During a recent trip to Sayulita in Mexico, I spent a lot of time reflecting and contemplating; I find the lull of the waves and the warmth of the sun most conducive for that kind of thing. There was a moment when my mind flitted back to a life-changing incident that occurred to me in 1988. I was an atheist; concepts like Soul and Spirit were completely alien to me; I worked in the advertising business, a life not unlike Don Draper’s in Mad Men. And then something unimaginable occurred that I realize was the catalyst for all the changes that ensued in my life and led me eventually to becoming a spiritual coach. It reminded me of the moment Bilbo is seduced to accompany Gandalf and the Dwarfs on an adventure that forever altered his destiny.
There was no wizard marking my door but there was a very important Executive Vice-President of my agency that triggered a series of events that irrevocably set me on a path I could never have imagined. I was an Account Group Director, a somewhat laborious title to describe someone who managed a wide variety of the Agency’s accounts. In fact I managed all but one however that one, Canadian Airlines, was larger than all mine put together. My colleague, also an Account Group Director, seemed to have been unofficially designated as our boss’s successor. At the time I became aware of that, I quietly without announcing my intentions determined to leave.
Then the knock came on my door. The very important personage, who had flown from Toronto, then center of the known universe, wanted to speak with me. I was busy and found the call easy to resist until about 4.00 pm this particular afternoon I received the summons I could not refuse. “NOW” I made my way to the corner office apologizing while at the same time declaring that I only had half an hour as I had a dentist appointment. This was not particularly well received but in fact proved a major blessing.
Then I am informed of a bizarre sequence of events that would seem improbable even in the TV series. Our position as the incumbent on the Canadian Airlines business was being challenged due to the PWA takeover of CP, our original client. Although we had the critical mass and connections to handle the account, there is always doubt at times like this. As part of the review process, we had been told that my colleague was not the right person to run this business. As a consequence the agency had hired a new, senior account manager to take over who had been scheduled to arrive that day. Except he hadn’t; he had called to say he had changed his mind. The result was that the agency was between a rock and a hard place and the only warm body around was me. I listened aghast as I am told they wanted to switch us around. He would take over all my accounts and I would take on his one very large account. I sat for a moment stunned and then the words that came out of my mouth were, “No thank-you”.
This went over like a lead balloon and I was subject to a monologue that has stayed with me to this day. It went like this, “what you have to understand is that your cushy little life is over. If you refuse this we lose half our business and your life will change; if you take it your life will change so make up your mind.” At this point the reality of the dentist gave me a genuine opportunity to escape so promising to be back in one hour I left feeling a bit like a condemned man offered a choice between the rope or guillotine. For once it was a relief to go to the dentist. I lay back in the chair, mouth wide open with absolutely no idea what I was going to do when an outrageous idea popped into my mind. “Tell them you want it all – they make you Director of Client Services in charge of all the agency’s accounts and you commit to managing it” It was brilliant. It resolved the issue of succession management; I became the heir apparent when my boss retired. I get it all. Ironically the one thing that never crossed my mind was the potential nightmare I was creating for myself. Perhaps I was overconfident, who knows but they agreed and I was a success. Even the eminence-gris from Toronto told me a couple of years later that he had huge doubts I could pull it off but he had no real choice at the time.
In Mexico it was the unintended consequences of this decision that struck me. During the next few years a series of outcomes irrevocably flowed from this event. First Canadian moved their head office to Calgary. As a consequence of this I agreed to work half of every week in Calgary; this created an opportunity for a romance with a much younger colleague and within a year a full fledged mid-life crisis resulted in me leaving my wife, home and friends and eventually my job for a year traveling around the world. An eventual second marriage followed within four years a second divorce when she left me and precipitated the great dark night of the soul.
Most of the great teachers that I have studied with agree that that it is from the darker moments of life that eventual growth can emerge. Little did I know that the unexpected inspiration in the dentist’s chair was perhaps the first call from the Soul that would set me on a path to find true meaning in my life. Poet David Whyte wrote these exquisite words that seem in hindsight to be so prescient.
“Just on the other side of the door someone is about to knock and our life is just about to change and finally after all these years of rehearsing, behind the curtain, we might just be ready to go on.”