This one is difficult to write... not emotionally, but factually. The sad reality is I've forgotten many of the signs that popped up in this process. Actually, I was on the phone just yesterday with my mother, and she reminded me of something that happened during this chapter. So, if any of you reading walked through this with us and remember any details I've omitted, please let me know!
If the accident represented the beginning of the end, then this chapter might tell the story of the end of the end. Alternatively, it might be the beginning of the (next) beginning. It's all a continuum, and any divisions I try to draw are arbitrary. But sometimes its fun to try.
This chapter picks up more or less immediately after The Dark Night of The Soul...
As Sue and I continued on the slow climb out of the pit, I sensed that everything had changed. Let me try and provide a little occupational context for you, quickly, if I can.
At the time of the the accident I was just wrapping up a contract with IBM, my first job since graduating from the University of Toronto. After nine months of surgeries and physiotherapy, I was ready to return to the working world, and I even had a sense of what I wanted to do. I was infatuated with the stock market and thought I wanted to be a portfolio manager, so I landed a job with Templeton Management Limited. This was definitely entry level--I was a customer service representative--but what a great opportunity to learn with the Canadian arm of the great John Templeton's global organization. (In some basement somewhere there's even a photo of me and Sir John!)
Two years later I crossed the street with my boss and joined Fidelity Investments Canada. The world's largest mutual fund company was a tiny start-up in Canada and it sounded like a great opportunity to grow with the company. (I was employee #31, and there were over 1100 employees when I left. Come to think of it, there were only two other people there at the end who had lower employee numbers.)
After a couple of years of customer service work I was approached by the sales manager who told me I belonged in his department. I didn't really believe him, but it's nice to be wanted, so I went.
After a year or two as an inside sales representative I got my big break. When the sales rep I worked with was fired I was given the bottom half of his client book to deal with. These folks were all marginal clients, either really angry with us (hence my colleague's sudden departure) or really didn't know us at all. The damage I could do was minimal, so the company let me loose on them.
The job title was District Vice President, but in the industry vernacular I was a "wholesaler". We spent our days on the road, calling on stock brokers and financial planners, expounding on the merits of putting their clients' money into Fidelity funds.
And oddly enough, I loved it.
I put it that way because I was an introvert in a sales role, which is a little unusual. I was also a Christian, something of a rarity in a business that (stereotypically) attracted the self-interested party types and chasers of the mighty dollar... as well as those who had a legitimate and sincere desire to help others.
I tended to spend most of my time with the latter, and really hated calling on the former. Despite this bias (which drove my bosses crazy) I flourished in the role. My colleagues were good friends, and my favorite clients were good friends. This is where I first learned about "relationship", and I threw myself into it.
After a few years as District Vice President, Greater Toronto, it was off to Vancouver as Regional Vice President, British Columbia. Finally, it was back to Toronto as Vice President, Alliance Distribution. (These moves are referred to, ever so briefly, in The Dark Night of the Soul.)
Sorry, that took longer than I thought.
So there I was, back in my office on Bay Street. I was officially a Big Wheel, or a BSD. (I'm not going to shed any light on that term for those of you not familiar with it. I think it came from Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker, so the really curious among will need to read the book. Come to think of it, it might have been The Bonfires of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe. I'm not sure, so read them both and get back to me.) Yet, as I said earlier, I had this very clear feeling that everything had changed.
At first I thought it was the depression. But as the clouds began to part the passion for my job never returned. The switch remained firmly in the "off" position, and this was a very big deal for me. You need to understand that I never believed I was all that good at what I did for a living. I never believed that I deserved the success I achieved. Despite these doubts, though, I loved every second of what I did. And then one day I realized that I didn't.
Then again, there's that principle, named after some guy who must have blown up, career-wise, that says we eventually get promoted to our level of incompetence. His name escapes me. Maybe that had something to do with it. At the very least I had been promoted to a level of incompatibility with my boss. He was an old time market guy who managed with a carrot and a stick. The problem was neither worked with me, and he didn't know what to do with me.
No doubt all these factors contributed to what I was feeling, but there was something else to it. As I've said before, for some time Sue and I had been praying for more. We didn't really know what that meant, except that we didn't want to miss any of what we were put here to do... whatever that was. Here we were, living large out in the burbs, where everyone had big jobs, big houses, big cars, and big families. And while three out of four ain't bad, we were starting to feel like characters in someone else's story.
