Losing to gain

As I am getting older, I am gradually learning to appreciate the fact that there is more to life than gaining and achieving traditional notions of success: career, money and material possessions. When seeking those is the dominant drive in life, and it can be hard to imagine living differently. But the plight of the refugees from Syria points to a different reality: I can lose all that gain, my career may end in tatters, and I won’t have a say in that. Prior to events unfolding in 2011, could they have predicted what would have happened to their jobs and possessions? What seems left to those people who lost their homes and security is only what they could take with them: their close ones.

I recently read an interview in Spiegel newspaper with Philippe Pozzo de Borgo. Philippe is a former boss of one of the leading champagne producers in France, who had (and perhaps still does) a taste for paragliding. In his early 40s, he became paraplegic following a paragliding accident. The intensity and enormity of the event took me some time to imagine what it would have been like when in an instant you move from a physically healthy individual to becoming a quadriplegic. In some sense, Philippe had everything: a successful career, family, even nobility attached to his name. Yet following the accident he lost the ability to move, his successful career ended (at least in the champagne business), and worse yet, he lost his wife (who died of cancer a few years after the accident).

I found reading the interview very moving, but not so much because of what Philippe lost but what he gained. Following the accident, Mr Borgo lost a lot but he also seems to have found a deeper and possibly bigger perspective on life. It’s interesting how a loss of something we are attached to or take for granted can put things in perspective. Perhaps a loss acts as a filter, sieving through what matters. Or maybe some gains are possible when or if we lose something instead as if a loss creates a space to be filled with something different.

When I think about it, Borgo did not say anything new, but the fact that this perspective was distilled from his personal experience following the accident makes it more grounded and personal. Reading it felt nothing like a paper written by an academic, a journalist or an aspiring politician (especially if there is no skin in the game). I found Spiegel’s interview with Mr Borgo a more profound read than anything I read in HBR, the New Yorker or Time.

Jonathan Sacks remarked that “the things we spend most of our time pursuing turn out to be curiously irrelevant when it comes to seeing the value of a life as a whole”. It reminds me of being on a plane in the air from where I can see the big picture of the landscape. From above I can see things that I can’t see from the ground which offers me a different image and perspective. I feel I need a change of perspectives.

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