This I Believe

Michael - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Entered on February 20, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

Turning Into the Wind

By certain measures I had made a success of myself career wise. I had been an executive with a leading media firm and also a partner with a well known consulting firm. My work took me around the world – flying first-class and only staying in the best hotels. My clients were the leading ‘globalizers’ and I was their more than willing helper and fixer.

In the late 1990’s my work allowed me to live and work in Paris for several years. Again it was more of the same. Flying back and forth on the Concorde, having my apartment just off the Champs-Elysee paid for by ‘the firm’. Despite the fact I was going through a marital separation at the time I still felt that this was how life needed to be lived.

Around that time I had a friend in Paris who worked for an international medical relief organization. Her job was to promote this organization in the French media and it was through her that I met some of the Doctors and staffers who spent their days working in places like the Congo and Cote-d’Ivoie. These were names which I was, of course, familiar with but places where my own work would never take me in a million years. People in those places don’t care about such things as business process reengineering or creating shareholder value. They are more likely just wanting a safe place to sleep and some food on the table. And those Doctors were just as arrogant as any investment banker I have ever met, but certainly they had more reason to be. It was the arrogance of authenticity and I knew it was something I lacked.

When I eventually returned to the United States I continued to serve major global corporations as best I could but my heart wasn’t in it. All of a sudden everything I was doing – everything that I had done, in fact – seemed brittle and a little bit superfluous.

I know that as a poor kid from New Jersey I should have felt a lot better about myself, even proud, of what I had accomplished but the fact was I felt like a sell-out and a fraud.

Fast forward five years. I left the world of consulting some time ago, with occasional forays back in just to make some money. My main interest these days is doing — for want of a better phrase– ‘development work.’ So far I have been in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans and West Africa. Usually I am offered airfare and a meager per-diem but for the moment that seems to be enough.

I have to admit I thought that someone with my background and experience would have been more in demand in this world, but like all cultures this one seems to have its secret handshakes and sense of comme il faut. I have the feeling that the organizations I would like to work for view me as an interloper from another planet. Perhaps just another guilty corporate type who wants to dabble in good works.

I can’t deny that there isn’t an element of truth to this, but I also believe that I will never return to that other world. I guess it means I’ll be stuck somewhere in between for awhile…or even perhaps for the rest of my useful work-life.

At fifty-seven it’s great to have something to aspire to.