Original question from Quora:

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in the corporate world?

My Answer:

The company is not yours. It’s not your dream. It’s not your vision. It’s not your goal. It’s not your life. It’s not who you are. All of those things exist outside the company.

I am a dreamer. I have visions and dreams and goals about the world around me. I live in what could be, not so much in what is.

After watching my father’s career, my career, and the lives of people around me, I realize that a job is a job. It’s a thing you do for money. It’s not who we are.

Somewhere in life, we get tricked into thinking about our jobs as our lives, and our companies we work for as our family or “our company”. I think it’s like how people take psychological ownership of their local sports team, even though they aren’t playing the game themselves.

Yet, for everyone at a company, we are dispensable. We will be replaced. In 100% of cases the company exists before us and after us, largely without anyone noticing anything different with us there vs. not there.

My father worked at a large company. He put decades into that company. Helped them save a lot of money. And in general, he was a good “company man”.

After twenty some years of dedicated service, the company was purchased by a smaller company, and in the course of the merger, he lost his job to someone with less experience and probably less capability than him.

To the victors go the spoils right?

But here’s the thing. I understand that’s the way it happens. There are no guarantees or long term employment situations unless you are running the show or negotiate for a better deal.

At any time either you can decide to quit or the company can get rid of you. Outside of a contract different terms, that’s how it is.

I’m not telling this story to be bitter, but rather to illustrate that whether it’s 2 months or 25 years, you are a cog in a larger machine. It runs with or without you.

And there are more stories that I’m sure we all have of changing jobs, getting a new job, getting fired, downsized, promoted, and every manner in-between. The thing is, none of that makes much difference to your vision of the company or yourself.

What the company is and is going to be is determined by whoever owns and runs the company. Whether it is a company of 5 or 5,000 it’s the same story.

If you find your vision for the company and what the company’s vision for itself is differing, I can tell you which one will happen and I promise it’s not yours.

This is not cynicism, it’s reality for life when you work for someone else. You can’t change it and it’s unwise to swim against the current too often.

If you don’t like that deal, make a different deal or create your own company in your own universe where you can make your vision real.

As a dreamer, that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in the corporate world.


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