Last year I got this e-mail from a woman named Linda: "I have a decent job and do it well, but I'm constantly thinking I'm wasting my time. I want to begin doing something useful to contribute to changing things, at least becoming a cog in the wheel that's on the right vehicle."
She's hardly alone in her yearning to escape the corporate tentacles and defy the stultifying insistence of conventional wisdom that "success" is money. The powers that be don't want us thinking that breaking from the given order is even possible. But as a friend of mine puts it, "Those who say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
In such varied pursuits as business, politics, healthcare, food, banking, religion and others, folks all across the country are wriggling free of the traps and fetters of our corporate culture, successfully finding new paths toward richer lives, more satisfying work and, yes, even happiness.
Take business. CEOs and their political enablers are quick to cite old Cal Coolidge's line that "the chief business of the American people is business," as if that trumps all other interests. Yet in the very same speech, Coolidge noted that wealth is not all there is to life: "There are many other things we want very much more." Then he offered this uplifting thought that the corporate world never quotes: "The chief ideal of the American people is idealism."
In practically every American community, business people are putting their idealism to work. For example, the company owner who refused an opportunity to buy out a competitor and bring in more revenue because, he said, "I'd rather pack my kids' lunch and walk them to school"; or the women of the Lusty Lady Theater who rebelled against the notorious exploitation that strippers endure and created America's first-ever unionized, worker-owned, cooperative strip club; or the pharmacist who was pulling down six figures at a chain drugstore but walked away because, he said, the unaffordable pricing "made me sick to my stomach"–he now runs his own store, called MedSavers, with low overhead and low prices, catering to uninsured and underinsured families.
For idealistic entrepreneurship, consider a brand of foods that you might have in your kitchen: Organic Valley. This purveyor of organic milk, eggs, butter, juices, etc. was organized by a group of farmers to be the "un-corporation," embracing not only profit but also the common good of what they call their "partnership society," including employers, consumers and communities. It has not been easy, but the Organic Valley cooperative has held fast to its progressive principles over the years while building a business that now includes 1,201 farm families in thirty-two states, racking up $432 million in sales in fiscal year 2007.
A measure of their commitment to principle came the year before. Some of the co-op's products were being sold through Wal-Mart, which is now the nation's biggest marketer of organic milk. But Big Wally, as it is known to its suppliers, quickly began pitting its organic milk providers against one another, demanding lower prices from them and also insisting on getting more milk from each of them.