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Marks of Metanoia 4: No Turning Back – Non-Conformity Born of Conviction

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In this series of posts, I’m exploring the 7 marks of this essential experience of metanoia that I laid out earlier. The fourth mark of metanoia is non-conformity born of conviction.

Since early 1992, I followed the same routine each and every month, without fail. Month after month, year after year, through several generations of technology, I tabulated my monthly days and hours for each client, calculated the various invoices and sent them in. It was at invoicing time that I planned for the next six months, twelve months, and sometimes beyond.

The goal was always the same—earn more than I spent each month and never, ever let it slide. Some months were easy, some much harder than I had imagined. But for over 20 years—200+ cycles—the habit formed, month after month after month.

Then, sometime in 2011, I noticed a change in this behavior that was so ingrained, and had seemed so essential for so long. The neat rows of annual invoice folders nested like Russian dolls in my “admin” drawer began to show one and even two-month gaps in the sequence. My email inbox began to contain pleas from my long-suffering accountant to provide some evidence of billings so that various reporting requirements could be met. Something fundamental had changed, spurred not by a paucity of clients, but because another priority had emerged over revenue generation—purpose.

The writing had begun in earnest. I found myself spending hours and hours on a project with little or no prospect of revenue gain, even turning down billable work to think through and write about a change that I had first sensed a few years earlier and that was fast becoming the focus of much of my working attention. The acceleration of businesses toward purpose that I would later call “Telosity” had captured my interest—I had begun acting with non-conformity to previous patterns borne of a (new) conviction. My own metanoia was well underway.

Metanoia, or more simply, the “change of heart and mind” that spurs culture change always involves a rejection of the status quo.

Therefore, metanoia is always the first step for all companies (and people) learning to live out telos, or purpose-for-others. As we will see in the fictional narrative that follows, when metanoia moves in, often there is simply, “no turning back.”

No Turning Back

Henry Jameson turned the corner off 9th Street and entered the building that had been his workplace for seven years. He waited patiently for the elevator and rode to the office where his day would begin as it had so many times before. To the casual observer, even with a keen eye for detail, the sight of Henry did not suggest anything different on this day than the thousands that had come before it. He always dressed smartly, smiled often and—coffee in hand—extended a cheery greeting to the security guards that watched over the lobby as he passed. But as he stepped into his work area, placed his coffee mug on the desk and hung up his coat, Henry knew that this day was unlike any other before it. In fact, there would not be any more days like the ones that had flickered by throughout the 15 previous years.

Not today, not tomorrow, and not ever.

It had all begun with an invitation, one of several that seemed to arrive at the same time, and which Henry had been quite pleased to receive. He had been growing more confident with public speaking and in his new capacity as a senior marketing executive, there were more opportunities to speak to larger audiences about his company. But last week’s audience had been different, their response to his talk was so heart-warming and deeply encouraging that Henry had begun to think that the whole experience had changed him in some way, even though he did not fully understand how.

He just knew instinctively that he had crossed a line and could never return.

An hour into the day, Henry reached over his empty coffee mug to answer the ringing phone. He had been asked to come and meet with a team that was responsible to deliver on a strategy that he had long questioned, but never challenged. Though it was a bit shocking, even to him, his reply came swiftly: “No.”

Nothing in his career, composed of a handful of carefully timed resume-building moments, had prepared him for this occasion. The person at the other end of the phone was obviously puzzled. “But it’s your job!” protested the voice, and she was right. He had just turned down a simple request to work on a core strategy of the business over which his role and job description had significant responsibility.

Henry heard himself respond, “It may well be my job, but it is not the right thing to do.”

As the words floated out of his mouth, they seemed to signal a growing freedom born of conviction. He was more certain of a few things now than ever he could remember.

He had voiced only a shadow of his real hopes from the podium at the conference last week and his message had been met with such encouragement. It was clear to him now, like never before, that his beliefs about the business were right and that he should act on them. What perplexed him were only the implications of the changes he would begin making, changes that his active imagination started to suggest lay ahead.

Much he did not know, but one thing had become abundantly clear; he had just turned down participation in the one project that the CEO had tied a significant proportion of his own compensation to. Henry wondered if he had gone crazy, and over the next few hours he wondered again with varying degrees of panic each time another “WTF?” email arrived from a colleague who had learned of his bold choice.

The ripples of his choice were spreading across the organization, and he knew there was no going back… That would be OK.

But he wasn’t quite sure how.

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