Updated April 28, 2016
In this series of posts, I’m exploring the 7 marks of this essential experience of metanoia that I laid out in the previous post. The first mark of metanoia is an encounter with the boundless and unexpected – when we are drawn beyond our previously understood limits, outside of our comfort zone and into an unexpected domain to embrace a vision or new reality that is simply larger, often much, much larger than we are, and often yields a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
Last summer, I faced a very real personal challenge to embrace a needed change. More than 60 years of relentless habitual patterns of behavior have produced unwanted health outcomes. Only a change of heart and mind would cause me to alter the situation, and it was fascinating to both write about and require metanoia at the same time!
The doctor who is helping me make this change explained how our first response to an impulse – whether “good” or “bad” – is to engage in a rationale that defends that impulse as the right thing to do. The human mind is a fearsome and wonderful gift. Impulse followed by seemingly irrefutable logic, even if it is deeply-flawed, makes for a powerful combination, and often produces action, even in spite of our better selves. Sometimes, this flawed action might be to reach for a handful of chips one’s metabolism did not at all require; other times it has consequences far more severe.
The business culture we have created over the course of generations has helped us (and there is no “they”, only “us”) to habituate our urge to produce financial return above all else. Therefore, the adoption of a purpose that transcends mere profits – and more importantly the actions that align with that purpose – will not occur because somebody put in place a new program, but rather because each of us have accepted the challenge to personally engage and commit to deliver a new approach. Such change in the behavior of marketplace participants will only occur once those persons have experienced a significant change of heart and mind, or metanoia.
Read on and you’ll see why an encounter with the boundless & unexpected is a first step of the change of heart & mind that will change culture.
For years, Pat had been a passionate advocate of disclosure and had written award-winning critiques of some of the practices she knew lay beneath the health facades of more than a few companies, including her own new employer. As a nutritionist both well-schooled and well-respected in her field, her mid-career recruitment to a global food company had surprised many, including her.
Yet something – and most of the time she couldn’t quite put her finger on it – had drawn her from the role of critic and public truthteller to join Better Fields Produce, a food company that had become a global brand selling processed food to the fast food industry and direct to consumers.
The email arrived to her inbox along with the day’s usual messages, but it was the author that caught Pat’s attention. It was from the regional EVP, two steps removed from her own immediate supervisor, and this was no press release or internal communications piece.
I’m putting together a small team for a project I’m sponsoring to explore how we might positively influence the dietary habits of people who eat our products in the quick service restaurant sector. This is part of our goal to put better food on the table for people with low incomes. I’d like for you to join the group.
Please consider and reply ASAP. See attached for more info.
Executive Vice President
Better Fields Produce
The note was short, cursory as was customary in the firm, and to her skeptical eye, just a little too vague. Miles Walker, the EVP, wanted her to join a small project team that might help influence the dietary habits of literally millions of people who ate fast food?
There was something that Pat liked about Better Fields Produce, but she had never actually believed much of the positive rhetoric about the company she had encountered when she was recruited. Yet right there in front of her, in the privately written words of her EVP, was an expression of the company purpose – one she thought she could get behind.
As Pat began to read through some of the material attached to the email, she encountered a long-dormant feeling, one she had not felt since she first learned of the “dream” nutrition program that accepted her first and only college application. After years of disillusionment, here in the most unlikely of places, Pat could only truthfully describe it as a, “flutter in her heart.”
It was as if layers of accumulated cynicism, borne of too many disappointments – of experience continually squashing hope – melted away as Pat came to grips with the project’s potential.
If Miles Walker really meant what he said and the project he was sponsoring went anywhere, he had invited her to participate in something that could change the food industry forever… and for the better. It was surely a relevant and timely topic – and Miles had a 30+ year career as evidence that he knew how to stay relevant.
The scale of the opportunity took her breath away, but that flutter was soon banished by the thud of realism that Miles Walker was clearly ignoring if he was serious about this. Pat found herself shaking her head in disbelief as reality set in. “No one around here is really going to let us carry out that project – it will surely threaten our core business,” she mumbled to herself as if to re-ground her hope in realism.
“But what if they did get behind it?” came another voice, as that enrapturing flutter refused to give up.
Pat pushed her chair back and defiantly studied her computer screen. The possibility, the potential to engage in something so much bigger than she ever imagined had captivated her attention. Was naïve hope playing cruel tricks on her? Or did this project – one whose possible scope and reach simply took her breath away – really have a chance to make lasting positive change?
Pat knew she had a choice to make: engage in a potentially huge cause, or bow to the risk, ignore the flutter, and settle for what she had always known.
There are times in life when, often in unexpected ways, we get a glimpse of a vision or become connected to something that is so much bigger than the circumstances that define our reality, it may even feel like boundless opportunity. This is the first mark of metanoia.
When have you had an experience like Pat’s? What was it like?