“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” ―Morpheus, to Neo in Matrix
And so I did have a choice and down the rabbit hole I went.
I am 30 years old, I have been working since about 7 years now in corporate organizations. An ant in the anthill. I used to work in La Défense when I started out my career. La Défense is one of the biggest business district of Europe right up close to the west of Paris like a giant modern tumor attached to this beautiful historical city. I worked there for 2 years and I was not unhappy about it. For some reason, I was not appalled with taking the jam-packed subway along with all these other people wearing suits, going from grey to brown through the solemn highly fashionable and timeless black. I still could breathe when getting out of that subway onto the Esplanade, this huge flat concrete area, without a single green and sighting thousands of suited-up ants barfed by the gaping holes of the underground transportation. I didn’t mind, I just went about as a good little ant to my own building, up to the 27th floor, inside an open space, on a standard, neutral work desk where I would open my none less neutral laptop and started on my next slide. I was a consultant and I liked it. I learned a lot, organization skills, time management skills, project skills, customer bullshitting skills, slide making, corporate communication, organization structures and their change, a bit of strategy and economic modeling… wow I think I just placed a bunch of the buzz words one needs nowadays on a resume to find such a well-paid corporate senseless stressful-for-no-other-reason-than-profit-making job. Well I did leave out “change management”, the current holy grail as if that is something you could specialize on, the new name for “common sense by people who are not blinded by their arrogance for people who are” I guess. But I might come back another day on this time of my life, this post is about the red pill.
Two years passed in the blink of an eye. Suddenly I wasn’t the newbie anymore, I was the experienced consultant driving missions. Still accompanied of course but I had my own customers and the trust of my superiors. And I realized I liked my job, but asked myself if that was it. “Was it? Was it all there was to it?” I could spend 10 years doing this, going from interesting mission to interesting ones, no worries, I am organized, reliable with a good head on my shoulders and down-to-earth (well down to floor really in office buildings, we are so far from the Earth, this expression cannot ring true) ideas and an eye to process things in the correct order. I could do it. I had a nice little flat in Paris, with a baker, a wine shop, a cheese shop and a supermarket up the street, I was in a steady blissfully independent relationship, my friends were in Paris and my colleagues were also fast becoming good friends. What was I asking these questions for?
I was spending some of my weekends on my couch, cancelling every single of the numerous activities I had planned and even cancelling on some friends because I got taken sometimes by this laziness fits. Funny to imagine how can laziness really be associated with fits. Really? But yes really. At those times, during the weekend, my stomach would contract, I would feel a tightness in my throat and a feeling like all these things I had to do because I wanted to do them were becoming an insurmountable mass and that is when the breathing was becoming difficult and only when I started cancelling things did I feel free again. Lethargy would soon follow and with it a lazy wave of nothing, leaving me on the couch streaming. How did I not realize at the time that it was not my over packed weekends full of stuff I should have loved to do that were the issue but rather the rest of the week?
I was still asking myself the questions though, and when the frequency started to bother me, I started surfing on internet for something else to do. I was a consultant and so naturally I turned to try and land a so-called “real” job. That was one within the corporate companies that were hiring us consultants for missions. And so I looked and applied to 2 different companies which were large enough to accommodate people like me. Engineer without any specialization, no technical skills but a well-organized, project and process oriented mind with customer relationship management skills. Sounds nice heh? It apparently did to the recruiters. I went through a lengthy selection process for a young professional program in a well-respected and seemingly successful multinational and got in.
That is where I have been working in the past 4 years. In the last 3 years, I had the opportunity, this is how this is called, to take on an interesting and highly challenging position. How I smile writing this. Not that it is false but what kind of world do we live in that calls an opportunity a position that drives you to the brink of exhaustion with high pressure and exposure, impossible planning, low resources and a macho environment I had to overcome everyday of the week, ah yes, that is called an “opportunity”, a challenging one, which is even better if you ask any corporate little ant. And I liked it, I liked it even better than my previous job because I was accountable this time. How brainwashed was I seriously, taking accountability as a reward. I wonder since when everyone’s own compass for what is good to oneself is so skewed to fit closely to the capitalistic gears running our society.
