“He’s not a crackpot. He’s institutionalized.”
Until a few years ago I’d never heard the word institutionalized. My corporate compadres taught me the word. The meaning is given to those who work as employees for long enough to get stuck in the corporate matrix. Just like Matrix the movie, they don’t know they’re stuck in it.
Hero-clapping CEO speeches and talking like a fanboy about them in the tea room is just what they do. They can’t see the other side, that may be the truth their company presents to the public could be full of lies designed to make fat cats lots of money.
Now comes the strange part. I was stuck in the corporate matrix too and had no idea. Let me explain what it looks like — in case you’ve accidentally become trapped too. Then we’ll see how to escape.
(Warning: This is not another “quit your job post.”)
Miles away from your dream work (with no path to even get there)
This one hurts the most. How often do you meet someone at a job who does one type of work but wants to be doing another? A lot. We’ve all been there at least once.
The corporate matrix isn’t interested in what type of work you’d rather be doing, or that you dream of doing one day. Nope. They care about revenue. A job isn’t supposed to do the work of enabling your dream. Obviously. But the corporate matrix purposely makes career paths dark and foggy.
When employees move around it causes disruption and costs the corporate juggernaut money. They know that most people would rather be comfortable and dream of unicorns, than take a risk and move around. So they build that fact into career paths. Who knows what work you love if you don’t get to experiment with different kinds. Makes sense.
Afraid to speak up
Meetings are bliss for a lot of people. I hated them.
I didn’t want to speak the truth about my employer or mention things they could improve. Too many people above me drank some type of kool-aid that made them see roses, not the daily unhappy emails I got from customers who were legitimately ripped off (as in they didn’t get anything in return for their money — zero).
The corporate matrix silences our voice. It reminds us that if we speak too loud, we may offend someone and that could lead us to lose our job. No job equals an inability to pay rent and buy food.
So we form a new habit: to keep quiet.
This is harder than it seems. You’ve got to quietly stop yourself from being helpful. And say the opposite of what you think. After a while it crushes your voice outside of work. You end up putting the muzzle on your mouth in social situations and on social media.
Forced to follow orders
Humans aren’t meant to wake up every day and blindly follow orders. We’ve been given this powerful pink machine called a brain that’s dying to solve problems, explore our curiosity, and be creative.
I had zero creativity while stuck in the corporate matrix. My ideas got written on post-it notes during meetings called “ideation sessions” as a way to make me feel like I got to make decisions.
At the end of the meeting the post-it notes would magically disappear from plain sight in case the CEO happened to see them. They’d never be spoken of again. It’s like doing a confessional at church. You share all your sins and then apparently you’re cleansed of all your demons. The challenge in the corporate matrix is, the problems aren’t solved by a higher power.
Fake feedback/problem-solving is the oil that runs the corporate engine. You don’t actually make decisions unless you are one of the elite leaders.
Not able to rise to higher positions
Some companies have legitimate career paths. That’s rare. The corporate matrix has fake career paths. Nobody knows how to get them. They’re placed in internal job ads that are dangled in front of you as if you are a rabbit looking to bite on a big, juicy carrot.
When your career doesn’t pass through levels like a computer game, you start to feel empty. You don’t know why. Our minds love gamification.
The corporate matrix delays the gratification of a higher position for as long as possible. The insiders know the corporate ladder has no rungs on it for most. They just make you think it does. A blind monkey can see through their lies. Once you’re institutionalized it’s damn hard to see.
You can probably get paid a lot more money at another company. I didn’t. I stayed in the same position for way too long and became a zombie.
The corporate matrix made me believe that the pay was fair. That they magically recalibrated it every year as a goodwill gesture. Then, hey, alakazam, your pay stays the same and doesn’t adjust with inflation. And don’t worry, they know all about inflation. It’s built into their pricing models and taught in business schools all around the world.
They know. They simply choose to ignore even basic costs of living rising, while gladly slurping it up from customers through a 7-Eleven slurpee straw.
Afraid to leave
So it boils down to this. If we find ourselves stuck in the corporate matrix then why the heck don’t we leave? Fear.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of failure.
It’s even harder for introverts. If you’ve gone through all of the trouble to make work friends, then the thought of making fresh ones all over again at a new company is worse than the boogie monster itself.
And extroverts don’t leave because they want to hold onto their buddies. Once they go to a new company it will be hard for their old colleagues to understand them anymore.
“You mean you don’t get treated like sh*t? Get outta here, man. Stop making me feel bad about your crappy new job.”
I remained afraid to leave the corporate matrix for many years. When I took the plunge and left the system for a new company, it blew up in my face. One failed career move can triple your fear of making another move.
For some, one failed move can define the rest of their career. So we stay trapped like monkeys in a cage at a zoo.
The brutal truth that makes people’s eyes bleed
The corporate arbitrage bets on the fact the friction is too high for you to go. Businesses profit from you being stuck in this corporate matrix. If people believed in themselves they’d quit. The truth is we don’t. We think we suck when actually we’re amazing at work.
Don’t quit the corporate matrix, yet. Start with this:
Don’t give so much of a f*ck about it all
The annual revenue, profit, and EBITDA results for the market don’t matter as much. The clown in the suit called the CEO isn’t greater than Rocky Balboa.
The lip service charitable efforts won’t make the difference they say they will. The new corporate marketing plan won’t take over the internet and make Gary Vaynerchuk’s jaw drop to the floor.
Dilute the importance of the corporate circus.
Construct a plan
Come up with escape options. Plan like a civil engineer building a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.
What are your options? Who do you know? What forms of work could you do instead? What online education could you do? A plan reduces fear. It makes the escape seem possible and pending. Each day, work on the plan and work less on your job.
Make the focus of the plan work you enjoy that you want to do more of. That might still be for an employer, just not these jokers.
Unconventional side hustles
Don’t mistake me. This is not about being cool. It’s not about the hipster movement whose motto is based on side hustles.
A side hustle is a way to experiment. It’s a way to explore after hours and see what’s out there. You can make money from a side hustle too. That money can help fund your escape plan.
What the money really does is open your mind to the limitless possibilities you have access to. Those options destroy the prison your mind is trapped in while stuck in the corporate matrix.
Maybe you don’t change your job a lot. But you can change side hustles as many times as a baby has its nappy changed. This is the missing ingredient for employees who feel stuck. They rely on their corporate overlords to provide a platform to create, experiment, and be curious. Ain’t gonna happen, pal. Their focus is revenue dripping out of their mouths.
Have brutally honest conversations
Once you see through and lift the veil and uncover the corporate matrix, your entire world looks different. The trick is then to acknowledge it. Tell new employers what you’re looking for.
Tell your boss what they need to help you with from a development perspective. Let your masters know you have options. Use the direct message button on LinkedIn so many times that the image of it is tattooed on your brain and you have dreams about it.
You don’t need to quit your job. You just need to be honest enough with yourself to understand many of us are stuck in the corporate matrix.
We’re institutionalized. We think a bunch of corporate mumbo jumbo matters more than it does. Escape the corporate matrix to find work you enjoy. If that’s for an employer then fine. Just don’t roll up to work each day like a robot that’s numb to reality.
Plan your escape. Let side hustles guide you. Start being brutally honest about what you want and what you stand for.