How to work in corporate life and not sell your soul


Some people may have the intrinsic realization that there are more to life than climbing the corporate ladder. However, one gets confused and torn when the people and media are portraying trying to convince us otherwise.

If you have been feeling that, this article is for you. Perhaps you may resonate with my life experience and the choices I made.

As early as in my teens, I was already ambitious- intending to be successful and rich in life. I studied hard and keep my goals in mind. While my friends were enjoying semester breaks, I worked to gain working experience as I know it will give me an advantage when I wanted to get a job as a fresh graduate. Eventually, I managed to land in one of the top companies in my industry because the interviewer was impressed with me during the phone interview.

In less than a year after my first corporate job after graduation, my mom was diagnosed with tonsil cancer. While recovering from her operation, my dad got a stroke, went into a coma and passed away subsequently. I had to manage the funeral on my own (fortunately my aunties and uncles came to help out as well). I remember staring at my dad’s coffin and feeling the entire world shattered around me.

I knew then I was going towards the wrong direction and working towards the wrong priorities. Because no amount of money in the world will be able to bring my dad back and guarantee that my mom would not suffer from her cancer relapse.

It has been almost 20 years since that incident. Yet, I never swayed in my priorities. I still continue to work in corporate but I work towards values that I believe in.

You can still work in corporate and keep your values

It does not mean that if you choose to work in the corporate world, that you would need to sell your soul. There are profession that you can still do that bring you and others happiness.

Corporate life

There are 3 ways of approaching this:

1. Continue to climb the corporate ladder and use the position to inspire others
This is what my most respected mentor did. I had the good fortune of working for a boss who brought out the best in me. She has this capability of overlooking the flaws and identifying a person’s strength and skills and then assign the work accordingly. When the person acts up, she would manage with either compassion or sometimes with a little tough love.

As the result, she moved up the corporate ladder and the higher she moved, the more she was able to shape and influence those who are reporting to her.

With the money she earned, she was able to provide her children with a good education and better quality of life. She also choose a section related to service where the job involve managing customer experiences.

2. Continue in a job that you can contribute according to your values
This was the path I had chosen for a large part of my career. At first, I did go through a lot of conflict because I felt that working in corporate is selling my soul and just helping the company to make more money.

After a while, I discover that rather than thinking negatively, I realized that I can put my skills to good use and to help others. Rather than thinking that we are working for the company’s bottom line, we can choose to think that we are working to help customers, be in internal and external customers.

When I was in the service line, I helped a lot of external customers daily to solve their problems and clarified their queries. Eventually I moved up to managing my company’s internal information portal and writing internal communication to help my staff help the customers. So instead of helping customers on my own, I was able to benefit it on a greater scale by indirectly helping more customers through my staff. At the same time, I also help my staff because what I did made their jobs easier and they were able to earn an honest living through helping others.

Yes, there are times I do not like some of my policies that my company wanted to implement. But it is part and parcel of working in corporate where the bottom line is to cut cost and serve the interest of their shareholders. There is never any ideal situation that you can find in life so it is always going to be give and take.

Still, the company still provides job opportunities for each of us to earn a living and pay out bills.

It is the same as you. If you can identify certain areas where you are able to contribute doing what you love within the values that you believe in, you can make peace working in the corporate life. If you are good at it, you would be able to earn a reasonable good living. If you do not plan to be in corporate for long, then save up your earnings so that you can opt for an early retirement.

3. Working in a monotonous or less demanding
During my working career, I’ve noticed that some staff are actually quite intelligent but they choose to work in a less demanding monotonous job such as doing clerical work, reviewing application and filling. Even I myself have tried for a year to work as a personal assistant (took a paycut) but I decided that it was not for me.

You may decide to work in a mentally less challenging job for the following reasons such as:

  • your focus is clear- it is your family. You do not wish to work long hours or arriving home each day too mentally drained to have time for your family.
  • you basically need the job to just pay the bills – at the same time, you are also working on a side hustle or pursuing your studies for a better future
  • you wish to focus on personal development, like spiritual practice but maintain a job to pay the bills and pay for your expenses

My mom has chosen this path – she settled in a nursing job and sometimes need to put up with crap because her focus was on her family and the pension. She has gone through poverty while growing up and job security is utmost important for her… more than ambition or job satisfaction.

She still kept herself happy by learning various skills out of her working time such as cooking and baking (she would cook/bake and go round distrubuting to friends/relatives- and many people praise her for her delicious food), knitting and even making prayer items for sale. In the end, she was able to retire on pension and do not financially trouble anyone.

Even though my mom had worked in the government sector and not the corporate sector, her example is the similar with choosing a monotonous job to focus on priorities outside the job and at the same time, accumulate enough funds for your future retirement.

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