For some reason, my corporate employer had decided to sink a lot of money into sending managers and people with management potential on a series of retreats. Instead of doing it all at once, we went for a couple of days a week over the course of several weeks. It was at a resort hotel, so even though we were only there during office hours we were fed well. They brought in a lovely couple, well-versed in running such things, who had worked with the real-life Men Who Stare At Goats. We were supposed to be learning how to deal with stress. I’m sure that at least one of the company executives who signed off on the project was hoping we’d also learn how to kill people with our minds.
I had a good time, to be honest. In between the corporate propaganda and feel-good New Age exercises, there were a lot of deep questions being asked. What are your values? Do you have short-term and long-term goals? What do you want to do with your life? The idea was to get you to figure out what career path you wanted to follow within the company. At the very least, it was supposed to let you figure out how to fit living your life around the company’s business needs. For me, it made me realize precisely how much I loathed working for that company. How much I had compromised my personal values to do my job. All of the horrible ways I had justified moral and ethical failings because presumably that’s just how the world worked, and hey, they paid me well and I had good benefits so I should be grateful.
I remember that it was 1999 because one of the sessions took place on the day of the Columbine shooting. Where was I when I heard the news? Eating high quality fresh fruit, beautifully plated on a silver platter, on a break after a guided meditation session. If you want some jarring counterpoint on the different places life can take you, that was it.
It took me a lot time to process everything that I learned. There are still things that I’m not quite sure what do to with. While I wasn’t yet clear about what I wanted to do, I knew for certain what I didn’t want. I needed to follow my conscience. There were things more important to me than money and stuff.