Telluride’s mountain wildflowers carpet valleys that stretch forever toward the vast Colorado sky. I remember them like it was yesterday, though it’s been 17 years….
The most delicate flowers can also be the most hardy.
We were there for our honeymoon, and after a tricky four wheel drive up a rough old mining road, we’d hiked for hours to reach the alpine, way up above this small mountain town. There we were, tired but smiling, looking out across a stunning, colourful landscape, hours from our truck, miles from our campsite, days from home.
Landscapes like the high alpine of southwest Colorado are home to some of the hardiest of flora and fauna. As little as a foot of distance can mean the difference between sheltered wildflowers and cold, hard, barren rock. Plants tend to be small, hugging close to the ground—mosses that are sometimes called ‘cushion plants,’ and some of the most delicate flowers I’ve ever seen, striking in their brilliance.
It’s a diverse, durable, but delicate ecosystem, magnificent in its scale.
I imagine that valley has looked largely the same every summer for millennia. Only the last ice age would have swept clear the landscape, but even as it receded, the splash of lichen and the quick roots of windblown seeds would have renewed the landscape within decades, certainly centuries.
How fascinating to ponder the unfolding of an epoch. And how humbling. Not dissimilar, really, to the feeling I get when contemplating the challenges that will define our time—climate change, migration and urbanization, the ‘clean money revolution.’ The difference, of course, is that to contribute to the health of an alpine valley, we need only leave it alone! In the face of human-caused issues like climate change, we need to understand how to intervene.
See the valley. Be the flower.
A long-time friend emailed me last month, after reading an article I wrote. His career has drawn him toward advertising, and he was thinking about how his work supports big, often unsustainable brands. He was keen to chat about changing the role he plays. It reminded me of the many entrepreneurs and leaders I’ve met who describe a transformative epiphany—some point in their careers when they saw the big picture, and their role in it.
For many, the opportunity is to ‘give back’—to make gifts of their ‘time, talent or treasure,’ supporting people or organizations that are doing good work on the issues they care about. This is the frame of the Baby Boom generation, but it’s not exclusive to them.
Others seek alignment between their work in the world and their sense of purpose in life. This is the frame of the Millennial Generation, many of whom cannot understand why they should work 9 to 5 and give back after hours, when they could instead integrate the two more fully.
These are but two points of view, each valuable and complementary to one another. The broader question I find myself considering of late is this:
As an individual flower in a vast, complicated ecosystem, what is my work?
Each of us is called in some way, finding purpose and meaning in work or issues that we care about. For me, as a consultant, I’ve long been a bit of a chameleon, taking on the colours of my clients, working toward ‘the change they seek.’ Our company supports individual leaders and their organizations with strategy and planning, branding and communications, impact measurement and reporting. And often, I support them through quiet, juicy, generative conversations.
As part of the supporting infrastructure of the social sector, we see the whole valley—the vast, complicated landscape of social change and planetary sustainability, the challenges and the opportunities, the trials and the tribulations. You might say we’re part of the soil that supports the myriad flowers of the sector—social enterprises, philanthropies, policy makers, responsible businesses.
There’s a certain humble joy in this service, in this behind-the-scenes work. But lately, that question—‘What is my work?’—has me a little at odds with myself….
Is there something more I’m supposed to be doing? What if I’m not just part of the soil, but one of those flowers myself? Into what soil should I plunge my roots? What will it be like for me to reach for the boundless sky, in full bloom?
For now, I’m sitting with the question…. Are you?
Where do you see yourself in the valley of this grand metaphor?… Are you the flower, or the soil? Or something else?… What do you rely on for sustenance and shelter?… How will you contribute to the vast magnificence of it all?…
Mike Rowlands is President & CEO at Junxion. He has been described as a “peace warrior” and thought leader on issues of social importance. This is one of a series of letters he’s writing as he seeks to embrace transparency, step in to courageous conversations, and be in service to a new era.