How Chris Worp creates space by stepping into the unknown

Happyplaces stories (video)

‘It sounds a bit grand; it is more like I don’t feel defined by what I do now in terms of work.’ So it was Chris’ reply to my question about how I should describe him when I proposed ‘entrepreneur for good’. ‘Good question, though. I can’t do it well myself either at the moment, haha…. It isn’t The Ocean Cleanup anymore, no, I’m now supporting start-ups here in a wide variety of branches, helping them to get going. However, I feel more of a nature enthusiast right now.’

Jeroen van Erp introduced me to Chris in his typical Jeroen way:

Marcel Kampman is in the CC. Initiator, designer, creative hotspot, happy egg, critic, community builder, and more. He’s on a mission; he’s looking for people to meet and film for his Happyplaces Project — he can explain it all better himself than I can. He is coming to South Africa in May. I tipped him it might be nice to meet you. I am sure it will bring you something. I leave it to you!

We learned that we were staying close to each other and that I was the fourth consecutive (temporary) resident he met in Cape Town. Jeroen was one of them. We met at The Conscious Kitchen, a small conscious cafe and shop at Kloof Road, no coincidence, I learned, given where Chris his interests currently lie.

Chris has a background in business management and -leadership and holds a master’s degree in General Management from Nyenrode Business University (1997). His track record illustrates his capability to build and manage teams through phases of growth successfully. In addition, he is an avid diver and passionate about nature, which brought him — after a successful corporate career — to The Ocean Cleanup, where he found this excellent opportunity to apply his professional qualities to drive his environmental ambitions. Chris has been leading The Ocean Cleanup through its period of growth by making a solid contribution to strengthening and structuring the organisation in preparation for the global scale-up phase. After completing his long-planned transition to South Africa, he passed the baton to continue to support The Ocean Cleanup from afar voluntarily.

This transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Throughout my life, I think my way to make space is to make my own choices and follow my own path. Throughout my life, there always have been choices where I stepped out of what I was doing. When I do things and focus, I get intensely involved in them. Then I’m not looking around for other opportunities then; I’m committed to what I do. There will be a next moment when I will step out again. I have done that multiple times in my life. Almost every time I do that, people say it was an unwise decision. For example, in my corporate career, I said I wanted something else: ‘I want to stop and travel the world, go to remote places to experience nature more deeply. And also different cultures, different religions.’ Although I’m not a religious person, I want to see how people perceive the world in different ways. People then usually reacted: ‘If you step out of your career now while you’re doing so well, you’re in your golden moment, taking this next step is not the right thing to do.’

Whenever I did it anyway, talked about it afterwards while thinking out loud what I should do next, whoever I talked to would say: ‘I wish that I had taken a step like that.’ It has only been enriching. It has never been limiting. That was my modus operandi, and it still is. During my degrees, I also went and travelled, worked for a couple of years, came back, worked, and travelled. As I grew up in corporate culture and climbed that proverbial ladder, I reached the point where being at a board level wasn’t the game I wanted to be in. It did not enable me to have the personal impact I wanted. So a couple of years ago, in 2018, I stepped out of the corporate world for good.

Putting myself in a different space, in a different place where there are a lot of unknowns and unfamiliarities, where I need to find my way, opens my senses and makes my life more intense.

Unfamiliar space

I have been trying to find new adventures, new space. I stepped into the unknown, not knowing where it would take me. We figured we would move from Europe to South Africa. Because I was born here, it seemed a good idea to live on the continent I was born in. After living in Europe, the US and China, I wanted to experience Africa more deeply. Getting closer to nature is important to me. Africa is probably the continent where nature is the most prevalent and raw. It felt like the right step. We had no idea what we were going to do there. We decided to take the step and see where it would take us, to open up, open our senses again. What tends to happen to me when I’m in a space for a longer time is I become comfortable; I go on autopilot. Putting myself in a different space, in a different place where there are a lot of unknowns and unfamiliarities, where I need to find my way, opens my senses and makes my life more intense. That is a positive thing for me.

Greater good space

As we were about to move from Europe to Africa, I received a phone call if I wanted to join a mission to clean plastic from the oceans. As an avid diver, I’m passionate about having oceans with fish instead of plastic. That was a moment to recalibrate if I should do that, yes or no, given our plans to move to Africa. Finally, I decided that it was a cause I wanted to contribute to. It was a way to help, to use the skills that I learned in the corporate world and apply them to a non-profit with a good cause, and to help them to create an impact.

We put our plan on pause for a while to contribute to the greater good. I did that for a couple of years. But then I ran into the same state I was in when I was in the corporate world. My biggest added value lies when it is unclear for an organisation or people which direction to go, to find where the real problems lie, and what the red thread is in the challenges. I help to set up the organisation to deal with those challenges. I realised whether it was in the corporate or non-profit space with a good cause, my value lies in that area.

Opportunity space

Once the goal and the route to get there were clear, my desire to move on started again. I had a great time and made a positive contribution by setting the organisation up for more success in the future. And then made the step to move to Africa. We now live here for a year and a half, and we’re still exploring. The question that people always ask is: ‘So, what do you do here?’ That isn’t easy to answer because I don’t know yet. I still have some things going on in Europe, but I’m trying to get a foot on the ground and contribute here. I’m most interested in nature conservation and plant-based food because there is a strong correlation between the two. If we as humans eat more plant-based food, we need less land to cultivate our food, and therefore there is more land to dedicate to nature, which would bring more balance to the world.

I like an ‘uncoordinated unknown destination approach’ to live life fully. That is what works best for me. That is what gives me the most space.

The most tangible project I’m currently involved in is helping a local startup with a fantastic plant-based product to help them expand and to make it a bigger part of people’s diets here and everywhere else. I don’t have a fixed plan; I never had a plan for my life. I have taken opportunities as they came along. I have always believed that being open to opportunities allows you to see them and grab them. I like an ‘uncoordinated unknown destination approach’ to live life fully. That is what works best for me. That is what gives me the most space. It is also how I lead teams and engage with other people. It is about giving them a lot of space and freedom for people to take responsibility and deliver on it in a way that works best for them. That leads to the best results and more ownership, I think. If you were to tell them what to do and what you’d expect, you usually get the opposite when you expect it. I like to engage in a lot of space and freedom, so people can do things in their way and find their path in delivering on a shared objective because it helps that shared objective when you do it like this.

The uncomfortable thing is that I don’t know yet what it will deliver for me, for the people here, and for the greater good. But that’s okay. That is the opening of the senses; it happens when you go in without a plan. That is the space I’m jumping into now.

Uncomfortable space

That is where I am now. I’m very curious too to see where this is going because it is also an uncomfortable space to be in, but that is what I look for, I guess. Uncomfortable in a way that I don’t know yet how things will materialise, whether it will deliver on my desire to apply my skills and have a positive impact. Not only for nature, although that is where I want to invest my time, but also for helping local South African entrepreneurs. Creating job security here. The uncomfortable thing is that I don’t know yet what it will deliver for me, for the people here, and for the greater good. But that’s okay. That is the opening of the senses; it happens when you go in without a plan. It is the space I’m jumping into now.

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Marcel Kampman

Marcel Kampman

Founder of Happykamping & Happyplaces Project, author, sensemaker