The other day I was looking at a picture of myself when I was in my early twenties still wearing baby fat.
That age when you felt the whole world lies at your feet. When life was about taking exams at law school and having fun with friends between hours of studying in the library. When the future felt thousands of miles away. When it was cool to have a big mouth on student association’s nights while meeting peers and drinking beer. When most of the law students wanted to have internships with big corporate law firms. And when the highest goal of friends who studied Business Administration were jobs at Nestlé, Coca Cola, Shell Oil and Philip Morris.
Busy with ourselves
Seeing us back then, I realize not any of us, including myself, had aspirations to make the world a better place or were supporting a cause beyond ourselves. We were so busy with our own lives and what we wanted for the future: well paid jobs, a nice house and a fat car, preferably with an attractive dude with a great sense of humor. We all desperately wanted to succeed in life so besides the studying and partying we were tiring ourselves with extra curricular-activities to put on our résumés to increase our chances for that coveted job.
We sound like the perfect potential slaves of modern society, don’t we?
It was also the age when I believed humility, modesty and calm were undesirable qualities, equivalent to dullness and weakness. Confident extroverts was what we wanted to be, certainly not unpretending introverts exploring our inner-lives finding out what life was about.
That we tend to judge traits like modesty and humility as undesired isn’t so strange. After all, it’s propagated at school, our social environment, university and later in the corporate industry where we possibly start working: be assertive and stand with firm feet. That’s how we must be to succeed in life. It’s true, our society encourages living as extroverts, because if we don’t we could possibly end up meditating under a tree in Thailand. Not particularly an example of a productive life which teaches us to chase the newest iPhone, is it? We value this differently when we leave these expectations and start doing our own thing, mostly as a result of being on the inner-journey.
A bunch of caring
I went on this journey and I still am, I always will be. It’s ironic to notice how much has changed for me over time; how I discovered there is so much more than this life which I imagined for myself twenty years ago. How I have explored other paths which don’t necessarily lead to material wealth and the achievement of success, but to meaning and especially to a bunch of caring on subjects such as environmental issues and animal welfare. I have become a conscious consumer supporting veganism who writes about these topics.
I have learned it’s not all about me, my needs and being ambitious and goal-orientated all the time. And now I love those who calmly walk their path of life, who appreciate being humble and put their egos aside. I adore those who are thoughtful and silent when they know it’s time to shut up and who see herein strength instead of weakness.
Moulded and folded
It’s way easier to be moulded and folded into the standards of others, especially of employers, when we are in our twenties. In fact, we see this as completely normal, because we want to develop ourselves in our careers and being moulded and folded is just the way it goes if we want to play the game.
When I worked as a legal consultant on a project for a Dutch bank the head of Legal Affairs provided me with some feedback as the project came to an end. One “tip” he gave me was that I should lower the tone of my voice. It would make me more respectable. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard the man right. What was he telling me? I had to speak in a man’s voice as that would benefit my career? Not me.
A few years later when I started working as a freelance legal consultant and I went for a job interview at — again — a bank I was told I was “too ethical” for the job. It would have caused me troubles to follow the bank’s policies, they said. These guys were right. I’m an ethical nerd, so I didn’t get the project and I wasn’t sorry.
I was wondering why I had agreed on that interview in the first place. I could have saved my precious time and theirs. But I did learn some lessons and an outstanding one was this:
When we need to fold ourselves to the expectations of others; when we need to act in a certain way to fit in, we need to be alert and be true to ourselves. It means we aren’t at the right place. Instead of judging ourselves as not good enough or not respected enough we need to start seeing it as an awakening that looks us straight in the eye telling us we shouldn’t waste our valuable time and talents on that job. We shouldn’t give away our precious life to fit in a certain image which isn’t even ours. Better we start listening and asking ourselves:
Do we really want to be in a job where we need to act in a way which isn’t true to ourselves?
Do we really want to work for companies which are doing more harm than good to the world?
Do we really wish to fold ourselves into a person, into a job, which we know is not us?
These answers depend on the answer to that one essential question: are we willing to play the game?
This article was also published on Elephant Journal.