Let me tell you a little about myself, because we are our stories, and who we are today is a result of where and who we have been.
I spent 12 years on Bay Street in the investment world, then made a drastic life change and spent 10 years on Hastings Street, working with a tiny charity. For a long time that was my story, and it was a cool one. People wanted to hear my story. It was one of downward mobility; I had a friend back in Toronto who told me I wasn’t going to stop until I was living in a cardboard box!
Then my 19-year marriage came to end, and I did what most people do in that circumstance – I moved to China.
And in China I learned how to see.
For an introvert (actually I’m an ambivert – an introvert who can fake it for long periods of time) getting off a plane in a strange country where I didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t understand the culture was a big step.
With a deep desire to understand, I made some friends, learned some Mandarin, but most importantly I sat back and watched. And what I saw was beautiful. In fact, what I saw was beauty.
All around me.
Walking down the street I would periodically be overcome with gratitude, almost to the point of collapse. There were many times, sitting in the back of a bus, where I would be moved to tears by the kaleidoscope of beauty I saw all around me.
Let me back up a little.
During the Hastings Street years I also spent a lot of time in Africa. And with justice-oriented groups here in Vancouver. And for a while I was an angry activist, carrying signs and protesting.
So I’ve seen a lot. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
+ Life is paradox:
I had to move into a completely foreign situation to understand that we are all connected. We are one. We are connected to each other and connected to this planet, and while we may speak different languages, we all speak with one voice. We are one.
+ There is always a third way:
We have been trapped in dualistic thinking.
Black – White
Left – Right
Liberal – Conservative
Good – Bad
Light – Dark
This kind of thinking served us well for a while but it’s not going to serve us any more; we must leave it behind or destroy ourselves.
First, we must understand that we’re all on the spectrum somewhere. Then, we must understand that perhaps the answer is not on the line/spectrum at all, but above it.
+ There is no way forward in anger, only love:
Anger may solve an immediate problem but it will always create bigger problems. ALWAYS. Learning to love is the only way forward.
To make a long story slightly less long, when I felt it was time, I came back to Canada. I was broke and needed a job.
It had been twelve years since I had put on a suit, and I was closing in on fifty, a dinosaur. So I never even thought about the business world, and instead started looking around the charity world.
But then something strange happened: I stumbled across a posting for a role with Fidelity Investments, reporting to the guy I used to be. In earlier Christian language I would have said it was a sign, but having just returned from China my Inner Buddhist said, “There’s no such thing as coincidences.” So I applied.
And didn’t get it.
But by then I was thinking seriously about re-entering the business world, a world I once loved, but as a very different person.
And found this role with Raymond James, managing their corporate philanthropic efforts. A perfect combination of my two very different sets of experiences.
So the angry guy on the sidewalk has put down the sign and walked back into the building. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still a place for activism, for protesting, for refusing to participate in systems of gross injustice. Rabbi Abraham Heschel has said that when he was marching with Martin Luther King Jr. he felt like his legs were praying. But for me the question became, where can I make more of a difference, more of a “dent in the universe”, on the sidewalk or in the boardroom?
And when I first re-entered the building I was all, “Shhhh…. I’m undercover. I’m not really part of this world… don’t blow my cover.” Then last Friday I had a conversation that changed all of that for me.
Picture the setting…
We were sitting in a big corner office of the 54th floor of the ScotiaPlaza in Toronto. The “we” was me and a wildly successful financial advisor. He told me about how he did business, and the word “love” figured prominently in the conversation.
He had my attention.
I told him about how some of the things we were doing at the Foundation could help his clients make a difference in the world.
I had his attention.
Then he told me how he would position my strategies with his clients, again using the word “love”. A lot.
We told each other our stories, and as our 30-minute meeting stretched into an hour and a half, these two guys in their expensive suits, looking down on the city from our position of power, we found ourselves in tears more than once. It was the most incredible conversation I’ve ever had while wearing a tie.
But really I say all that to say this:
Most of you are artists. First, I’m envious because you’re able to share the beauty you see with the rest of us in amazing ways. Thank you.
I also want to encourage you. I want to tell you that there are others. Some of us running around in our suits, looking like we’re 10 minutes late for something important going on somewhere else… some of us see the beauty too.
We see it.
And we’re working to spread that beauty, which is another way of saying that we’re trying to spread love, in our own way.
We do it because some of us know that love is the only way we move forward, the only way we grow, quite frankly the only way we survive.
You’re not alone.
While you’re out there looking for the beauty, spare a moment to look around and try to spot the others who are looking for it too. We’re out there, and we need you.