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My head rested on the glass window of the morning train heading into the city – my eyes staring into the distance, looking at nothing in particular. I sighed as I felt the now familiar feeling … the feeling of my soul being shrink-wrapped.

Every morning, on the now all too familiar train ride, I would pack away all the non-corporate, non-acceptable parts of myself, and shrink-wrap them for later. Every evening, if I remembered, I would quietly tear a corner into the shrink-wrapping and let my soul breathe. The trouble was, over the years, more and more I forgot to open the shrink-wrap until the tight feeling, and the corporate mask was all that was on permanent display.

Every now and again, the “unacceptable parts” of me would mount a breakout attempt, usually met with much tut-tutting and murmurs of the need to set a better example for the staff. They were quickly brought under control, and the shrink-wrap made a little tighter.

Corporations don’t deliberately set out to close down your soul

Nevertheless, little by little we learn that emotions in the workplace are frowned upon – no matter whether they are anger or unbridled joy. No matter whether it is caring for another team member having a bad day or caring for our clients and spending 3 minutes more than allocated to treat them as human beings. Beige emotions to match the carpets are the norm.

We learn that creativity and being a maverick are dangerous. It makes you stand out. Yes, there are the odd muttered platitudes of “we need more creativity and innovation” … but only between the hours of 9 am, and 9.15 am … and only within the context of formal meetings … and only when following the appropriate hierarchy channels and with the appropriate paperwork completed.

We learn that intuition (while usually right) is seen in the same category as witchcraft and people who are in tune with their intuition need to be prepared to be burned at the stake. Corporations worship at the altar of logic, facts and figures. Never mind that slavish following of facts and figures resulted in the GFC.

So little by little, our souls die at work

For 20+ years I was a soul less High Priestess of the corporate world, having one of the top Human Resources jobs in government.

I finally broke free, peeled off the layers and rediscovered my soul. But, even now, after five years of freedom, I still catch myself periodically looking over my shoulder, concerned about what “they” may think.

It doesn’t have to be that way. What I have learnt is you don’t have to lose your soul – you can keep it and still survive and thrive in the corporate world. How?

How to keep your soul

There are organisations and corporations that welcome authenticity and humanity. That strive for connection with their employees and their customers – connection that is more than rhetoric. If your soul longs to dance … find them! Choose them! Work with them!

If your choice is to remain and be a force for change in your workplace, start with the people immediately around you. Build connections one person at a time. Allow the non-corporate part of you to talk to the non-corporate part of one other person at work. Start a ripple of being able to breathe, to share and connect.

Remember to reconnect with who you are outside of work hours. Remember who the “non-corporate” part of you is. Remember what that part of you likes to do to relax and unwind … and do it.

Find something creative that you love to do and do it. Not everyone is an artist, but everyone can take photos, build model cars, cook or sew. Channel your out-pouring of creativity into ways that bring you joy.

And finally, connect deeply with the ones you love or have chosen to love. Be open with them; be honest and authentic with them. The tighter the shrink-wrapping gets, the more open you need to be with the people around you. They are your safety net. They are the ones who will throw you the lifeline to rescue you from a sea of beige … if only you let them in.

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