The spark that ultimately lit the fire that is now karmadharma started 20 years ago in a psychiatrist’s chair. Dr. Gil Zimmerman, to be precise.
I was 28 years old and recently decided to walk away from everything and everyone I knew for a shot at love, a shot at normalcy.
What I left behind: an alcoholic, manipulative, professional victim mother. An alcoholic, narcissistic, verbally abusive stepfather. A sister who unfortunately chose to stick with the unhealthy meal-tickets she knew. A 10-year drug addiction and the friend group I shared the habit with. A.K.A. Nearly my entire network.
What I was walking towards: Jody, the girl of my dreams. She is pure love in every sense of the word, and I have no more idea than the man on the moon how to reciprocate that. Hence the therapy to reduce the chances of me fucking this up.
Dr. Zimmerman is a tiny, frail man with Coke bottle glasses, a gray goatee and a Mr. Rogers unique cardigan that probably fit him 20 years ago but now looks like an oversized blanket with sleeves. He works in a 1970s gray building with a decrepit elevator, gray walls, gray hallways and an office celebrating more shades of gray.
- Who am I? – I ask myself, sinking defeatedly into my chair
- Holy shit, how can I be asking myself this question at this point in my life?
- How can I be so lost?
- How can I be so disassociated from myself this far into this gig?
- How could I have let everybody’s opinion of me overpower my own?
Wait a minute, why does this shrink’s office feel so small? Why is it so stuffy in here? Oh, wait a minute, this is clearly a me thing, not a reality thing.
Despite his diminutive stature, he wields one hell of a psychological sledgehammer.
I’d been sitting in these sessions for six months now, spilling out my guts. Every 50-minute session is filled with 48 minutes of my blabbering feeling I have nothing to say and two minutes of searing insight from Dr. Z that just seems to hit me over the head with a huge “what the fuck was that” sledgehammer.
“Perhaps you need to come to terms with the fact that these events will never fully go away, but you have to find a way to live with them?” he says.
Or, “Did you ever think that maybe you are running after an ideal state that never existed in the first place?”
And all other sorts of “please get your head out of your ass and see life for what it is” wisdom.
I’m clearly paraphrasing here.
Sometimes I feel like I have aerial roots. Something akin to an orchid. I really have no idea how they work exactly, but they seem to grow these roots that soak in the water in the air but are entrenched in nothing solid. They just hang there exposed without anchor points, much like the bulk of my life.
I have little to no roots in culture, country, family, language or religion.
When I look around, however, identity for so many is attached to one of these things. I’m Greek. I’m Christian. I am from Montreal. My family is my rock. But as I look at these associations and tether points, they just don’t seem to resonate.
I see them. I recognize them. I clearly have some form of these attachments, but at the same time, they seem so limiting. So foreign. Part of me feels like latching onto them, holding on tight and using them to give sense to what I see and feel, as well as context and meaning to what I do. A lens through which to see the world.
But that would just be a lie.
It looks like I’m going to have to define my own worldview, which is, quite honestly, fucking scary. Parts of me would’ve liked to take the known route, the tangible route. Well, now that I say that, I think that’s bullshit too.
I want to get on the path I’m destined to take. I just wish, at times, it had more clarity and more intention. I wouldn’t even mind a guaranteed outcome for shits and giggles, but I’m not feeling it will work out that way.
This moment propelled me into my 20-year journey into self-discovery, self-actualization and self-transcendence.
I’ll spare you the full life story, which you’ll find in my memoir someday, but here is the abbreviated version.
My alcoholic mother had a victim mindset, and nothing was ever her fault. I was one of the many reasons her life did not pan out as she had hoped. My alcoholic stepfather repeatedly reminded me that I wasn’t going far in life and wouldn’t amount to much.
My whole life, I felt something was off but could not put my finger on it. I felt something was wrong with me because I knew I did not fit in. This led to a 10-year battle with drug addiction that finally ended in the days leading up to finding myself in Dr. Zimmerman’s chair.
I was asleep at the wheel of my own life. Drifting aimlessly like flotsam and jetsam.
At 18, I enrolled in a Political Science degree at McGill University because my stepfather said it would be a good stepping stone to becoming a lawyer like him. Fuck, I never wanted that. I left the program with 84 of 90 credits completed… (5 years later, I would return to complete it. Thank you, Jody.)
At 24, after bussing tables at a downtown restaurant and figuring there had to be more to life than this, I eventually started a career in radio because…follow me here,…major life decision coming…my sisters’ boyfriend at the time had a neighbour who worked in radio. She got me a job at a radio station, working a little, volunteering a little. An 18-year career would follow that very intentional and pivotal career moment…
Over time, I started climbing the corporate ladder, a ladder I realize now I never wanted to be on in the first place.
At 36, I even went to take out my first student loan to complete an Executive MBA because I thought it could bring me to new heights on the said ladder. Yeah! Borrowing money to walk further down a path I didn’t want to be on in the first place. Booyah!
After a weekend retreat with Uncle Jimmy, a tremendously wise Jesuit priest, not to mention my stepfather’s brother, and the man who told me I didn’t have to go to church to be a good Christian, I realized that I had put on this earth for something other than selling radio ads to car dealers. Who knew?
My life’s work is to help people have the courage to be themselves in this lifetime and help them share their genius with the world. And…I continue to be my first and forever client.
