In our travels we are often treated to tours of workplaces. We’ve walked through company kitchens stocked with breakfast cereal and multiple beers on tap. We’ve stepped around dogs resting under desks. We’ve seen rooms dedicated to ping-pong, foosball, and video games.
It doesn’t take much Google-fu to find companies going even further and offering nap rooms, onsite gyms, yoga classes, chef service, ‘speakeasies’ and even overnight apartment spaces.
We’re Working Longer
It’s not hard to understand the desire for more workplace perks. Our average work-week in the USA is approaching 50 hours. In order to give our employers that much time we need some extra services in return.
But We Aren’t Happy
Big house, big life, fancy office with plenty of perks yet most of us are unhappy with our jobs.
Add in a public school schedule, sports, drama, soccer, and church and we’re never home to enjoy what we’re working so hard to pay for.
The stuff keeps piling up and it’s easier to rent storage than deal with it. At this point we are in the warehousing business whether we realize it or not.
It’s not a bad thing to want a fun company culture. It’s not a bad thing to enjoy working in nice offices. It’s not bad to want a nice house in the suburbs.
But be careful about the world that you are creating for yourself. Are you building yourself a pretty prison?
- Accept that job knowing the hours will be long? There’s a brick.
- Adopt that dog because you can bring it to work? There’s a brick.
- Sign a loan for a boat? There’s a brick.
- Sign up for 401K plan with a long vesting period? There’s a brick.
- Start working later because it’s easy and supper is provided? There’s a brick.
- Start buying a $5/day cup of coffee on the way in every day? There’s a brick.
- Move that box of unused stuff to the garage rather than all the way out to the curb? There’s a brick.
Prisons are about limitations. Restrictions. Immobility. Loss of control. Once safely locked into your pretty prison what happens if the job goes away? What happens if the housing market tanks? What happens if one of you gets sick?
The 1983 poem by Maya Angelou compares two birds - one caged and one free:
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? Copyright © 1983 by Maya Angelou
Our first preference may be for the caged bird because we get to enjoy the song. A closer look helps us understand the song isn’t a gift. It’s a plea.
Do You Sing?
Are you singing away while held hostage in a pretty prison of your own making?
Or are you free?
Break Out of Prison
Successful prison breaks are rarely figured out on the fly. It took years to plan a recent prison break in New York.
Getting out of the suburbs isn’t much different. It will take time. You’ll have to find a route and avoid obstacles. You’ll have to ignore a whole bunch of people who don’t want you to leave. You’ll have to figure out how to support yourself once out.
But the first step?
Seeing that prison for what it is.
Our culture will sell you that prison as the “American Dream”.
But we know better.