By: Brianna Valleskey
I'm the type of person who keeps a whiteboard in my bedroom. So is my parter. Our whiteboards are often filled with goals, to-do lists, inspiring quotes or mantras we want to focus on. I recently noticed, however, that his whiteboard said "Thirty years of bullshit." Okay. I asked him what it meant.
He explained that his roommate, a very talented engineer for a Fortune 500 company, was venting about his frustrations with the corporate environment. You know - the type of complaints you're used to hearing from smart people who are chained to the same desk at the same office on the same schedule for eight hours a day, every day (excessive bureaucracy, office politics, micromanagement, ignorant superiors, tedious requests ... you get the picture). He joked that during his retirement speech, he'd say something to the effect of, "Thanks for the paycheck. This was thirty years of bullshit."
Thirty years of bullshit. Damn, that's a rough way to sum up a career. But it stuck with me. Have you ever heard something that rang so true you could physically feel it deep within your chest? That's how this statement struck me. Even though I'd held jobs since the age of 16, something inside of me always knew that I was not meant for a career of simply clocking in and out every day. I craved purpose.
Best-selling author and CEO of Owner Media Group Chris Brogan is a champion of owners, entrepreneurs, outsiders, free-thinkers, and freaks. In his book, "The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth," he writes that not only is the corporate ladder dying out, but that it may have never existed in the first place:
"When the dot-com boom was under way, I was working at my old wireless telecom business. A bunch of our talent left to join startups. They came back about a year later and were all made directors and vice presidents, jumping over everyone who stayed in place. That was my first realization that the ladder was silly ... Somewhere along the line, a lot of people were trained to believe that there was this neat corporate ladder or simple progressions. But that's not how it works. I'm not sure if that's how it ever worked."
Instead, he proposes that the path to a successful and fulfilling career is solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles. I couldn't agree more. By the way, Brogan's definition of a freak is someone who (1) doesn't fit in without some serious effort, (2) is not a big fan of settling or compromising, or (3) is looking for ways to allow their weirdness to be an asset, and not the deficit that people have tried to convince them it is. They're the "artisan pickle makers in Brooklyn, the punk rock dog groomers in Memphis, and the zombie apocalypse race organizers in Boston."
I am a freak. You know who else is a freak? Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal founder and author of "#GIRLBOSS." I'm okay with saying that because she's got a whole section in her book titled, "On Being a Freak." Amoruso also understands that the corporate ladder no longer creates exciting, valuable or sustainable careers for many people. She grew a fashion company from $0 to $28 billion in less than a decade without ever borrowing a dime. She, too, did not like the idea of thirty years of bullshit, as she writes in her best-seller:
"When I was twenty-two, the thought of rising up within an organization was completely incomprehensible. To me, office jobs were like school, where the best way to get along was to show up on time, not ask questions, follow all the rules, and not make a fuss. Again, not my jam. However, that accepted paradigm is changing, and faster than ever. As Seth Godin points out in his book Linchpin, our society's existing ideas of education and employment are held over from a time when most jobs were in factories. People were trained to do exactly what they were told, and only what they were told, in order to keep things running smoothly. Following the rules without question was precisely what got someone promoted. Thankfully, though, this is changing, and in Linchpin, Godin elaborates that 'it's becoming clear that people who reject the worst of the current system are actually more likely to succeed.' If you need proof of that, well, hi. Here I am."
Here I am, too. The accidental business owner. Like many entrepreneurs, my business started as a side hustle. I had no financial backing, but had made a name for myself in my last B2B marketing job after the sales technology blog I ran was named one of the best sales blogs of the year. Entrepreneurs and small business owners started asking me to help jumpstart their content marketing strategies, and I was excited to help their businesses grow. But more importantly, I saw a market need among B2B and software companies for someone with my level of writing experience (coming from a career in journalism) to craft creative, informative and effective content on their websites. I was solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles.
Let me be clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending the majority of your career at one organization. If you're happy in your job, then please don't take this as a sign that you shouldn't be. What constitutes happiness and success is different for each individual, so find what makes sense to you and stick with it. (Or don't! There's nothing wrong with trying something, finding it doesn't work and then moving on to something else.)
But thirty years of bullshit is definitely not the only option. It's not even one of two options. There are limitless ways you can build a career and spend your life. And you are most valuable to the world as your truest, happiest, most fulfilled self. So find what does that for you, and don't let anything get in your way; don't ever stop. It's only life, after all, and there's absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Ever.
P.S. You can check out the books I mentioned (and a few others) here...
Fearless Thoughts are my insights on marketing, entrepreneurship, growth, mindfulness, creativity and whatever else comes to mind on any given day. Writing is how I make sense of the world.