Many popular business and self-help books show people how to find freedom and joy by leaving corporations and other large organizations. Escape from Cubicle Nation and The Four Hour Work Week are two examples. The basic premise is that corporate life is stifling and entrepreneurship is liberating, so leave the big company and start your own.
The message is inspiring to many people who have recently left long careers in big organizations or are chomping at the bit to do so.
But what about people who see themselves working in corporations for the foreseeable future? Do these books speak to people who like the relative security of organizational life and/or see large organizations as the primary vehicles for contributing to the world? You tell me, but I think not.
So does that mean the two alternatives are (a) stay in big organizations and “suck it up” or (b) leave and be free?
Again, I think not.
Freedom and joy are shaped by external circumstances, no doubt. But they are inner experiences, so it is possible to access them in a wide range of places. The challenge–and, some might say, promise–of organizational life is to find freedom in the midst of constraint, to be fully yourself even while earning the necessary conformity points to preserve alliances and get along with your boss.
So even while we applaud people who have the courage and opportunity to leave large organizations, let’s also applaud those who have the courage and opportunity to stay. May we each discover our own path to an engaging and meaningful life.