What Would Alex Do?
Alex was a successful executive at an international bank in San Francisco, when disaster struck. In a singular and unpredictable moment, his life changed forever. A massive fire tore through his hillside community near San Francisco and engulfed and destroyed a multitude of homes. Alex’s was one of them.
At that time I was working in San Francisco’s financial district. On the day of the fire I bumped into Alex who happened to be my client at the time.
We were in the elevator in his office building and he was heading up to his office. I knew he lived in the area of the fire and so I asked whether his home was one of those affected. He looked at me with calm and nodded in the affirmative. “My home was completely destroyed. There’s nothing left.” I imagined how he must have been feeling and wondered what I would do if my feet were in his shoes.
Tight in the chest with worry, I looked him in the eyes asked “what are you going to do now?” Without missing a beat he replied, “I’m going to buy a toothbrush.”
That wasn’t the answer I expected.
Then I thought to myself, “I guess so.” What would I do?
Back to the necessities, back to the basics.
What would you do if you lost all of your worldly possessions and your home?
Alex and I reconnected not long after and as it turned out he used this fire as an alchemical fire for his life. It burned away everything, including his sense of self-identity.
He took this as an opportunity to reconsider how he wanted to live his life moving forward. Rather than immediately rebuild and reconstruct in order to keep going “as is,” Alex stopped in his tracks. He took time to reflect and reconsider.
This “disaster” gave him a chance to start anew. Scary, yes, but he saw opportunity in the disaster. Like the Phoenix, he rose from the ashes.
At a much later time in my life, I found myself in a similar position under very different circumstances. How Alex handled his tragedy informed and inspired my approach and resolve to move forward.
Within short order, Alex left his executive position at the bank and started his own business venture renovating homes. No small change. He had a new lease on life and was elated about his new career. This was an idea Alex toyed with over the years, but didn’t have the will, the faith or the courage to make this change earlier.
In Section V of Little Gidding from the Four Quartets, TS Eliot offers:
What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
Life is filled with continual endings and beginnings. Everything is impermanent. Circumstances can change in a blink and suddenly the life we thought we had is no more. When we hold on with a tight grip to what has been, we are doomed to suffer.
How gracefully can we let go of our attachments; to the way things are, to our things and to our self-identity? With each letting go there is an opening for something new to come in.
If you accept that change is inevitable, wouldn’t you rather seek out those changes and create your life rather than waiting for the unexpected to force a change?
Be intentional and deliberate about what you want to do, how you want to be, what you want to create. Reflect on what gives juice and meaning to your work and life.
Where will you focus your time and energy?
This is your one precious life …
Just ask yourself, “what would Alex do?”
One of the reasons I love working with the Enneagram is that it helps us see the role and identity we’ve trapped ourselves inside of … and we have the opportunity to create ourselves anew.