Am I Being Too Hard on Corporations?

  • August 13, 2009 by Corbett Barr
  • 16 Comments

corporate-drones

I have a confession to make. Actually, I have a couple of them to make. First, I wrote my recent post about how lifestyle design isn’t for everyone out of frustration. I like the way it turned out (and maybe I should channel emotion when writing more often), but that leads me to my second confession.

When my wife read the post, she pointed out that it was lacking a little balance. I referred to how society teaches us to become corporate drones. She thought that it might come off as though I have some problem with people who work for corporations.


Here’s my second confession: I used to work for a corporation. Most people I know also do, because that’s how our economy is currently structured. I certainly don’t have a problem with people who work for corporations, but I am personally much more creative, happy and fulfilled not working for one.

Do I miss working for a big company? Not really. I suppose there were aspects of it that I liked (the paycheck and friends being foremost). On the whole though, I can’t say that I ever really felt good about helping Giant Conglomerate become a little more efficient or better at convincing people to buy things from it.

I just didn’t have the right combination of desire, courage and means to do something else. It’s not easy to create your own path in life when everything you read or experience tells you to go with the flow.

Do I hold it against people for not becoming self employed or working for a small company? Not at all. Everyone has different desires and comfort levels. Most of my friends work for big companies, and some even enjoy it. You can work for a big company without being a drone. You can also consciously choose to put in hours at work in exchange for a salary so you can check everything at the door when you go home. I get it.

There are also plenty of downsides to being an entrepreneur or a freelancer or joining a startup. Chief among them is the constant struggle to succeed. Also, it’s not easy to start a company when you have to work full time to pay the bills. Those reasons are enough for most people to choose to work comfortably in big companies.

I also hear the argument that some people have to work in larger companies so that important things like infrastructure and airplanes can get built. That argument only goes so far. Many of those companies could use more contracted services to get things done, and both the company and the contractors would be better off.

Beyond airplanes though, do such things as music, entertainment, retail, hotels, banking, software, health care and insurance really need to be built by 10,000 or 100,000+ person companies? I think not, and the idea that economy of scale is the primary reason that companies of that scale exist is ridiculous. Those companies exist because our government, financial system and societal beliefs are designed to help huge companies flourish. That design serves the interests of the rich and powerful more than it does the individual. Luckily, the world is changing, and that change is creating opportunities for people who want something different.

Something Different

Getting away from the rat race has opened my eyes to some radically different possibilities. I’ve met artists who scrape by on coffee shop wages just so they can continue to make art. I’ve met surfers who travel the world for a year at a time seeking great waves and good times living on less than $1,000 per month. I’ve met people in “regular” jobs who have negotiated the ability to take 3 or more months off every year and who have figured out how to live without the salary they miss while gone. All of these people share a passion and vibrancy that I rarely felt when working for a big company.

It’s not that I want everyone to live some alternative lifestyle of a vagabond or artist. If you’re happy and fulfilled, then it doesn’t really matter what you do for a living. I just happen to believe most people would be happier working for themselves or in a small company.

What I do want is to help people who have a desire to do something different to realize that desire. Your happiness is something worth working for. Let’s get working to help you achieve it.

photo by Dan Coulter

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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J. D. Bentley August 13, 2009 at 2:03 pm

I think capitalism as defined by the actions and policies of huge conglomerates is evil so I don’t think you are too hard on corporations. I get especially pissed off when getting into patents, intellectual property and the treatment of workers.

That said, all capitalism is not evil. The ethics of capitalist ventures (as with ventures in any other system) aren’t inherent… they are defined by the ethics of the people who operate them. I think we are currently seeing a move from big business to small business, from a nation of employees to a nation of the self-employed. As we make that move, we’ll see lots of new “more-than-profit” companies crop up… like Ben & Jerry’s (who even being a branch of a huge multinational manage to maintain strict social and economic missions) or TOMS Shoes or Skreened.

I worked at a corporation for a while. They actually enforced happiness. It was a policy. You had to smile in the hallways and force pleasant conversation. Even though I was pulled down daily by the soul-sucking liferape of corporate America, I managed to smile. If we have come to the point where employers have to mandate happiness using the threat of termination, we probably need a change.

Speaking of music, though, Levi Weaver (www.leviweaver.com) is an awesome independent artist. He writes once a week for WageSlaveRebel. To fund his new album, he is offering subscriptions to fans and will be recording and releasing a new song each month. He isn’t rich by any means, but he is doing what lots of people dream of. He is making an honest living doing exactly what he is passionate about.

I’m especially inspired by anyone who does exactly what they want and manage to get paid for it.

Great post, Corbett!

Corbett Barr August 13, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Enforced happiness? That’s something I haven’t heard of before. Except of course the “pieces of flair” that servers were made to wear in the movie Office Space. Thanks for the tips about Levi and Skreened. I’ll check ‘em out.

Rasheed Hooda August 13, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I am with you on this, Corbett.

I just returned from a Toastmasters Meeting where I had volunteered to be the guest speaker for an evaluation contest. I talked about Lifestyle Design and doing things you want and are meant to do. I was told by others who have heard me speak 30 or 40 times before, that tonight’s was one of the best speeches I had done.

The irony of the whole thing is that I had no idea what I was going to say, other than that it would be about Lifestyle Design, and even that, I decided just a couple of hours earlier. So I suppose my passion poured out. Yes, our emotions make for a powerful discourse. Use them effectively as you have.

Rasheed

Corbett Barr August 14, 2009 at 12:33 am

Cheers to passion! Congrats on the successful talk, Rasheed.

Colin Wright August 13, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Capitalism (and ‘corporatism’) are like chainsaws…incredibly useful and productive in the right hands, but in the wrong hands….

