When I was 17 years old, a senior at Lakeside High School in Seattle, I took a philosophy course taught by an epic professor, Jim Wichterman. We spent weeks developing an understanding of the ideas brought to life by great thinkers like Kant, Descartes and Mill. We debated the possibility of living life based on “doing the greatest good,” “whether agape love was truly attainable,” and trying to carve out our place in the world.
Whenever we thought we’d mastered the ideas of a philosopher or come to a conclusion about a social dilemma, he’d throw a wrench into our thinking, sending us back to reconsider (just as the philosophers had done with each other). It was a fantastic way to learn.
As we hurled closer to graduation, he had us write (and rewrite) our own Magnum Opus.
Our “Great Life’s Work”
In our youthful attempts to hone our beliefs, dissect our hierarchy of needs, refine our values and anticipate our decisions, we’d draft our essays and then share our naked assertions with another classmate for critique. I still remember my friend Peter Golding worrying about the risks I was taking with the complete vulnerability of my confessions. He cautioned me that others would take advantage of me for exposing my feelings so openly and he questioned my “assumptions about mankind” (we used such terminology then). He had a hard time accepting my belief that humans are inherently good.
When I left for college a few months later, I planned to study philosophy and delve into this world of thoughts, ideas and values.
But once there, the practical imperative of finding a career path and paying the rent got the better of me, and instead of philosophy, I majored in political science and economics.
I got caught up in the “musts” and “shoulds” and the bread and butter of the business world.
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Of course, as my business career evolved and I worked my way up the corporate ladder, there were moments when I could hear professor Wichterman whispering in my ear, asking whether I was living my values. Like the time a senior person on a business pitch “accidentally” took the computer cable from the presentation room when we finished, leaving our competitors without access to AV. Or the time someone left a fake “strategy paper” in hopes of distracting the next team about an irrelevant issue. Winning by bending a moral code sickened me, but I didn’t leave the industry for a myriad of reasons including the need to support my family.
When a personal illness forced me to take time off during a moment when the company needed me most, I found myself at the mercy (or lack thereof) of the very business that I had loyally served. They fired me. Sick and without a job, my thoughts returned to the conversations we’d had in Wichterman’s classroom.
I was contemplating the same questions he’d first posed to me in 1984.
What was my personal hierarchy of needs now and how did I align those needs with my core values?
After a 25 year career in an industry where transactions trumped trust and relationships were only as real as the short-term opportunities they presented, I found myself back at the place I’d begun:
- Yearning for intimate relationships where I could be my authentic self
- Pining for discussions about raw ideas, deep values and transformational experiences
- Searching for satisfaction measured by what touched my heart rather than just my wallet
I realized that at 50 years old, the essence of me was the same as it was when I was 17.
Fortunately, this was a moment when I could act on those desires. I did it not only by founding Parlay House where those intimate, vulnerable and authentic conversations could take place, but also by gathering a group of friends who I could trust with my openness and my sensitive heart. I traded the days of transacting into days for interacting.
I finally felt like me.
Wasn’t it T.S. Eliot who wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration and in the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”?
I studied that in high school too, but it’s only now that I’m truly understanding what it’s all about.
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Have you had revelations that might bring you closer to the person you are, deep in your core?
Share it Small: If you haven’t been able to align who you are, what you value and how you go about your life, now is a perfect time to keep track of that. Even if you can’t make a huge career shift as I did, keeping track of what you want less of and more of is a gift of exploration that will keep on giving.
Share it Big: Do you have an unmet aspiration that will get you closer to living your most actualized life? Put it out there! The more clarity you have and the more you can verbalize what you’re seeking, the more likely it will become true.
Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a breakthrough, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.