The problem was this: while it may have been the wrong story, it was a safe story. It was a comfortable story. An affluent story. The kind of story so many people wished for. But knowing that something was wrong, we prayed for our story. And knowing our hearts, I believe God took us at our word. He helped us overcome our fear; we stood at the edge, and he pushed.
I remember coming home from work one day and walking into the kitchen. Sue took one look at me and asked, "What's wrong?" (I am a terrible poker player. I couldn't bluff my way past a pair of two's.) I looked at her and said, "I think I'm supposed to quit my job."
Life got kind of strange after that.
I became more and more convinced that my time at Fidelity was over. I spent a while lamenting God's timing on this one. In the past couple of years my income had skyrocketed. I was making "stupid money" as I called it. We weren't "rich" yet, but we were going to be in short order. In just another few years with some favourable stock market wind at our backs, we could have a million or two in the bank. Then it would make sense to leave and go do something for the kingdom. Clearly God and I were far apart on an acceptable bank balance, and He was not open to negotiation.
Here's the really strange part: even as it became obvious that I was to leave Fidelity, it became equally clear to me that I was to go work at World Vision. To tell you all the reasons why I knew this would require a better memory than the one I have. But, I remember how it began, and I remember how it ended.
Sue and I had been World Vision child sponsors for a number of years. As I went through all this confusion at work, I started to pay more attention to the material we were receiving in the mail. Wouldn't it be great to make a real difference in the world? For the most part though I wrote this off to an overactive imagination and romantic idealism.
In those days I used to arrive early at the office and spend time reading and praying. One morning I begged God for some clear direction, and almost as an afterthought I added, "And what about this World Vision thing? Is that just me or you talking?" Before I finished saying "Amen", the phone rang. I turned and looked at the call display.
I remember thinking, "Well that's odd." No, it wasn't the Human Resources department calling. It was just someone thanking me for my support. But still...
The little hints, many of which I've now forgotten, kept coming. We kept praying, "God, please be clear." And He kept hitting us over the head with a brick. The truth is we were probably looking for an excuse not to leave the story we were in, wrong one or not. Finally Sue, who is much smarter than I, had seen enough. As much as the idea of walking away from our comfortable life terrified her, she knew it was time.
It was a Saturday morning, and Saturday mornings in our house in those days were spent in the kitchen, surrounded by newspapers, with a lot of coffee. This particular Saturday Sue didn't want to read.
"Look," She said. We need to talk about this."
I looked at her and didn't say anything.
She laid out all that had happened. "We could ignore all this, but it would be blatant disobedience if we did."
I don't recall if I said anything, but I do know I picked up The Toronto Star. As I did, the annoying Saturday inserts fell out all over the floor. All of them but one, which landed on the table between us. It was a small white and orange pamphlet. On the cover was the smiling face of a little boy, and the words, "World Vision - A Decision You Will Never Regret."
I'm slow, but not that slow. It was time.
The next week I presented a hastily rewritten business plan to my boss and peers. When I finished my presentation there was silence in the room; the cost-cutting plan I had presented for my department was missing one position - mine. My boss, who knows a good deal when he sees it, recovered first. He raved about my "bravery", my "loyalty to the firm", blah blah blah.
The meeting ended and two colleagues dragged me to lunch. They literally pushed me across Yonge Street and into the nearest restaurant. These guys were mad! At different times in the past several years each had been my boss, then my peer, but they had always been friends. They had been good to me. They told me in no uncertain terms that I had lost my mind. After all, who walks away from this?!
I tried to explain it to them. There were more important things in life than money and power. They shook their heads. I wanted to make a difference in the world. They laughed. Finally I told them that this was what God wanted me to do. The contrast in their reactions was dramatic. One friend got angrier, the other stopped being angry. One friend started yelling, the other stopped talking. One friend didn't have a clue, the other caught a glimpse. Lunch was over. It was all over.
The details are unimportant. I basically negotiated my way out of a job, and on October 19, 2001 I walked out the offices of Fidelity Investments as an employee for the last time.
As further proof that God has a sense of humour I submit to you that he was somewhat less clear with World Vision than he was with me. They needed a little convincing. Finally after three or four interviews and three months of unemployment, I walked into their offices as Director, Corporate Development. And as I did, I knew two things. First, I knew deep in my core that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And second, I knew it would it would be a relatively short stay.
But that's another chapter.