Once upon a time, five years ago to be loosely exact, I wrote a LinkedIn article titled ‘Hippie in the Business School‘. I wanted to share my approach in the classroom and the success I was having with it. What I was doing was in no way unique to the world, but at the time, it was relatively unique to the world I was in.
That first article was about my process at the time, this one is about the identity.
Identifying as a yogi and a bit of a hippie while working as an academic in the ‘disciplines’ of management and leadership, really had me feeling like Neo going back into the Matrix after being physically extracted. I was confused and frustrated by a system that is contrived and convoluted, and there were potential agents everywhere. I just wanted to help students develop their minds and grow as people. Instead I spent hours navigating bureaucracy and strategising politically. Eventually, the yogi got bored and the hippie got cranky and those identities checked out and left me with the ‘ambitious young female academic’ identity.
More damaging than drowning in a demoralising sea of bureaucracy, is death by corporate culture, where blame and control are used like sniper rifles. A silent shot from a loaded smile and, once you’re in their sights, the outcome is the same…
I was one of the first to go in my area. It wasn’t until months later that I learned of the ‘great resignation’ and all the other people around the world who decided ‘fuck that shit‘. Life is too short to be looking over your shoulder all day at work, wondering when the next hit will take place and who it will be.
I wrote an article about coercive control in the workplace. It struck a chord. As it does when we speak our truth. The one few are able to tell.
There are very few places in our society where people feel safe enough to be truly seen and heard. To speak out against the prevailing norms or established expectations is to question the collective identity we all share, and in the case of work, the professional or organisational identity you have adopted as part of your role. Many of us even help shape the identity of the organisation or the role, seeking a sense of control over how it is enacted or perceived, but ultimately, social identities are collective, and to criticize or question is to declare yourself as, at least potentially, ‘other’.
But my spirit is strong and being other has never been the thing that held me back ( it was my attempts at being the same that did that).
“The only freedom that is of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment, exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while. The commonest mistake made about freedom is, I think, to identify it with freedom of movement, or, with the external or physical side of activity.”― John Dewey
And so, just as the light of the yogi and the hippie identities had faded and become less salient in my professional life, the ill-fitting university academic identity started to flicker and burnout.
During my time at the various universities I worked at (five in all), my work ethic could not be faulted. I worked really freakin’ hard as an academic. Long hours, complex environment, ego-rich, emotionally barren and so, so addictive. The whole industry has been gamified, as have they all, but for a bunch of intellectuals, the game of peer reviewed publishing is so tantalizing, they have built their entire playground around this one aspect of the game.
The competition and the scarcity.
The reputation and grandeur.
To know more.
To be more.
To be the one.
The one that knows.
The secret that everyone wants to know the answer to…
But do they know the question?
Do they look beyond the rules?
Have they played the other games?
Do they remember who they are?
The world and its people.
The desperation and despair.
To see more.
To do more.
To be a one.
One of many who care.
The feeling that everyone wants to feel.
To be loved.
I believe in love. And I believe there is very little love to be found in executive suits…*suites; maybe I also meant suits?
I believe that if we each learned to love ourselves a little more and be open to remembering who we are under the suit, the label, the uniform, the work gear, or any other work armour that you cover yourself with, that we would take a little more of that love with us into our work environments, physical and virtual.
In discovering nudism, and social nudism in particular, I discovered a new form of self love and one that translates into a level of comfort being around other humans that I didn’t realise I wasn’t experiencing.
Consider this, I am not afraid to be seen naked. It is not my worst nightmare for the whole world to see me naked. I would stand in front of you all and give a lecture naked if asked, for the right cause (and maybe some cash depending on the cause).
The point is, this means that in any given social situation, I am free of that existential fear that is silently there with almost everyone else I interact with. Only other nudists understand the freedom I am describing here. For the rest, underlying that fear you feel, once you can surface it, is a profound sense of self reliance. A sense that you can stand up in the world, just as you are, seen completely by others, and still feel strong and loved (not weak and alone). That’s powerful.
As I learned to be seen and heard in a world that wanted me to keep my head down and play by the rules, I paid more attention to the dissonance, when it was triggered, when it was strongest; and I looked for the things that I loved.
And then I realised what they had taken from me; so many of the things that I loved. I had lost my playfulness, my sense of curiosity, wonder and delight. I lost my smile and my excitement at each new day. On my last day in the office people commented that now they remembered what I had looked like on the first…In essence they took my story and my authentic identity, and for a while I participated in giving it up.
Women, indigenous people, the LGBTQIA+ community, the neurodiverse, immigrants and so, so many ‘others’; they know, better than me what it feels like, to have your authentic identity stripped away. Sometimes ripped off, and other times peeled back one layer at a time.
I turned away from my career to claim back what I love. Because what you love is part of who you are. And if you aren’t living a life that is built around what (and who) you love, then what sort of life are you living? And who do you become?
I didn’t like who I had become.
I walked away from an ill-fitting career to make space for love.
The hippie is back; and now she’s mad as a mamma bear protecting her cubs.
~ Wonder Woman
It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.