That being said, I too very much prefer the lifestyle I live now than the one I lived while working for someone else. I don’t even miss the steady paycheck: I find it to be much more exciting knowing I can make as much as I want per month, rather than knowing with a certainty that I’ll be making a certain amount (though that may just be my passion for novel experiences talking).

You should keep writing with passion, though, even if the arguments are a little more one-sided that way. Blogs are editorial content, not news, and if you’re going to argue for something, really convince the reader you are right.

On the other hand, sometimes the strongest arguments can come from addressing the opposing viewpoints and systematically explaining why they are incorrect, so I guess it depends on this situation. In this case, your arguments didn’t seem at all out of place or out of hand to me.

Keep up the good work!

Jen August 13, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Great article ..

still in shock about enforced happiness! lol

Subsribed :)

Corbett Barr August 14, 2009 at 12:36 am

Welcome, Jen. I love the title of your latest blog post, the “F**k-It (Let’s do it) List!” I’m glad you’re here.

Blake August 14, 2009 at 5:25 am

“still in shock about enforced happiness!”

So am I. Sounds like something out of Orwell’s 1984!

“Beyond airplanes though, do such things as music, entertainment, retail, hotels, banking, software, health care and insurance really need to be built by 10,000 or 100,000+ person companies? I think not, and the idea that economy of scale is the primary reason that companies of that scale exist is ridiculous.”

I agree there. Smaller, more diverse businesses would be beneficial to almost all involved, and it would be many times more rewarding to work for a small, agile firm where you actually feel empowered, and can see tangible differences, because of your individual efforts.

James NomadRip August 14, 2009 at 7:16 am

That’s what is so nice about taking the red pill finally. There are options. I also worked in a corporate environment for years, but it just never suited me.

The trouble was obviously that we are taught to grow up to be good little soldiers all our lives, so we don’t know we have options. Most people are too deep into their debt slavery keeping up with the Joneses for so many years by the time they realize they could have been going something different all those years. All those years of that Liferape (TM JD) has usually left them with the belief that now it is “too late” to change it.

Glad there are people out there trying to open eyes.

Nate August 14, 2009 at 7:21 am

Great post as usual. Like you said, “Everyone has different desires and comfort levels.” Some people are cool with being that corporate worker, and that’s fine for them. I just have a very hard time understanding how that situation can make a person feel fulfilled or happy.

David Wilcox August 14, 2009 at 9:24 am

Great post, Corbett, and great comment, J.D. As Colin Wright said, capitalism and corporatism are like chainsaws. Any tool in the wrong hands can be evil.

The existence of mega-corporations is neither morally right or wrong. They simply do exist. What is needed is a greater respect for the individuals that make up those corporations. If the people at all rungs of the corporate ladder would assert their right to individual respect, demand flexible schedules and work locations, and require better corporate citizenship (i.e., social responsibility in the communities in which they operate), many more people in the world could be happier.

Unfortunately, corporate inertia grows with company size, so without a mass revolution by the workers or instilling these values at the inception of the company, only the self-employed or small businesses can achieve this.

In the end, every person has the right to choose how they earn a living, have a sense of security and be happy with their life. What I’d like to see is the ability to do so without having to choose one or over another. You know, the best of everything.

Thom August 14, 2009 at 10:23 am

One thing I would also add (without wishing to be a party pooper) is that employment offers you something back at the end in the form of a pension. Now I know it’s possible to establish your own income sources etc. and I’m not disputing that – my point is that, with people who “travel the world for a year at a time seeking great waves and good times living on less than $1,000 per month”, it can catch up to you.

Suddenly having children or healthcare issues or looking after relatives (and all those other real-life things that aren’t so glamorous) can be a real stress because you have no finances to fall back on. And when you reach the latter days of your life, it’s worth having something saved up – not necessarily to travel the world in the whole delayed-living kind of way, but in the “I’d rather live in comfort with some money to help my kids through school and college” kind of way.

I know there are plenty of people out there living family lives and traveling with their children (the Woodwards over at Location Independent Living being an example) but I just wonder whether everyone has thought things through in the long term as well as they have.

Maybe because this is such a young idea as a viable way of life, this issue hasn’t raised its head much yet. There’s a chance it will in time, though.

For anyone who’s living the location-independent life, I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts. Many will have addressed these issues for themselves already, so it’d be great to hear how you’ve set yourself up for later life.

Cheap traveler August 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Thom, most corporate jobs in the U.S. no longer provide a pension anyway. There’s still the health insurance advantage, but that’s it really. There are few other reasons left to work for a big company. Some people like the atmosphere though of being around a lot of other people every day. And the predictability that comes with a corporate job. But as a husband and dad in his mid-40s who has figured out how to make it independently, I know I’m never going back to that world.

Morgan October 22, 2009 at 11:47 am

Well, most companies have moved away from pensions, but most of them do offer 401K’s. In fact the last two corporations I have worked for offered both a defined benefit pension and a 401K.

That is a big question though, what happens when you are 68 and have no money to fall back on?

Crystal Silver December 25, 2009 at 5:54 pm

I am baffled by the unfounded assumption that the only way to save money for retirement is to have a corporation suck the life out of you for 20-40 years. Personally, I would rather handle my own financial life, and screw it up badly, as I have already done more than once before, than relinquish my personal responsibility, and ultimately my authority over my own life, to disinterested and uninterested third parties.

In truth, once all is said and done, self-employed people often have more money for retirement than their wage-slave counterparts. Why? Discipline, for one. They have to learn to figure things out for themselves, often through trial and error after error, instead of having everything done for them. But I would argue entrepreneurs are happier with their lives, even in the early years when they have less money in the bank, than those who work as regular salaried and pensioned employees.

Of course we are all different, and perhaps some people truly aren’t cut out to be free agents.

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