In 2013, there has been one question that I’ve been asked over and over again:
“Why are you doing this?”
Specifically, what I think that I’m really being asked is: “seriously man, why in the hell is it so important for you to create a nicer world to work in and live in? Why are you so passionate about this topic?”
Believe it or not, since I launched this blog 5 months ago, I don’t think that I’ve ever directly answered that question before.
I will now.
The short answer is because I have to do this.
Below is the longer answer.
The Story Behind The Story
Many years ago, I worked at a job that was absolutely horrendous, to put it mildly.
The company (I’m using that term very loosely) was unbelievably corrupt and engaged in some of the shadiest practices imaginable to make a quick buck and retain their customers. Equally as bad, they were well-known for treating their front line employees in a manner that would make many third-world prison wardens blush.
In fact, my experience there was so horrific that I removed them from my resume because I would rather have a gap in my employment history than ever admit to anyone that I actually worked at that dump.
It is impossible for me to adequately describe how I felt each morning when the alarm clock went off in preparation for another work day there. The best term that I can come up with to describe that sickening feeling is “soul-destroying pain.”
That is not meant for dramatic effect either.
Each day before work, I would sit in the parking lot and stare at my watch (which was perfectly synchronized with the office clock), and literally wait for the last possible second before I would leave my car and pitifully drag myself inside the office.
With the exception of my first month on the job, I did that everyday that I worked there.
And I worked there for close to two years.
Once I made it inside, I would walk through a seemingly endless sea of cubicles before I finally made it to mine.
Along the way, I was met with the faces of people whose souls were already completely destroyed by that company. Many of them could barely muster a “hi” or a “good morning,” because it would require too much of their energy to do it. Deep down, I think they knew that every ounce of their energy would eventually be called upon just to get through another day in that hell hole.
It was the most unhealthy working environment that I have ever witnessed in my entire life.
What made it worse was that I personally knew the reasons why many of my coworkers eventually became “broken” too.
Their spirits were broken once the “bait & switch” during the interview process became obvious (it usually happened after the first week on the job), and it was clear what the real nature of their work was going to be.
Their souls were destroyed when they were constantly victimized by the destructive “management practices” that the company’s leadership would proudly use against their front line employees.
Their dignity was stripped from them when it was clear that they were expected to accept any and all forms of customer abuse in order to retain their customers’ business at all costs, or lose their jobs instantly.
As much as I’m trying, there really is no way to describe the horrors of working for that company. For now, all that you need to know was that working there was the worst experience of my professional life. For close to 2 years, there was nothing that was more important to me than finding a way to escape that job with my sanity.
The scariest part was that I almost failed in my efforts to do so.
The Morning That Everything Changed
I’ll never forget that life changing day many years ago.
My alarm went off on that nondescript autumn morning, and instead of feeling the usual fear, dread, or “soul-destroying pain” that were my constant companions for close to 2 years, all of those feelings were all gone.
Little did I know at the time, but this was not a good thing.
Instead of feeling pain, I woke up feeling nothing. My pain was replaced by complete and utter emptiness. It was such a bizarre feeling, and unless you’ve ever felt complete emotional emptiness before, you might not get what I’m about to say.
Nothing mattered to me anymore. My job didn’t matter to me. My fiancée (who is now my lovely wife and mother of my equally lovely two little girls) didn’t matter to me. My happiness didn’t matter to me. My life didn’t matter to me.
On that day, I knew what it was like to have my soul destroyed.
The normally enthusiastic, life-of-the-party, and boundlessly energetic guy who loved to make everyone smile was effectively dead inside. I was now officially one of the company’s soulless army of thousands who would mindlessly support its “mission” until I was too old and broken down to do it anymore.
The company won and I lost. Even though I was fully aware of this fact, and even though I swore that I would never be one of the company’s zombies–at that point, I was too emotionally destroyed to care.
Unfortunately, that was far from the worst of my problems.
As I drove in to work on that autumn morning, I still vividly remember some extremely terrifying thoughts creeping into my mind.
You could just drive your car off the freeway overpass. Come on man, just turn the wheel and gun the accelerator. Seriously, just do it and get it over with. Your life doesn’t matter to anyone.
These weren’t just passing thoughts. These were strong impulses. To this day, I don’t know what was inside of me that allowed me to ignore those dark thoughts and continue to drive to work that morning. But when I finally made it to the parking lot, I absolutely lost it as I slumped over the steering wheel of my car and started to cry like no adult has ever cried before.
Trust me, I’m talking about the ugly cry–complete with an endless flow of snot running out my nose, both eyes puffy and bloodshot, and coughing to the point where I was barely able to breathe.
Unlike before, this was a good thing.
That was all the proof that I needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t completely emotionally dead.
Not yet, anyway.
