Oct 17, 2012

There's no place like home

There's something that has been gnawing at me recently. No, not the fact that I haven't managed to post to the blog with any consistency since I don't know when (although it's somewhat related to that). Nor the fact that everyone who hears my story thinks I'm insane or, put more kindly, "certainly not boring" (although it's somewhat related to that as well).

No, what's been nibbling at my insides and clogging up my brain stem is all down to one troublesome HBR post by the Justin Bieber of INSEAD academia, and my idol, the one and only GP.

If you're an INSEADer who follows such things, or otherwise a GP fan (and who can blame you, really) you'll have probably seen his most recent offering on the blog affiliated with that Other Business School, in which (and I hope he'll forgive me for paraphrasing and grossly simplifying his prose) he argues that leaders cannot lead unless they have some connection to a local, geographically determined "home". Now, that home may be where you were born, where you grew up, where you live now, no matter. But there has to be one that you can point to and say "There! That place out yonder with the red brick chimney and white picket fence is mine. I belong there."

Well, now that puts me in a bit of a pickle.

There is no place I can think of that is "mine", no place that answers to the epitath of "home". Wherever I go, I am a foreigner, and that is true of Paris as well as New York (and anywhere else I or my family members have lived). It doesn't make me love either of those places any less, but neither one is my "home" (or they are both equally so, which I think defeats the point). I am the one who can never answer the question, "Where are you from?"

But there are two ways to look at this. Sure, on the one hand, you could describe me as an outcast, a "stranger" (to quote GP) who does not belong and so will never lead. You could also point out that I have stubbornly refused to choose a home (is that even a choice you can make?), refused to commit to one place over another. Again, as GP has once said to me personally, if you don't commit, you don't belong.

That's a fair point. In fact, it's such a fair point that it's bugging the crap out of me (if I may put things bluntly). And then I start wondering whether perhaps the writing has dried up and died because, lacking not just a "room of my own" but a "home of my own", Virginia Woolf herself has given up hope that I will ever be able to pull myself together and create anything of value, even if it's just on this meager blog.

So I can't commit, I don't belong, I'm homeless and will never be either a writer or a leader. (Although, to be fair, I'm not sure "leader" was ever on my wish list - still, it's the principle of the thing.)

But... (and here the grammarians among you will be pleased because I'm finally getting to my "other hand")... on the other hand... doesn't my rootlessness mean I can empathise with more than one perspective at once? Feel attachment to more than one place at once? Break free of arbitrary biases and preferences that would otherwise tie me to "the way we do things back home" for no good reason other than the fact that life's circumstances once whisked me up and dumped me there like Dorothy in the Land of Oz? In fact, if Dorothy hadn't been so bloody obsessed with getting back "home" to Kansas, who knows what she might have achieved in that magical land of yellow brick roads and talking tin men?

But I digress.

The sad fact is I don't have an answer for my conundrum. Am I doomed to wander the flight paths of the earth for all eternity, never realising that all I needed was a place my ruby slippers could take me back to? Or am I all the richer for being able to embrace the contradictions and ambiguities of the truly homeless? Or both?

All I know is this. In New York City, hardly anyone ever asks me where I'm from. And that makes everything simpler.


Gabriele said...

Hey, nice article. But frankly, from one huge GP fan to another, I think you're missing the point. You limit the concept of home to geographical entity while GP doesn't. Especially the point where his article says:

"Yet home need not always be a place. It can be a territory, a relationship, a craft, a way of expression. Home is an experience of belonging, a feeling of being whole and known, sometimes too close for comfort. It's those attachments that liberate us more than they constrain."

You're both saying the exact same thing, no need to argue. You don't need to be rooted anywhere (geographically) to have a home. You can make your relationships, art, culture, passions etc. your home.

Now you can go and make peace with GP :) tell him I say hi.

Anonymous said...

Can you please not refer to GP as Justin Bieber... I don't think he deserves that!!

Gabriele said...

Yeah dude, the Justin Bieber things was cold...

Anonymous said...

Vote GP!