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20# Start with why

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

Start with why

California here we come! The steep black peeks stood sharp on the horizon, poking at the blue cloudless sky. On these long flat stretches toward the mountains, I pondered on Bill’s noble gesture. Bill gave me hope. I was so grateful I found the courage to do something I had been pushing off for days. Something hard, but necessary.

You see, I’m terrible at supporting people through hard times. When in grief, I stay alone. I neither ask for help nor provide it; a tacit agreement I made with my conscience. To avoid awkward and painful conversations, I ghost the person in pain until they get back on their feet. It is not right, but it is easy.

Val was my colleague at Shitty Sugar. He was also a mentor and a friend. A proud father, a loving husband, and a good man with a heavy cloak of ethics. Val was an honourable man, and that cost him his job. He was playing the corporate game with different rules. By his rules, ethics mattered.

Shitty Sugar had outsourced all IT operations to Romania for profit, then fired the Canadian IT team. Twenty years of loyal service didn’t make a difference…Another one bites the dust.

Game of thrones - Ned Stark's death

I had to express my support to Val. I called him and shared my adventure. It cheered him up. He had also crossed the Sonoran desert on his legendary black Harley Davidson a few years back. We laughed about the absurdity of corporate bullshit and promised to stay in touch.

Contrary to Val, my ethics depend on who I’m dealing with. Back in 2011, Shitty Sugar wasn’t Shitty, just Sugar. I got hired that year by Angelo, my first boss and the country manager of Sugar at the time. Angelo had the charisma of Darth Vader. A man of few words, he was respected by all. He spoke in a soft voice and only when necessary. Angelo had a deep penetrating stare that gave away his overwhelming authority. The authority of an old crocodile in his swamp, lying patiently beneath the surface.

When he hired me, Angelo said: “Your job is to show me the numbers in salesforce. If I call you, you’re either promoted, or fired. Any questions?” Silence ensued. The message was clear.

Within months, I had proved worthy of Angelo’s judgement. He gave me trust, respect, and freedom. Within weeks I’d become part of his family. That feeling of belonging were my motivation for success. There were challenges, but I never faced them alone. Val was a patient mentor and Angelo a fantastic leader. For three years, I loved my job. I knew why I went the extra mile, why I overcame challenges, why I put in the hours. With Sugar as a family and Angelo as a boss, I knew WHY.

One day, everything changed. The lovely Sugar got acquired by a bigger fish, and became shitty. Shitty Sugar operated based on bureaucratic bullshit and micromanagement. Creativity, loyalty, trust; none of that mattered anymore. Shitty Sugar cut through its employees with like a butcher does his meat. Employees became numbers. Numbers worked for a nebulous management team that changed every quarter. And which sole purpose was to achieve its next sales quota.

Over the years, the love and solidarity that bonded Sugar employees rotted away. People got fired, others left. Our camaraderie was reduced to the Friday afternoon calls. We laughed sourly at the weekly dose of bullshit and made bets on the randomness of the next goal. What a joke our jobs had become!

The simpsons meaningless milestones

I was in California in 2015, when I told Angelo I wanted to move to Morocco and keep my job. Due to a restructuration, he was no longer my direct boss, but I trusted him. Angelo supported my request, but my manager at the time denied it. Coached by Angelo, I ignored her and moved to Morocco regardless.

Two months after my move, she said that management had approved the relocation. Yet, I should remain quiet about it. It was our dirty little secret. As long as I was present during the calls and said whatever bullshit my boss wanted to hear, I was the best employee. It was a joke, a poor play. With time, passion and motivation dried up like a stream in the desert. I was withering, slowly turning to a soulless and replaceable number. Another one bites the dust.

I never understood the meaning of work until I had lost it. Working for someone you admire is a valid reason to make efforts and build something to be proud of. Gratification, a sense of belonging, passion for the job… all was gone within the second year. Company culture cannot be bought. Shitty Sugar, like any corporation who grows on acquisitions, did not get that.

If you find yourself slaving without any meaning besides a paycheck, plan your way out with care. It is a difficult and terrifying process, but it’s worthy. If you’re a gambler with no real responsibilities, push your luck like I did. Some companies are so bad all they have to offer is money.

Money is one piece of the puzzle. It will never buy meaning, only temporary comfort. I was the best at what I did, but had no reason to do it anymore. By seeing both sides of the coin, I understood what I had and what I came to lack.

If you find yourself running after a stick, from paycheck to paycheck, start questioning. Why are you selling your precious time? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why can’t you do it elsewhere? The truth may be painful, but it is always worth it. If you’re stuck, start with why.

Django unchained


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