Start out in life so energetic and full of great ideas.
Then find yourself in a career, a job, a way of life to which you’ve given over your ability to think.
Hard to say how or when it happened. And if you look back it was probably not just one event but a process of clever and subtle brainwashing techniques that knocked you out. Whatever, the orthodoxy of the normal life became so compelling that you sacrificed yourself to it, heart and mind.
Now, days, weeks, months pass by, almost without you really noticing.
It alarms you, in your brief moments of lucidity, to consider that you may be under the spell of something that’s not working for you. And you’d rather brush off the feelings of doubt you have about some of the rituals the cult demands you practice.
- Tolerating Vampire Bosses because you need them to remind you of your place in the great cult order of things.
- Sitting through brain-numbing meetings all day long and beginning your day-job at 6pm, even though it means missing out on family time, friendships and hobbies.
- Knowing that a business decision is crazy but implementing it anyway, because you want to see your stock option vest, or your bonus paid out, or your retirement plan come to fruition.
For the most part you don’t question. You can’t. You are so entangled in the cult that it’s hard to know where you’d start to get clear without unraveling, or creating career suicide. All your friends are cult members. You understand life through its teachings. You’ve even begun to channel its ethos to your children and anyone else who will listen to you.
But at times you know that it’s not a life at all. That it’s a death. And you feel the exhaustion in yourself.
Sure, it may be okay for you that the cult has your soul. But if you’re not careful, it’ll take more from you than that.
It can take your psychological well-being.
One person I worked with was so ritualistically diminished by her boss that in the end she had a breakdown and quit her job. Unable to work for some time, she lost considerable income. Her lifestyle was impacted big time. When she did get back in the saddle of looking for something else, she then faced the challenge of recruiters being suspicious about the circumstances that had led to her leaving her old firm. Which in turn affected her self-confidence in a tough recruitment market.
It can kill your relationship.
Consider the guy I worked with some years ago. 42 going on 62 and morbidly obese, he was putting in 18 hour days with no regard for anything other than work. He may have continued indefinitely, but it was the shock of his wife’s decision to move out of their family home that cracked him.
Only then did he understand the impact of his lack of consciousness. But it was too late to save his marriage.
Or, it can kill you.
For another high-flier an aggressive tumour brought her to a choice point. To wake up to the damage that cult working was doing to her, or die? Choosing the former, she breathed new life into dreams, hopes and plans she’d shelved years before, and transformed her working style. She remains well, but the threat of the cancer returning keeps her alert.
Knowing Who You Are
So much of waking up, and deciding to have a life, begins with choosing to understand who you are and honoring yourself.
A good starting point is to consider your values.
You may hear the cult talk about values – the term is bandied about enough in business. But do you really know what values are? And do you know what they are for you?
Think about it.
What are the things that, when you support and allow them, make you feel most alive?
What things, when ignored, make you feel angry, sad, disappointed or crushed?
These are your personal values. They say a lot about who you are. Not who the cult tells you you should be. They talk to the essence of you.
(And, by the way, this is something I’m talking about more in my forthcoming eBook, to be shared exclusively with folks on my mailing list. If you’re not already on it, sign up here to make sure you don’t miss out.)
Knowing your values can help guide your actions and decisions, big and small.
- If RESULTS is a key value and the cult wants you just to keep plodding on, doing what you’re doing, watch out.
- If FREEDOM is one of your values and the cult insists that you follow a set process of doing things, you are in danger.
- And, if INTEGRITY is one of yours, and the cult wants you to go along with unethical practices, well….
Recovering from the cult of the working dead means choosing to act more and more in a way that’s congruent with your values. The more you do this, the more clued up you’ll get about what’s right and wrong for you.
You’ll begin to notice that, when the cult would rather you did things that conflict with your values, you feel a tightening in your chest, or the onset of boredom, or the desire to punch someone.
Next time that happens, don’t swallow your anger, reach for a burger, or wait and explode at your other half when you get home. See it as a piece of information from your strengthening psyche.
And decide that you will or won’t act. Either way, just realising that you have decision-making power allows you to gain ground on the mindlessness around you.
One of the most insidious aspects of the cult of the working dead is the infiltration of the belief that there’s no choice in the matter.
But there is always choice. Live or die. Which one are you choosing?