Most people in business (and in life) want to be taken seriously. We want others to trust what we say and for our voice to make an impact so that our careers progress. Ultimately, we want respect.
But we go about it in all the wrong ways.
Our corporate culture is obsessed with image and encourages us to focus on the superficial; approval, status and validation. So we work hard to curate an acceptable identity and hope our audiences are suitably impressed with the show.
Yet, scratch beneath the surface of any carefully fabricated persona, no matter how polished or inventive, and you’ll find an emptiness that no amount of affectation can quench. Our words, often scripted, neatly packaged with the latest opinion, remain hollow. We’re all a bit lost, perhaps panicked, looking for purposeful direction. But many lack the passion to find it.
How then can people take our voice seriously when we ourselves lack any commitment to meaning and purpose? Ask most people what vision they hold for their lives and you’ll often get a blank expression.
It’s not entirely our fault. We’ve been set up; taught from a young age to become someone we are not in order to fit into a system hell-bent on its own growth, not ours. We’ve probably already spent a lifetime contorting our humanity to become an acceptable, likable — maybe even popular — good little performer-human. It feels like our only chance to be noticed — and promoted. But at what cost? This “always-on culture”, exacerbated by the internet, breeds constant anxiety and exhaustion.
Because, while we’re busy pretending to be someone we are not to win the approval of people whose opinions don’t even matter, we drain ourselves of precious energy and life-force.
And the modern corporate world will take advantage of our vulnerability, obsessed as it is with quick results and a mad dash to ever-shifting finish lines. To survive, all we have to do is play along, and so the merry-go-round inexorably spins on. As a reward, we’re sold an almost transcendental sense of belonging. You’re not just selling a product, you’re part of a new religion; the brand.
But as long as we obsess over our validity based on these external valuations of achievement and material acquisition, our individual voice can never be our own. We’re too lost in the matrix to carve out a meaningful purpose that is based on who we are and what we want. It’s far easier to stare mindlessly at our exploitative screens, meticulously designed to keep us addicted and enslaved, than to peer above the parapet of self-absorption and notice the miracles beyond the simulation.
The sad fact is that most people will never take the time to reflect on who they are, what matters to them, and how they can contribute a net positive to their world. Life is simply a busy box-ticking exercise where everyone reduces everyone else to a convenient label. We make profits and win likes, but for what?
As a society, we seem to be sinking into deeper levels of narcissism, materialism and emptiness. There’s certainly plenty of noise, much complaining, incessant doom-mongering and a plethora of opinionated voices pushing out soundbytes. Apparently the experts will save us; just buy their latest book or listen to yet another of their I-know-the-truth podcasts, and thou shall be rescued.
But what of their words, given they’ve been cultivated from within a system of pre-prescribed, spoon-fed definitions of success? How can people speak and act with real insight or credibility if they haven’t yet done the arduous and painful work to excavate who they even are beyond society’s expectations? It’s a case of the blind leading the blind into oblivion.
Whole generations have naively leant their ladders against conveniently placed walls, all leading in the same direction. People spend their entire lives obediently climbing upwards, chasing a promise, only to discover there was never any real treasure at the top. And the cycle perpetuates, as the starry-eyed youth flock to the metropolis to make it “big”, but find out the hard way: culture was never designed to nurture your creative spark and authentic voice.
A glance at every major city reveals a mass morphing into the same suffocating global hegemony, with its wall-to-wall beige and brutal utility passed off as “creative living”. The corporation is nothing more than a commercial monolith stealthily cutting your roots to community, commodifing your talents and exploiting your potential to serve the ever-hungry machine. You don’t really have a voice, but you do have a nice cubicle to sit in for the next 20 years.
Given the odds are stacked, the system rigged and the game weighed down by mediocrity, how then can any of us find purpose, say something meaningful and shine?
You have to break the simulation. Stop the soulless busyness, empty talk, constant consumption of mindless media — and take a deep breath. Do the painful work to find out what matters to you and why beyond the myths promulgated by the collective. What do YOU want? What do YOU care about? What is YOUR vision for yourself and your community? You have to think, and think for yourself aside from what your peers, family, experts and corporations tell you to think. You must develop strength of character, and become an individual with your own ideas, your own unique experiences, your own life lessons and hard-won insights. And you must never ever think like everyone else, even if that means you are in a minority of one.
Only then will you stand for something. Only then will you have something to say. Only then will you have the conviction of your values to build a career (and life) that creates substantial impact. You only have one life. Don’t waste it following the sheep while you’re falling asleep in the land of broken dreams.
Getting to know yourself brings gold. You build the deeper principles that place you above exploitation. Armed with self-belief, you can better protect your beautiful mind, body and spirit from society’s exigent oppressive force — and the depth of your voice will grow. Without such strong boundaries that define who you are and who you are not, it’s easy to be manipulated and enfeebled. You’ll continue to give yourself away to a framework of beliefs that will sell you down the river.
When we have meaning, vision and purpose, we become a bright color in a sea of gray. This will rankle the gatekeepers of the status quo. And it is those who prefer to live safe, certain and predictably small lives who will attack you the most. This is wonderful news. You’ll finally expose them for their lack of ambition, dearth of self-belief, envy and petit resentments. It shows you are moving in the right direction. And besides, waste no time on the judgments of the amorphous moralsing mob who do not even know you, nor have your best interests at heart.
But why even bother? Why not simply accept the way it is, keep your head down and play the limited game on offer? Just sell your time, make your money and run.
Because the cost is tremendous. We lose our authenticity, corrupt our voice, sully our spirit and get sick. We become contorted personas, never allowing our hearts to express what our minds have repressed.
The solution? Well everyone’s got one. Some offer cheap distractions. Others sell you a neat pathology and pharmaceutical cure. Plenty more will offer you a cause to fight for; somewhere safe to put your anger. And some of our most aggrieved will advocate for anarchy; let it all burn.
In my humble opinion, the only way forward is diligently through. Beat the game from within the game by staying true to who you are and expressing your light to its fullest. You don’t have to be right; you just have to be human. Rather than suffer in conformity or even blindly rebel, express yourself in ways that are in line with your values, without hostility but not without fight. Create your own frameworks, forge your own path, and build something exciting and new. True creatives have done this through the ages, always looking for the advantage in disadvantage to build a world in which they can thrive.
At heart, this is a call to leadership. Be the vision, a beacon of light that sees through the status quo and offers meaningful alternatives to it. No longer a cog in a sterile machine, we become free-thinking, creative sparks who contribute real wealth and nourishment to a spiritually-starved world.
We all recognise depth of spirit when we hear it. It is beyond the buzzwords, ideologies and loud personalities pushing their fast-buck agendas. It is beyond the broken egos chasing credibility in a system that will never quite grant it. And it is definitely beyond the noise and vexation of the people who clamor to stay relevant to fund a lifestyle that will destroy them in the end. Authenticity is far simpler than that.
You have to stand up and protect your dreams. You have to say what you feel and be yourself without any need for approval. You don’t have to be good, you don’t need to be perfect, and you certainly do not need to fit in. You just have to be whole.
When you act and speak from a place of wholeness, your expression will resonate with a rare gravitas and weight. It will be simple, true and without apology. It will be, in essence, fully human, a voice to contend with in a world determined to keep you feeble.