Why Magic Happens — at Work

By Michael Brennan

There are moments in your life that you realize ‘magic’ happened. That is, something special, unexpected and surreal took place. I experienced a magical moment at the end of the 4 month prototype phase of Civilla. The creator of that magic, James Paek, is a 30 year-old with deep dark hair and eyes who was a 3-month Apprentice in Residence at Civilla. James arrived by train via LA not knowing anyone in Detroit, never wore much of a cool weather coat, and didn’t know a lot about the vision being launched. Regardless, he showed up–which is simple rule #2 at Civilla.

James ended up painting the simple rules of Civilla on our pillar.

James, Adam Selzer-co-founder of Civilla, and I immediately gathered at a table to discuss “give/gets.” What is it that we each can give? What is it that we each would like to get? We learned early on at Civilla that magic happens when you can align give/gets and an individual has the chance to bring their full self. Not just their resume, but all the gifts, strengths and interests one carries. James is a seasoned leader of people, projects and networks. He is also a Pastor. A musician. A songwriter. And a paper mache’ specialist :)

The ensuing weeks included opening the doors to Civilla, launching a teaching school, taking on three social change projects, and building out a work space to fuel innovation. The time was the most intense, satisfying, and emotional that I have experienced in 30 years of professional work. The team that formed around Civilla grew quite close because everyone there had made a deep personal decision to alter their lives in order to go put the organization’s mission into the world.

After three months of testing and stretching all of our abilities, the small team was getting ready to close the doors for phase 1 of Civilla and James was going to climb on a plane the next day to head back home to LA. We all had a sense that we had just gone through experiences together that would alter the arc of our lives. There was awareness in the air that our time together was coming to a close and it was ever so bittersweet.

At that moment, James said he had a song for us that he wanted to play. Something he had written over the past three months that captured his feelings about the essence and the people of Civilla. So there we sat, with help from Adam Selzer on guitar, James began to unfold “It’s the Way” in the room that just a few weeks prior had only been a storage closet in the middle of Detroit.

As he sang the song, I couldn’t help but think about the words in a photograph right above his shoulder — No Matter What. How do you make magic happen in your life or your organization? One thing I know for sure is that you have to seek and pursue your own “No Matter What” — the thing in life that you are going to do or become no matter what. For some reason, once you place intention and make that dream visible, the world conspires to help bring it to life in ways you never even imagined. A question to ask oneself each day is — am I on my no matter what?

James is in a recording studio working on a refined version of the song. I am sure it will storm the world. But for me, that quiet place inside a large rough space called the storage closet couldn’t have been better than if it was at Carnegie Hall. Pure Magic.