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Vicar of Baghdad, living with purpose and passion

A guy I met recently was told by his UK employer that he was too sick to hold down a senior job, even though he was a rising star and was the youngest employee to ever hold his then current role. That clearly did not sit with his view of his world and his purpose in it, so he did something else. Something much bigger.

His name is Andrew White, AKA ‘The Vicar of Baghdad’, and I was fortunate enough to share an evening with him, along with some friends, the other day.
His life is far too rich to be condensed meaningfully into a few short paragraphs so I will only highlight a couple of fascinating facts and share the reflections I wrote out for myself after our meeting.
Yes, he is a vicar but read these notes in the same way you would if I was writing about Lance Armstrong (Its not about the bike, its about purpose and momentum) or Randy Pausch(Nothing to do with academia – everything to do with dreams).

  • The guy suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, which is evident from his speech pattern and his gait.
  • He is the trusted intermediary between fighting factions in Iraq, at one time receiving fortnightly telephone calls from the president of the USA whilst having meetings with leaders who the West demonised.
  • He is heavily involved in peace and hostage negotiations in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East (over 140 hostage negotiations alone), dealing with people who often hate and mistrust each other.
  • Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay once summonsed him to a meeting in their notorious Baghdad Hunting Club with the explicit expectation that if he did not accept their ‘Invitation’ the messenger and all his family would be killed. He attended the meeting and, unlike many before him, he walked out alive.
  • He had 11 of his Top Leadership Team exterminated but still kept the show on the road.
  • He has survived serious attacks on himself, as well as detentions, he deals with really difficult people every day and spends long periods of time away from his family.

 All this on top of the ordinary stresses of the day job you and I are subject to!

All this by a man who was considered by his employers to be too sick to do a much easier job in the UK!

Here’s what I wrote to myself after that meeting:

  • We should never let anyone’s opinion (especially well intentioned opinions) define us.
  • The only things that truly limit us are the limitations we put on ourselves.
  • Purpose and passion make the hardest work ‘doable’.
  • Inspiration is everywhere, the world is full of people who have less and achieve more than most of the people we know. We need to learn from them.

There is obviously so much more to this experience and my learning from it. I must admit that I was not going to post it up here and it was only intended as a reflection in my March newsletter. The truth is that the response to my newsletter was so overwhelming that I decided to get my reflections up here for all. I am certainly inspired, humbled and motivated since that meeting.

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