Not long ago, I was working with a group of executives in a trust building exercise. As the exercise progressed, the participants began to share more about themselves. At one point, a very senior member of the group told a story about a meaningful experience he has cherished over the years. He said that he had spent the first four years of his career as a ninth-grade teacher. He then left teaching to launch his managerial career. That was over twenty years ago. Recently he was walking through a mall when someone called his name. He turned to see a lovely woman. She introduced herself as one of his former students. He remembered her, and they had a delightful few minutes of conversation. As she was about to walk away, she stopped, held his hand, and said, “I really need to thank you. You were the best teacher I ever had.”
At this point in the story, the senior executive paused and started to weep. Finally he said, “That event meant a great deal to me. It meant that I made a difference in her life.”
These were feelings of joy that come only with a personal achievement in which we feel we have made an essential contribution. Oddly enough, those same feelings of achievement are often mixed with a sense of awe and humility. I believe the sense of awe stems from experience the magnificence of transformation. The humility stems from knowing we are necessary but, alone, insufficient.
The process of transformation is always bigger than we are. It requires a supportive universe. As we take part in the process, experiencing the transformation of energy, becoming aware that the universe actually needs us and that we need the universe, we join in a dance of co-creation. We become aware of our own simultaneous potential and dependence.
(Change the World, p. 3)