Before I got to that point, I knew exactly what I had to do. I cleaned up my face, slammed my car door, and walked into the office with a single-minded purpose to do what I should have done 18 months earlier.
I powered up my computer, typed up my resignation letter, submitted it to my boss (who, to this day, is the only genuinely good person that I have ever encountered in a leadership position at that company), and two weeks later I walked away from my job without another job lined up or without a lot of money in savings.
Believe me, it wasn’t easy at all to quit a job without another source of income–but to this day, it still is one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my entire life.
Thankfully, I didn’t leave that company empty-handed. I walked out of the doors of that company with two things that were far more valuable than another job or thousands of dollars in a savings account.
I left with my sanity and my new mission.
My New Script
As I walked out of the doors of that company for the last time, I knew that there was so much more work to be done. After my initial celebration, my thoughts started to shift from my drama to the drama of the people who were facing similar situations.
There are a lot of people in the world who are currently feeling a pain that’s as bad, or worse, than anything that I have ever experienced at that company.
Millions of people, in fact.
Maybe you’re one of those people. If you’re there now, please know that I feel you more than the words in this blog post could ever convey to you.
What has kept me up at night for years is the fact that a lot of the misery at work could be eliminated for you, and millions of others, if someone cared enough to do something about it.
Believe me, I’m willing to do something about it, and it starts by asking the tough questions.
Why do we accept a working world where it is far more important for companies to turn a consistent profit than it is to consistently treat their employees with kindness, dignity, and respect without exception?
Why do we accept a working world where some bosses believe that the best way to get the most out of their staff is to micromanage them, bully them, and basically scare them into compliance?
Why do we accept a working world where we put up with aggressively rude, abusive, and horrifically awful customers in hopes of retaining their business?
Most importantly, why don’t more people give a damn about changing any of this?
Maybe I’m naive, but here’s what I believe:
If companies all over the world focused their energy on eliminating the bullies, the jerks, the asshats, the chronically lazy, and anyone else who is destroying the morale of their employees from their workforces–and they did it with the same enthusiasm and interest usually reserved for attracting new customers, the working world would change overnight.
Doesn’t it make sense to have happy and engaged employees serving as the face of your company at all times? Shouldn’t anything that consistently gets in the way of their employees’ happiness and engagement be considered Public Enemy #1 and ruthlessly eliminated? Doesn’t it make sense that employees who truly enjoy what they do and are engaged in their work will work their asses off to ensure that their customers are happy, the company’s mission is followed, and that the financial bottom line is exceeded?
It’s these ridiculously simple ideas that drove me to write my personal mission on a post-it note and carry it around in my pocket as a reminder of what I’m fighting for. Some of you already know that I have kept this post-it note (which I’ve always called “my script”) in my pocket for seven years and counting. Here’s what it says:
All forms of work can and should be enjoyed, and anything that gets in the way of that enjoyment must be ruthlessly eliminated.”
It is my personal dream and mission to help millions of people to enjoy their work instead of living in darkness like I did for close to 2 years of my life.
I will never get those years back, but maybe I can help someone else to avoid the same fate.
That’s why I’m doing this.
Committing to the Script
If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” -Mother Teresa
There are literally millions of people all over the world who are miserable at work.
There are millions of people who cry themselves to sleep at night solely because of their jobs.
There are millions of people who are tortured by the suffocating pain of hopelessness as they dream in vain of happier days at work.
There are millions of people who are haunted by dark thoughts of doing the unthinkable to avoid the pain of another work day.
While all of that is true, I can’t allow myself to think of the millions of people who crave a nicer world to work in and live in.
Instead, I think of the one person who is currently sitting in her cubicle feeling the same soul-destroying pain that I suffered through many years ago.
That is what matters to me.
I’m not driven by Twitter followers or Facebook likes.
I’m not driven by money, fame, or achieving legendary guru status.
If those things happen for me, that would be great–but trust me, none of that is even close to what truly drives me.
My drive comes from something far less glamorous or exciting.
I’m driven by pain.
Specifically, I’m driven by the goal to end as much unnecessary pain in the workplace (scratch that, in the world) as possible.
In my mind, I can picture the person mentioned above who is currently suffering through intense emotional pain due in large part to her job. Thinking of this person keeps me up at night. Even though I don’t know who this person is, I can sincerely say that I understand her pain intimately because I have felt it too.
I believe that if I can find a way to make her pain go away, I could change her life forever.
And if I’m able to do that, maybe I could change the world too.
That’s why I will always “stay on script” and not deviate from it until the day that I die.
This is the most important dream that has ever entered my mind, and I am committed to being alive to see it become a reality.
That’s the long answer to the very well-meaning question stated at the beginning of this post. But from now on, when I’m asked “why I’m doing this,” the short answer will have to suffice.
It’s because I have to do this.