On Corporate Slavery: 'To Be the Best Employee, I Gave Up Boundaries'
Three months after what he described as a sobering interview about how his corporate job was consuming his entire personality, John* finally resigned. It's the second job he quit at 23, barely two years after he graduated from college and entered the workforce at the height of the pandemic.
On his first job as a graphic designer, he lasted 11 months before deciding he was done being their grossly underpaid, one-man creative agency. "Real" marketing work was what he ought to do, he figured, but when he finally landed the role in one of the country's top telcos, he again found himself in the same ordeal—doing too much for a company that cared too little about him.
"Of course, napaisip din ako, 'bakit ba resign din ako nang resign sa work?'," John recalled thinking it may be a me-problem, that he may just be too thin-skinned to be pursuing jobs people have worked longer for. Turning to friends who have long been in corporate, he was told that it was only "natural" for someone his age to hop jobs, because as dozens of think-pieces online have pointed out: "You Don't Need To Have It All Figured Out In Your 20s".
This, he said, was agreeable, but he also knows it wasn't just poor life choices that led him there. Around the world, people have been rethinking and quitting their jobs in a phenomenon that has been dubbed the "Great Resignation."
Lesson 1: Plan out your career
"Nu'ng iniisip ko talaga siya, narealize ko 'yung effect ng pandemic on my career," John says, recalling how he faced the dilemma most people who had their first jobs in 2020 went through: void of the climactic ending that typically defines the end of one's college years, there was that overwhelming pressure to find yourself a job as the country was in its deepest recession post-war.
"There really weren't many secure jobs around. So at the time, I thought I needed to grab the nearest opportunity I could hold onto," John says, noting that anyone who has ever been in that position shouldn't beat themself up for merely doing what they can to survive. But having learned it the hard way, he says if one has the space to really think it through, "Alamin mo talaga ano 'yung papasukin mong work—if you have the skills set or potential for it, and if they’re gonna offer you something back in terms of learnings."
Weeks ago, John turned down a job offer that he got conveniently at the time he just turned in his resignation. "I figured it was not the right decision. I don't want my next job to again be a filler, na papasukan ko lang to help me find the next job. Gusto ko, kahit papano, matatagalan ko talaga 'yung next job ko kasi it fulfills me, at the very least," he said.
Lesson 2: A 'good enough' workplace will do
Someone who "thrives in fast-paced, high-pressure environments" has become a staple qualification in job listings of big companies. As much as this is an invitation for those who are up for a challenge in their work, perhaps, it should also serve as a warning—on how much of your life you will be forced to give up in exchange for that shiny title.
"These employers, they don’t really know the full extent of what you can do until you show them. Once ipakita mo na for this amount, grabe 'yung kaya mong gawin, they tend to exploit that," he said, noting that there's nothing wrong with going the extra mile when it comes to work, as long as one is paid fairly and their personal boundaries respected.
"Especially now, during the pandemic, wala talagang alam sa boundaries 'yung most companies, and they need to be called out for that," he said, recalling that for this very reason, he ended up hating what he thought was his "dream job". "Before I resigned, I really told my boss na I would have loved this job if it wasn’t too much."
In the two companies he worked for, John wasn't a "direct hire"—the first employed him on freelancer terms, giving him none of the standard benefits for tenured employees; while the second, through a manpower agency that companies like to use to cut down costs.
"In the end, hindi ko na rin talaga kinaya yung mental torture nu'ng realization na, I wasn’t being treated rightly by a company na I was helping grow. In my next job, ipaglalaban ko na talaga 'yung what’s right, what's 'good enough' for me, even if it's not the best. Andami nang nakuha sakin ng kapitalismo so kahit man lang 'yun, maibigay sa'kin," he said.
Lesson 3: There is more to life than work
At the core of the consciousness of the workforce in many capitalistic societies is the idea of "meaningful work"—that one must strive to find a means to living that also makes them feel alive. But in a country with a social safety net like ours, this is hardly the case for many.
Corporate life isn't really for him, John has figured, but is it for anyone? The labor market isn't structured to assist everyone in their meaning-making. Society has long recognized this as a problem, and thus, it should know better than continue to put the burden on individuals. But for now, it pays to shift one's mindset to help weather the arduous laboring that comes with having to fix a broken system.
For John, the goal isn't really to "do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, as the popular saying goes; nor does he plan on amassing wealth, but just enough of it so he could do the things that really make life worth living.
"Kaya naman ako naghahanap ng work-life balance kasi I want to be given that space and time to figure out who I want to be outside of work. Ayokong umabot sa time na one day magising nalang ako and naubos ko na pala 'yung 20s ko just being this corporate slave," he said.
"I'm really coming into terms with the fact na my job doesn't define my worth as a human being. What I really want is to do something other than just working to survive because I know, life is so much more than that," he added.