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Why those twists and turns ?

March 2013

The account of twist and turns in a life  and the reasons the person can see to them.




Dec. 29th 2012: I am watching the film by Jean Paul Jaud : « Severn, la voix de nos enfants Â» (Severn, our children’s voice). It first shows Severn, a young teenager, speaking at the Rio 1992 Earth Summit. It is a vibrant call for our responsibility towards our planet and the next generations. The rest of the film follows the same thread; it is a vibrant call regarding the same issues today, based both on rational arguments and on our emotions. I am already more than convinced; nevertheless, the film is beautiful and I am watching it with interest.  While I am seeing this, I feel that this cry about the world going wrong, is the meaning of my life ( or one of them). It is what inspires my current activity and what inspired it even more when I started my adult life. If Kierkegaard is true in saying that we live our lives forward but we understand them by looking backwards, then this meaning of my life suddenly appears to me and it moves me: I am part of this cohort whose job is to cry this out.

However, if I look at it more closely, I did not follow a linear path and this powerful meaning may not have always been visible from the outside; I even lost sight of it sometimes.

In fact, there has been two threads in my active life: this one, i.e. a respectful and responsible relationship between mankind and nature, and another one, focused on what makes  projects and work meaningful to a person. It is because those concerns were totally absent from the teaching I received in the business school I studied when I was young  that I did not follow the career track it opened to me. I just completed my studies by respect for my parents’ efforts to educate me. Then, for ten years, I worked for the promotion and the development of organic agriculture. Things were clear then. I was on my track. However, after ten years, I felt the need to leave this world. I was tired of the NGO life, with its power games and ego competitions, well hidden behind the fight for good causes. What I did not know, by that time, is that I was in fact trying  - in vain- to fly away from my own attraction towards power and ego satisfactions.

Then came ten other years where I was further away from my thread of respect for nature. I found myself in the world of business; I thought I was following a calling as a business leader; I was an executive, I founded my own business (without success), I learnt a lot about the business world, which proved to be useful in the next period, but I finally did not reach any dream, I simply made more money than in my activist years…

Then, for the last twenty years, I have been combining research, training/teaching, and consulting in the field of management. This is how I followed my second thread, the one about meaningful work, about the mystery of the relationship between people and their projects and actions. Actually , it had been present since the beginning, but it was in the background. It was the common basis of the various consulting jobs, workshops, education programmes in which I took part or which I created during this period, even if it did not always appear explicitly. For the last five or six years, I could add my first thread, the one about respect for nature. Oh, of course, I never lost it in my private life, in my choices as a consumer and as a citizen: in which bank I put my money, how I invest it when I have some to invest, how I give it when I have some to give, how I choose my electricity supplier and of course, my food and the way I take care of my garden. However, it was like asleep in my professional activities, as if the other one had taken all the place. Here it is now, back, awake and strong ! Time has come when the corporate world can seriously reflect on the issue of its social and environmental responsibility, and when those two forms of responsibility have become so close that it is possible and credible to address both of them in the same education programmes.

I am teaching in  a well-known business school and I belong to a minority of faculty; we try to show to students and executives that there are ways to design economy and corporations which enable them to bring solutions to the big problems of humanity to-day, instead of being a major part of the problems. I am also consulting in the same perspective. I have found my two threads back, still different but close from each other. Needless to say that, like in the first ten years of my career, I have a feeling of fullness, of accomplishing what I came to accomplish.

Why then all these twists and turns ?

A first explanation could be in the alchemists’ notion of « solve et coagula Â» (dissolution and coagulation). They would use this process of dissolution then coagulation in order to purify a substance. Beyond this practical goal, this process was, by resonance, a way to purify themselves. We can see this process at play, on a wide scale, in the rise and death of civilizations, on a smaller scale, in the small moments of disputes then of harmony during the life of a couple. It is like a sort of respiration, of dance of Yin and Yang, that you can also see here. As I said, my initial engagement in the cause of respect for nature was not free of my “dark side”, which I only learnt to explore progressively along my life. It could be logical that a “solve” phase came after the “coagula” phase, in order to purify the way I would later resume this thread. And also, you need time before a new “coagula” takes place. If I can say that it is happening now, I may have needed 25 years before it did. This makes me think of Marianne Wilkinson’s sentence: “It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us”. I needed time and work. I also think of the structure of myths, as described by Joseph Campbell. I lived a first state of well-being, the hero is in his castle but neither the hero nor this state are perfect. Thus, the hero is sent out of his castle, he roams, he must face difficult challenges until he finally finds his realm back and his beloved one. The difference with the myth is that I am not sure how long I’ll stay in the castle, I do not know if another cycle is awaiting for me some day…

A second explanation is: twists and turns are necessary in order to learn things that will be useful later. I could probably not have done what I did in the second half of my career if I had not spent ten years as an executive and an entrepreneur, even if those years now appear to me as those where I was most remote from my thread.

A third explanation is probably the one I’ll have later in my life. It seems I have not reached the end of it and I am far from having understood it all…

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