Quo vadis?

2015 Blog 18

Two Latin words, made famous by Hollywood movies. Words that ask the question: ‘Where are you going?

On a Friday afternoon, I found myself alone on the 30-minute gym circuit. The newly recruited trainer had me as captive audience. A young first-year university dropout, she entertained me in detail about the countries and the cities and the jobs that her uncles, aunts, cousins and nephews have pursued. They all have left SA. She herself is also planning to do so in the near future. She said: ‘A few weeks ago my uncle phoned my gran to tell her that he was leaving for New Zealand. My gran asked him to come and tell her all about it. ‘I can’t,’ said my uncle, ‘I’m in the airport, about to board the plane’. The young trainer said she felt sorry for her gran, because all these goodbyes hadn’t been easy for her. Gran’s son – her uncle – just couldn’t put up with all the drama of emotional goodbyes when he himself felt hopeful and joyful about going to start a new job.

I had this image of the matriarch, bereft of her tribe, everyone lost to her, dispersed.

We are all aware of the South African job diaspora – ‘the Scatterlings of Africa’ are everywhere. We all have first-hand experience of skyped and facebooked connections, replacing what close kinship used to be.

From our business position, from the political and economic soup we’re in, we may well speculate ourselves: ‘What if? What if I left? Where could I go? What could I do?’

If we look at the bigger picture of globalization, we realize how much migration is actually going on. Some of it is a flight for survival, away from war cruelty, with refugees losing their last possessions and sometimes their life, such as in the Mediterranean boat disasters.

But a lot is actually economic migration – a job hunt into countries where the grass is greener.

All this makes for a mobile workforce, changing demographics and chequered careers. It also makes for a different outlook on life – literally seeing and experiencing different horizons.

The secure careers and the predictable lives, ‘from the cradle to the grave’, are fast being wiped out, along with the limitations of a local outlook. The motto of the 60s ‘Think globally. Act locally.’ is under reconstruction.

Everyone in a local business in Port Elizabeth needs the ability to operate outside traditional ways of doing business, to think out of the box for new marketing options and to explore what sales and networking can be done through internet and virtual conferencing. We need to understand the needs of people from totally different backgrounds, in order to build business relations with them. Those of us who make business trips to China see the growing Chinese footprint in Africa in a new light.

I have no doubt that all this outward change is matched by a restlessness in the soul.

In that sense we are living in an interesting time of ‘quest’.

We associate the heroic quest with medieval knights in shining armour, setting forth from the world of common day, searching for the Grail, going into the land of adventure, encountering many tests and the occasional magic.

Yet we are swept up in a 21st century quest for meaning, for the purpose of our existence and who we really are. All along we try to make our living, or strive for success wherever our career and business opportunities take us.

Our own quest may take us many places. But at times it may also take place in the mind. The fork in the road, with the signpost ‘Quo Vadis?’ may well be a decision that has to be made about improving ourselves in the here and now. Shall I invest, or shall I save? Shall I lower my fee or shall I increase it? ‘Quo vadis’ doesn’t always involve geographical relocation.

The essence of the quest is that it fills a lack in our lives.

To my mind, travel really feeds the spirit. All the travel that we pack in makes us a little ‘world-wiser’. Likewise, every job that we try our hand at adds to our bucket of experience and skills. From experiencing subsistence economy with stilt-fishing in Sri Lanka, to cleaning windows in New York, from wiping bums as a UK care-giver, to making goat cheese or lavender oil in France, truly no endeavour is wasted on our journey.

We may, like Odysseus, return from long meanderings to the homeland. Or we may, like Sir Galahad, find the Grail and decide not to return.

Quo vadis? It’s worth thinking about!