise, that could be hard to accept, as we feel we wasted time (you haven’t). Stress is a major factor today, people rushing from pillar to post. Our bodies do have natural limits and illness results when we are out of balance with ourselves. Mental illness arises when our thoughts are continually negative. They are negative because we feel people don’t love us and don’t care. We feel betrayed at times by life.

Yet here is a new paradigm for you, which in truth is not really new, it is natural. You are surrounded by love and you create your reality, completely. You decide what it means and you can change the meaning. You choose what you believe and what you ignore. If you want to be a victim of life, you can be. If you want to change your life, change your thoughts about your life and be open to possibilities. See yourself as the ‘new you’, break the patterns of limitation and dare to explore the greatness in yourself. Stay positive, no matter how difficult the circumstances, treat all people with respect even if they don’t treat you with respect. Keep asserting your own truth politely but be open to theirs. There are many truths. As you do this you create a relationship with yourself and you are not betraying your integrity. All unhappiness is actually that we are upset with ourselves, we know we didn’t have the courage to stand up, walk out or say what is true. We can be hard on ourselves and we become sad. The mistake we make is when we blame others etc. No-one has power over you, unless you choose to give it away. We are dynamically involved in the signals we send and receive, we create the master/servant by our behaviour. You are not less than anyone or better than anyone, you are unique and part of an oneness of creation that is breathtaking. When you allow your mind to venture outside the box of your world and look up at the stars, you are part of a universe you have barely contemplated. You are meant to be here and you are extraordinary. As a clown I see it clearly in every face. The beauty in all eyes. I look into people’s eyes and I see their spark. I often wonder what would the world look like if we only had each other’s best interests at heart. If we were able to reconnect to our emotional state of being and really feel for others and dare to connect. The person on the bus could be your dearest friend rather than a stranger. If we see people are suffering or unhappy, how would we change the way we work to really give people what they want, to fullfill their purpose. How do people change to give themselves what they truly want?

Thoughts worth contemplating, may just change your world. I am not going to change your world, you will make that decision. I have changed mine. I am leaving the job today and tomorrow start my new adventure up north. I am still living out of a suitcase. I am staying with wonderful people who have allowed me to be with them for 3 weeks. My dear friend helped me see a chinese doctor for my cold and out of her kindness and belief in peace, she assisted me on my journey. I am excited, it will be fascinating to see what I create, learn and love.

The real life flowers infinite possibilities, when you open to the idea there is more to life than you ever dreamed possible. Ask life and it will respond. You are worth it.

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Mohandas Gandhi

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”