The only problem was I felt imprisoned by the golden handcuffs of a good corporate job with a family and lifestyle to provide for. I did not have enough, as my good friend Dave puts it, Fuck You Money, to get up and leave my job. Not to mention a crippling lack of confidence that I could start something on my own, let alone knowing what kind of business I would start.
Life, however, when you put your needs out into the universe, has a funny way of helping you out.
I decided to share my newfound epiphany on my life’s purpose with our VP of Organizational Development at Bell Media.
- I now realize that I have not been put on this earth to generate Bell shareholder value. This is not why I am here in this lifetime.
The look on her face didn’t change as she nodded, not in approval but most likely in disbelief at the career-limiting maneuver she had just witnessed. Not too long after, I was (not) surprisingly removed from the Next Generation management training program.
Then, after years of making cuts due to the decline in revenues in radio and television at the hands of digital, it was my turn to have my position abolished along with 100 of my good friends across the country. I was 42.
After meeting at a nondescript hotel conference room first thing in the morning with HR and my boss, who were very lovely about the whole thing, as much as you can be in those situations, I went to park my car along the river to contemplate what I wanted out of the back half of my life.
By that afternoon, Jody was sending me job listings, and within 24 hours, several radio groups were calling me.
I quickly realized, however, that if I did not take a shot at entrepreneurship now, with a year of salary in the bank, I probably would never do it. And if I went that route, I would resent Jody, but most importantly, myself.
So I launched into the agency world, not knowing what I was really doing. I set up shop in a swanky corner of a Starbucks and called the people I knew to let them know I had made the leap and see if they wanted to work together. Pretty. Pretty. Please.
I partnered up with a guy already running an agency because I did not have the courage to go about it alone. I feared there was too much I didn’t know. I feared I would fail without help.
That turned out to be a disaster. I now liken the experience to a professional rebound girlfriend. I quickly learned we did not share the same values, both in life and accounting. So six months in, I spoke to a lawyer, drew up the paperwork and asked him to leave.
From there, we did whatever it took to put food on the table. If a client asked us if we did “that,” whatever that was, the answer was yes, and then we went to figure it out. One of our primary skill sets early on was Googling faster than the client.
I somehow miraculously convinced Annik, my professional soulmate and colleague of 10 years at Astral/Bell Media, to jump ship and help me build this thing. Our strengths are totally different, but our values are totally aligned. Perfect.
Slowly but surely, our little business grew.
Over this time, I realized that karmadharma was morphing into my life’s work. My external vehicle to amplify my impact in the world.
How could I extend my mission of helping individuals have the courage to be themselves in this life to organizations? Widen the ripple effect of self-actualization. Today I ask myself, how can we create enlightened organizations? What does that look like? What would that look like for us?
Back to good ole Uncle Jimmy, I remember him telling me that what we do is not as important as how we do it or how we show up in the world and treat both ourselves and those around us.
And since I ascribe to Viktor Frankl’s belief that man does not have a will to pleasure, but a will to meaning. And when you can’t find meaning, you distract yourself with pleasure.
This pushed me to think; how can karmadharma be an exemplar organization of how a purpose-driven for-profit organization can be run?
What would a life of meaning look like for karmadharma?
It boils down to this: Help individuals and organizations fulfill their potential, amplify their impact and have the courage to be themselves in this lifetime.
Or captured more eloquently in this quote from Sarah Blondin:
“Our true gift of this existence is to be the light that helps another light grow. To be the light of presence that truly recognizes something and helps that thing move into the light of its own self. ”
The world needs your genius—hard stop.
I spent so much of my life thinking small. Thinking I didn’t deserve better. Thinking who am I to contribute, to share, to be heard? I haven’t done years of research on any one topic. I don’t have a Ph.D. at the end of my name, but I do have two decades of consciously trying to be a better human being.
That’s brought me to want to help others let go of the conditioning, the self-limiting beliefs, and all the garbage piled on them from the multitude of sources in their life. The shit preventing them from living their best, most authentic life.
I get it. These are hard things to let go of. It’s all the crap we know, have known, and have been immersed in, consciously or not, our whole lives.
So what happens when we let go and intentionally choose a different way of being in the world? A life chosen, not inherited. One distant from what has been imposed upon us. Rubbing everything we hear, see, or read up against our own values. Up against what resonates for us. Up against why we’re here and what we’re meant to be doing.
It is time for a real look at this whole fucking thing. The cloud of the known is powerful, obfuscating, yet simultaneously alluring.
But we can break that cycle. We can be the source of our own rebirth. Dropping into the deep presence of each and every moment as we become more in line with our authentic selves. More in line with our essence, our divinity, and our interconnectedness with all things.
As a species, our collective mission is to be of service. We are here to give, with all our hearts, our minds, and every last ounce of energy, to make this a better place for those around us.
To fight ardently against the hate, cynicism, harmful thought patterns, judgment, comparison and jealousy that pervade our media outlets and water cooler chats. To embark on the internal journey, which is more exotic than any place in the world. To stop running after something we may have never wanted. But to stand in the stillness of our greatness, in all our splendour, in our radiant light.
Help others have the courage to shine their light without fear of reprisal or being diminished. To rise up from our collective falling towards perceived pleasure and avoiding life, we are meant to live
Every moment beckons our greatness.
It’s our time to shine. It always has been.
Let’s do this!