Another Brick In The Corporate Wall

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It seems to me that my new-found path in life never fails to leave people with endless questions, mostly with a regard to my mental health and whether I have lost the plot. Take for instance a repeated conversation with my brother.

‘So what are you going to do with your life?’

‘I’m going to teach English as a foreign language and travel the world….’

‘Yes but…..What are you going to do with your life?’

This seems to be the reaction from most people. A mixture of envy with a dash of cynicism topped off with a large dollop of disappointment. I get it. For years after my first TEFL contract in China I swore I would never dip my toe into the world of teaching again. Fuelled by the various comments bashing English teachers as ‘avoiding responsibility’, ‘unaccepted by their own country’ and ‘wasters and hippies with no ambition’ I gave up on teaching altogether. My 20-year-old mind had been firmly polluted by the endless jibes that come hand in hand with TEFL. Instead, after completing my degree, I pushed myself into the corporate world with dreams of a flash wardrobe and an even flashier car. And this is where I lost ‘myself’.

Hired and jumping up and down in my parents kitchen I thought my new-found success would pave the way to management heaven. Having received my contract and welcome letter as a new employee of a global IT company I could not conceal my excitement and satisfaction. The girl from the bleak council estate was well and truly on her way to success. I began my role with the enthusiasm of a new puppy, all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed but still shaking in my boots at the thought of using Excel and numbers as they certainly weren’t my personal strengths. I got to work an hour early, always first to arrive and usually last to leave. Lunch times would be spent at the desk trying desperately to hide another Excel formula fuck up as I watched the days pass in a blur of pivot tables and numbers, adding and subtracting. Sometimes I would bound out the door, satisfied that my day was full of small successes. Other days I would cry at the thought of messing up another report. A report that barely anyone ever read.

You see after a few months in the role I realised that no one cared. Reports and new websites that I fawned over and spent countless hours trying to perfect were pretty much irrelevant. I realised that I had become part of the furniture, another brick in the wall of a massive corporation and that no amount of trying was going to get me anywhere. Hushed discussions with other disgruntled employees furthered my suspicion that I was going nowhere fast and the only way up was to leave and reapply for the desired new role. When I was a fresh newbie I listened as my trainer spoke about a woman on another floor who hide all her ‘to do work’ under her desk. This woman did sweet f.a for 6 months before she was caught out from the growing mounds of paperwork forming under her desk, trying to escape. At the time I was horrified. How lazy and inconsiderate. Now I realise that no one gave a shit, and for her laziness (or cleverness) to go unnoticed for that amount of time must have meant that she was both invisible and irrelevant. Something I was to become familiar with.

Once the rose-tinted glasses had been removed and I was no longer breaking into a cold sweat on report days, I found myself slipping into a cubicle coma. For 8 hours a day I sat, clicking on the mouse creating documents that would be sent into the black hole of cyber space. I had mentally left the building. The silence would descend over the office as each of us punched in numbers and wrote out endless emails, while I tried desperately to find some sense of fulfilment in a job that I should not have been in. A job that I had no natural talent for. But that didn’t stop me from pushing and forcing myself to fit the mould, unaware that I was depleting my spirit with each day that passed.

After I ‘woke up’ and realised that I had no business being in IT, never mind an office, I slipped out unnoticed. No one saw me place my plant in my bag and forage around for my shoe collection that had been gathering under my desk. I cut my notice short and left, walking out into the grey sky and damp air without (so much as) a backward glance. Now I look back at all the years I spent chasing the money signs and all I see is someone wanting to conform. Someone desperate to have a desirable CV and endless Linkedin contacts. Someone who wanted to go to work in smart clothes, reeking of success. Someone who wanted a nice monthly wage, with an even nicer bonus and a mortgage to boot.

Now I’m no longer that somebody, but it took me years to wake up from wanting that dream. I now wait to begin my English teaching role in Bangkok where I can go back to the hustle and bustle of the uncomfortably humid streets. Where the various smells of the street stalls attack my senses and where everyone seems to be on ‘Thai’ time, walking at snail pace and coming to classes late. And as for people who question my dreams and ambitions I say simple to mind your own. My dreams, wherever they may lead, are none of your concern. Let me enjoy the fact that at nearly 29 years old I may have found my calling and thank fuck for that as it has taken me to hell and back trying to find it.

The break-up dance

So I now brace myself for the break up dance. It is always an emotional time when a break up is imminent. You know it’s not working. You are sure that they know is not working. Surely they can feel your negative energy wafting around the room like a bad smell. It really comes down to the fact that you can no longer make each other happy. Or worse you don’t make them happy. You have felt that things haven’t been working for a while. You discuss the issues and make promises you can’t keep. You no longer laugh but bicker constantly and fain interest. You want it to work so much because deep down the thought of going it alone terrifies you to the core. What if there is nothing out there? What will I do by myself? It’s a terrifying concept and one that has kept you in a situation that has been holding you back for far too long. You run through the past grievances in your mind, tortured by moments when you should have spoken up and held your own. Then the inevitable moment comes. That terrifying time when you fight all reasoning and just do it….You hand in your notice.

Unlike a relationship where you break up and swiftly move on (of course not without tears and tantrums) now you are faced with the break up and then spending 4 weeks doing the break up dance. 4 weeks of avoiding eye contact and awkward conversations in the corridor. 4 weeks of finding somewhere else to grab a quick coffee. Now is the time to not get too excited about any future plans that you may have. It’s best to look sad and disappointed. Have the ‘oh I wanted it to work so much, can we still be friends’ attitude. Smile with a hint of sadness in your eyes, after all there is no need to rub salt into the wound and trying to make them jealous will not end well. Do tell them ‘its not you its me’ even though you know damn well it’s all them!

So here I am, feeling a little less caged and a bit more excited for the future. I have taken a leap of faith and taken the plunge with my travel plans. How it will pan out I can only wonder. My CELTA interview was such a disaster that I am surprised the interviewer could manage to understand one sentence from me as I continually babbled and stuttered my way through. I felt my checks burning with embarrassment at how ridiculously unprepared I was, confident that being a native English speaker would be enough. They must need the numbers though, as I was offered a place. Either that or it was pity.

On a positive note I know 100% that this is the right decision. I have no idea where I will be in two months, six months or one years time. I have a rough draft but I feel the need to not plan so much and just let whatever happens happen.