Insights and glimmers

For more than a decade my work took places in the interstices of three states of mind: purpose, passion and playfulness. I had a faded yellow post-It Note with these three words on the cork board in my office. I threw it out when I packed up for Afghanistan, now nearly three years ago. I threw it out because I needed no reminding – in my work I attended to all three, automatically.

Little did I know that I would lose this approach to my work. I lost the passion (mostly because a change in the nature of my work); I lost a sense of purpose because the enormity of the task and the complexity of the environment in which we worked with its countless tradeoffs between getting work done and maintaining relationships; and there was little room for playfulness – I tried in my first year but could not find allies. Playfulness and war zones don’t go together.

I now look back on my return to the US and to headquarters and realize I was deeply depressed because, maybe, I had lost these three anchors. I was depressed (now obvious but not then), highly vulnerable and found myself in an environment that approached depression with the exhortation: ‘get over it and be positive.’  A windowless office did not help. All it did was produce more tears.

For the last 9 months, starting about the time that Sita got pregnant, I have been looking. Now she has a baby but I still come up empty. Luckily that baby makes up for much of the unhappiness I have been experiencing but I am still looking for that corner to round and find my lost anchors.

Yesterday I was asked by a colleague in Washington to take her place at an event in the Boston area with the Society for Organizational Learning (SOL). It was a small intimate affair with Peter Senge of Learning Organization fame, Charlie Kiefer of Innovation Associates and people from the Foodlab and RIOS involved in global change efforts.

I had to dislodge myself on a beautiful afternoon from Lobster Cove, with Axel and Peter deeply immersed in holiday making on the beach, to drive 45 minutes away from the ocean to the Doubletree Hotel off route 3. I am glad I did. It was worth it.

A session on how do we get insights was both affirming and a wake up call; meeting the folks who are doing things that are even more complex than working in Afghanistan (reframing the electrical grid, the way food arrives on our table, lifting thousands of villages in the Philippines out of deep and grinding poverty) gave me hope and inspiration – there are 1000s of people around the world who are deeply committed to making the world a better place; a handful were in the room. I saw a glimmer of my own passion and purpose, still not within reach, but re-appearing like stars at dusk.

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July 2012
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