To this day I can vividly recall the first time I wrote myself a letter: in 2010, on the day I celebrated my second anniversary in my previous job. I was not schizophrenic, at least not just yet. I just terribly felt that my job—in fact my life then—was extremely meaningless. I was depressed and could find no one to talk to, so I typed myself a 4-page letter in half an hour, extracting the very wretchedness that was yanking at my guts.
Strangely enough, I can barely recall now what I had written.
But today is different. I woke up at 3 a.m. with an upset stomach and severe nausea. As I had a couple of reports to finish before 6 a.m. and a client meeting at 7:30, I pulled myself up, went online, sent the reports, and later managed to go to work by public transport despite the irksome pain I was going through. I managed, but something was still yanking at my guts: I knew I had reached that point of saturation once more.
Today, feeling all fatigued by this work routine, I write, not to myself, but to other citizens who are feeling the same rubbish as part of this country’s labor force.
I graduated in the summer of 2008, and only in the following years of working in a white-collar job did I have a real taste of how hard it is to keep up with life and living. Yes, working in a boxed setting of cubicles and desktops has sharpened my philosophical thought; I discovered that life and living are two different things. “Life” is the glamorous part of your job—compensation, benefits, bonuses, promotion, and Friday nightlife. “Living” is the more realistic part—overtime without pay, boredom, rumors, politics, bills, taxes, financial emergencies, sickness, and aging parents. I haven’t been in the work force long enough to tell you how to keep up with both, but believe me, the best way to cope is to accept the harsh realities of corporate life.
First, nothing ever comes easy. I quit my first job in a local marketing company to look for “growth” at the age of 23. Little did I know how much I had to give up. I suffered a pay cut (in the Philippines, it’s not true that all multinational companies pay more), spent sleepless nights working on straight shifts, bade farewell to holidays, and went through dozens of bad exposure that made me almost regret quitting my first job.
Whenever I reach the point of wanting to quit, I look back at the people I’ve dealt with—from lowly carpenters to multimillionaires—and I open myself to the fact that “growth” comes with hardship, pressure, sacrifice, criticism, and even physical pain. I have learned that challenges are opportunities, and that when you quit on the first sting, you lose the chance to discover a stronger side of you which you never thought existed.
Second, politics is the name of the game. I was lucky I never had to deal with bosses who bark at their staff or sack them for nonsense—but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to deal with corporate politics either. Five years ago, I was timid and thought I could survive on talent alone. After spending years with marketing and sales, I saw before my eyes how “boka” can come in handy first, talent only second. People were overtaking me in the race, so I had to shift strategy and invest on relationships that made my job a bit easier and more meaningful. I have learned that politics doesn’t exactly translate to something filthy. You don’t have to cheat or trample people to work your way up. It’s a game, and we can play it by putting our best foot forward in the fairest way possible. Otherwise, karma will be just around the corner.
Third, it’s not true that you have no choice. I heard a lot about people staying in their jobs because there’s no other choice. I lasted exactly three-and-a-half years in my first job, doing admin work, marketing, store operations, logistics, and inventory functions all at the same time. I might have been overworked and underpaid, but if you ask me why I stayed, I’d say it’s because it’s an honor to contribute to the nation’s productivity and to be a mover of the economy.
Okay, now I’m being unrealistic. Truth is, I was merely searching for fun and experience. When I reached two years and started getting bored, I got a promotion, which is by the way just equal to more work with a slight salary adjustment. But priorities change, and for me it happened to coincide with an increased desire to explore opportunities. I have learned that nobody stays in a job because they have no choice. Employees are humans, and are intelligent enough to know what’s tolerable. The question is, are you willing to seize that chance?
Lastly, you have to find life outside your job. I deal with finance matters and data analysis day in and day out but the truth is, I love creative writing more than anything else. In fact I was the typical high school student who intended to take up what I wanted in college and who ended up taking my parents’ advice to study something else because “there’s no money in pursuing the arts.” For a while I gave up on writing; but something you love will never let itself rest and will find a way to be expressed. So even if I landed a couple of jobs where numbers are the native tongue, I never stopped expressing myself through poetry and blogging. This—along with playing a few instruments, learning a foreign language, crafting art, and being active in the Church community—is what keeps me sane outside of the edgy and fast-paced BPO life.
I’m a corporate slave who has learned things the hard way. Five years, and I’m still bound by the shackles of economic needs and tax liabilities of this Third World country. A bunch of fresh graduates will be joining me in this huge dungeon in a couple of months, and even if I spend hours coaching them on Corporate Slavery 101, I know I’ll only conclude it by saying “experience is the best teacher.”
I’m a corporate slave—I reach a point of saturation every now and then—but that doesn’t mean I want to remain in this reformatory forever. I’m a corporate slave, but only as long as I permit myself to be.
Ayn Torres, 26, works at IBM as a team lead for Google Corporate Credit Cards.
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