I was born in Chicago into a very close Jewish family with roots in Latvia, Russia and the Ukraine. In 1968, when I was five years-old, we moved to Canada where my father took on the McDonald’s franchise for that country.
My parents were determined to ‘make it’ financially and socially. My mother was a very strong woman who supported her husband one hundred percent, while my brother and I brought up the rear. They pursued the American dream and, despite the anti-Semitism they encountered, they became part of the social and business elite. As they flourished financially, they also shared their good fortune through charity-based philanthropy. They enjoyed plenty of external validation, gaining awards such as the Order of Canada.
As a boy, I watched the games being played that seemed necessary for success, such as entertaining people that we didn’t particularly like. Even then I questioned why we needed to follow those rules. Nonetheless, I followed the path set out for me to school and University and then I took part in Operation Raleigh, a charity founded to help young people, and we sailed to Chile. At the end of that amazing trip, I knew I needed to get a job and, as I emerged from the South American jungle, I saw a sign for Coca-Cola. That company became my route into corporate life for the next 14 years. I moved up the ladder to become a top sales trainer at Coca Cola, dating lots of women on the way, playing the success game, according to society’s rules. And apparently winning.
In 1991, I got Coca-Cola into Russia, which led to me becoming Coca-Cola’s Global Brand Manager, and I met the woman who became my wife for the next 18 years. We had two wonderful children together and I was the breadwinner in a fairly traditional division of roles.
My time in the Soviet Union increasingly led me to question the principles of consumerism, capitalism and personal choice. Finally, in 2000, I decided to leave the Coca-Cola Company, something my father – now Senior Chairman of McDonald’s in Canada and Russia – couldn’t understand. This decision also created insecurity around money, which put stress on my marriage. My wife and I tried counselling but our relationship eventually foundered in 2010.
I felt this keenly as a failure and fell back into old patterns of relationships. I numbed the pain of my separation with a lot of partying and drinking and found a new girlfriend. I never lost sight of being a father, however. I saw my children every other week and made sure I was available to them 24/7.
In 2008, I found the perfect combination of my greatest loves, Mother Russia, international business and the Arts. I became co-owner of the Cirque du Soleil in Russia. We brought the first Cirque shows to Russia and Ukraine and over 8 years we reached a combined audience of 3.5 million people – it was a roaring success.
Still in the back of my mind there was a voice that asked how I defined success. How much did I enjoy ‘playing the game’? If we believe in the success and failure model, we look at the world through a binary lens which creates conflict and restricts options. Is there such a thing as an individual’s success or failure or are we simply creating, learning and hopefully having fun as we go?
Finally, in 2016, a recent ex-girlfriend suggested that I do the Hoffman Process in Canada. Lots of her friends had done it and recommended it highly. I signed up, hoping it would help with my relationships – and it did. The course strengthened my conviction that I needed to break some unhealthy patterns of how we soothe our pain.
The Process triggered seismic, positive shifts in almost every area of my life. It gave me the chance to really reflect on, articulate and communicate my values: and embody them.
I’ve given up partying and drink infrequently. For the first time in my life I can now hear the sound of silence. I meditate regularly which clears my mind of the worry that had been a constant companion. My creative juices are flowing again, I’ve dusted off my saxophone and embraced far more fun in my life. I’ve realised that each of us define ‘fun’ differently and many of us may need to re-define it as adults rather than accept society’s definition. I’ve always had a questioning nature but the Process has turbo-charged my curiosity.
After the course, I had some deep and loving conversations with my parents as well as my children and my family and they say I’m a better listener and more present. Certainly I’m proud of the son and father I’ve become. I’d say the values I always felt were there inside me have now become more obvious and central to my life.
I’m in a new relationship with someone who is very spiritually aware. I feel we connect at a really deep level.
Probably one of the biggest changes the Process has sparked is within my professional life and/or my relationship with wealth and with the planet – and how I harness the skills, networks and treasure I’ve accumulated in the course of a rather enchanted life to advance my values. As I approach my sixtieth birthday, I’ve become increasingly concerned with climate change. I got help calculating my lifetime carbon footprint and decided to take a sabbatical while I get that debt to the Earth off my books. It’s quite a debt – 28 times the global average due to all the travelling for work. I’ve flown 4 million miles and taken in 104 countries.
Starting in January 2023, I’m going to walk 4,000 kilometres from London to Istanbul stopping in many cities to raise awareness of climate change, with a specific focus on carbon removal, with talks, workshops and meetings with local leaders. I’ve invested substantial money in this project, partnering with a network of powerful organisations and more and more people are joining me.
I realise I’m very lucky to have enough to live on so that I can fund this project. It feels a joyful journey and, while sometimes joy can be free, this one has quite a price tag.
My father spoke to me recently and asked: ‘What are you doing for money now?’. I said: “Absolutely nothing, I’m running this campaign and then I’ll see.’ At 85 he turned to me and said “I’m really proud of you”. Maybe what I’m doing is redefining success.
We’d like to thank Craig for sharing his story. To follow Craig’s campaign, calculate and reverse your own carbon footprint, sponsor a carbon removal project, or even join him for a few kilometres, click here: https://walkitback.org