Welcome to the age of collective soul-searching
Don't you sense a shift in people's expectations from their careers (and life)? Consider these observations that seem to be happening with greater frequency.
- Sabbaticals. More and more people are taking sabbaticals from their jobs. Soul-searching. Finding out what they want to do with their lives.
- Mid-career dropouts. Not only are they taking breaks, people are opting out of their careers altogether. In healthcare, disillusioned doctors are quitting medicine more than ever before. Burnout is high.
- Being a CEO is not that cool anymore. One of my Michigan professors told me this. In a recent MBA class, the CEO of one of the big tech firms polled students on who wished to be a CEO. 3 people raised their hands. During my time (13 years ago), about 70% of the class would've said yes to such a question.
- People want more than money. Today's careerists are looking beyond money. You hear of impact and making a difference. A lot. You hear about freedom and flexibility. Entrepreneurs are the new heroes, not corporate gods.
Are we running away from something? Or, towards something?
There's some collective soul-searching underway. But why?
They say the pursuit of all endeavors is truth. Whether you to talk to a scientist or an artist or a product designer or a teacher. Everyone is following their path in search of a certain truth. Of authenticity. Of originality. Of being real.
We admire these qualities in others. However, we find them difficult to bear in ourselves.
Searching for truth begins with disillusionment. Of waking up one day. When you find yourself becoming someone you are not. Or, when you constantly suppress your natural instinct and follow others' instructions. Or, when you push doing the right thing under the rug and pursue goals that hurt others (directly or indirectly).
After covering Harvey Weinstein's sexual assaults, the latest The New Yorker issue covers the Sackler family and their role in the opioid crisis.
Read: The family that built an empire of pain (by The New Yorker)
It's a depressing story. About 200,000 Americans have died because of overdoses from OxyContin (the drug that Sackers produced) and other opioids. 145 die everyday.
As with other medical things, the problem is spreading globally. Particularly to countries where regulations are slack.
The drug has earned several billions of dollars. That's fantastic for business measured wholly in dollar-terms.
The contrast to the crisis is provided by the many philanthropic pursuits of the Sackler family. Here are a few that take the family name.
- Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Science – at New York University
- Sackler Library – at Oxford University
- Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences – at Tufts University
- Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University
- Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University
- Jillian & Arthur M. Sackler Wing at the Royal Academy, London
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution
- Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum
Crudely put, the money generated by making addicts out of millions, also funded these wonderful philanthropic initiatives.
The article says, before Dr. Arthur Sackler's death in 1987, he advised his children, "Leave the world a better place than when you entered it."
Path to salvation is tough
If you are a Sackler, the path to truth from here is more direct. As The New Yorker article suggests, do what Alfred Nobel did. He invented the dynamite. But also created the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead of spending money on fighting lawsuits, Sacklers could help addicts get off the drug spiral.
But what if you are Harvard? Or Tufts or NYU? Or even the Smithsonian? People who benefited from their money.
Would you scratch their name out from your name - now that you know that the donation has the blood of countless opioid addicts? Or, would you ignore it because that would be too murky to figure out. Because to do it right, you may have to even return the money. Plus, you may forever lose your donor.
What if you're a doctor at one of the Sackler medical schools? And it's your role to inspire medical students to pursue truth in medicine. Would you quit your job?
Or, what if you are simply a visitor to the Sackler Gallery in Smithsonian? And it's your role to inspire virtues of giving in your children. Would you not go?
Or, what if you're the government that took the money to fund the gallery at Smithsonian? And it's your role to set an example for your people. Would you return all the money you took?
So you see, it's easy to slander wrongdoers. But more difficult and layered to find our own truth in messy situations. Such as the opioid crisis.
Business as a force of good. Whatcha talkin 'bout?
We've come to believe that businesses doing good are called social ventures. As though the rest of us are absolved of our responsibility to others around us.
May be it's time to examine our lens of business. To ask what we are here for.
The world would've definitely preferred a more conscious company that realized that pumping more OxyContin into the market was off-balance. That what they created was no longer helping people with their pain. It was hurting millions of them.
That it's not about your ability to fight in court. It's simply about doing the right thing.
Yes, we can push all this under the rug. Continue the old way. With Wolf-of-Wall-Streetmetrics. More and more at the cost of everything else. Because we've been taught to salivate for a dog-eat-dog world.
But something tells me that that model of business is breaking.
As a society, we have dissatisfaction on a massive scale. Not just professionally but also within our own lives. Within our physical bodies. Within our minds. Stemming from ongoing suppression. Of our natural instinct to do the right thing. To be true. To be real. To be authentic.
At its most disturbing point in the Sackler story, the article talks of a family that gave birth to a baby addicted to opioids. The father would snort/inject OxyContin. So did the mother. Then happened the baby - born addicted.
When I bring up these kind of conversations, people in business get uncomfortable. One advisor-friend (whom I respect much) told me to not talk so openly.
So I thought I'd simply write about it.