I felt it at the end of 2013, I was close to burning out due only to pressure. Oh not just the one the company or my boss were putting on me, far from it, I just tripled the pressure on myself to make it, because I was ambitious, I had something to prove in this male dominated world and company. I was a young women with nothing but my consulting experience to support me facing long standing experienced people in their own technical fields. Legitimacy was something I needed to acquire and for this I worked double and to go from being noticed to being heard to being listened to was a struggling path that required all my focus and attention and preparation to be better and faster and more efficient and so I worked more and when it worked, I just worked even more. Shear pressure left me exhausted at the end of 2013, with no private life to support me anymore, far from my own family, with no boyfriend to make life a little easier, with no emotional shelter anywhere as my friends were not there anymore in this new city of mine, it took its toll heavier than it should have probably.
Two years later, I was living the burn out, unaware, I had survived one huge emotional struggle with a love story that had dragged me down my deepest ends and paradoxically threw me into work even more to escape the pain. I had changed countries in the meantime, even further from any support structure in my private life, I had managed to climb out of that hole, spending hours on the phone with my friends and family but I had done it. I was proud of it, and so through the exhaustion, the lack of any private time other than the occasional streamed series and beers out with colleagues, I thought that was it. Good job, free of emotional struggles, tired beyond awareness, I had some crying fits but it seemed normal to me, the world was metallic and harsh and I didn’t have that cotton ball of private treasures to protect me anymore so I hurt and bruised but well, after a while really you don’t feel it anymore.
And then, there was a tipping point. Like Murphy’s law, you know, if something can go wrong it will, which results often in situations which an accumulation of shitty stuff in your life that at one single point become just too much to bear? That was my Morpheus choice moment.
I had a boyfriend, brand new thing, going too fast but I was trusting as a dove (i do wonder if a dove is trusting, maybe trusting as little puppy would be more exact?), he seemed to have suffered and wanted to go forward and so forward we went. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, couldn’t believe my luck of feeling this tiny bit of happiness in my heart again. And so the shoe dropped when suddenly he was transferred out of the country. How could such a short relationship withstand this, obviously it started to go downhill from the on. And because one hit is always followed by the next one, short before he got transferred and while we were spending our last days together in the same country, my dad died.
That was the knock-out hit. That post isn’t about him so I won’t elaborate. Suffice to say he died of exhaustion, he over worked himself regardless of his bad health state. Rings a bell? It was so sudden I did not even have the time for tears really. I organized the funerals and so on, went back to Paris, attended and came back. I rebelled right there. I didn’t want to let my tiny bit of happiness that I had just found back get ruined. So childish. Of course, it did ruin it and suddenly work was too much to bear. Gone the relationship that was my tiny ray of sunlight, gone my solid and unmovable landmark that was my father. The deadlines were piling up, the resources were too low, nothing new there but somehow I became irritable and couldn’t take it anymore. Was life it? Wasn’t there another way? I couldn’t even grieve, no time, no possibility to crumble for myself.
And so that was it. The Morpheus choice. Did I dare pursue that train of thoughts? Did I dare listen to my body, my emotions, my dried-up imagination that were all screaming for rest and something other than this endless chase of absurd never ending profitable objectives?
Blue pill. I grind my teeth but I hold on, I work even more to get over whatever emotional struggle I had to face, I had done it before, I could probably do it again, harden myself even more, lose the naïve trusting approach I had to relationship and just forget about it altogether to focus on my career. Blue pill. A life of professional success and respect, money to go see my friends and take the occasional holiday at the other end of the world to escape over the span of a few weeks and fill my head with something other than any kind of questions about the meaning of life. I could live with that. Couldn’t I?
Red pill. Take a good hard look at your life. Find out who you are, who you have become, get to the bottom of that other side of life that is not work. Live a little. Figure out what you like and love. Risk your career to find out, risk feeling the full blown depression of that burn-out that you have been burying for later, risk feeling the grief over the loss of your father, risk growing even if it is painful, put yourself back out there and chance meeting new people, maybe risk falling love if that would present itself. Really, all risks? But also the chance to change, to become richer internally, to develop new skills that you are actually proud of, to build something more humane in your life, to have FUN!
And so down the rabbit hole I went. Red Pill it was.
Let’s see. Maybe in one year I take that blue pill again or a green one presents itself or I find myself happy with the red pill and ride the adventure.