The Matrix: Should You Leave Your Corporate Job?

James Altucher talks about The Matrix of Corporate Life. Robbie Abed has blogged about leaving his corporate job for a new life.

My own experiences are different than theirs. I never had that A-ha moment or “freeing” moment when I went on my own. My first job out of college was corporate. It was with 3M ($MMM). I had a great boss. I didn’t work in a cubicle, but was out selling every day. When I left, I quit because I thought I might make a lot of money. Economists would say I intrinsically looked at the number I thought I would make at 3M, and compared it to the potential dollars I would make as a trader. Because the potential dollars were greater, I chose to do that-even with the assumption of a lot more risk. Every person does this same intrinsic calculus with every decision they make.

Is today’s corporate world more of a matrix than it was? I don’t know the answer to that. I have never worked in an office until the trading floor disappeared, and quite frankly it sucks. In my career, No hedge fund or middleman. I never had a fund or customers. I wasn’t a broker. I traded my own money for myself exclusively. No outside income. All the risk was mine. All the benefit too if I didn’t screw up.

One thing I know for sure. I hear complaints from corporate people about “corporate politics” all the time. Power hungry people trying to climb ladders. In my world, there is a unique brand of politics. Brad Feld has described them as “grinfuckers” and I have run into more than a few.

You may think that once you are out of the corporate world, you are out of the straitjacket that defines you. However, that’s not what happens. People don’t want randomness. So they categorize. I have done a lot of other things in my life but most people look at me and think “crazy commodity trader”. Many people in Chicago don’t respect the intellect of commodity traders and think they are just luck seeking gamblers. But, my experience tells me different. They are some of the smartest people I know.

If you are considering a jump out of the corporate world simply because you are sick of the corporate straitjacket, carefully consider it. It’s exhilarating working without a net like I have done since 1986, but it’s not without some hyper stress that can affect you. It’s fun when things go great. But when things go bad, or people marginalize you or play you, it can be really bad because you don’t have Momma Corporation to lean on. You are naked.

That being said, if you are thinking of making the switch, carefully and objectively weigh your options. Quantify them if you can. Look at future streams of income and expenses and realistically project them into the future, and then discount them back by a real discounting factor. That will give you a numerical guide to making the jump.

But, there are some things that can’t be quantified at all. Sometimes, there is a pinging in your gut that is telling you what the right thing to do is. Listen to it. Try to find out more about that ping by going and experiencing it. For example, if you want to start a business and leave the corporate world, try and start up a small version of the business on the side. You might not like it. If you do, act on it, as long as it’s not compulsive.

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