SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know what happens in the Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” watch it before you read!

Can igniting your curiosity feel like saving your life—or maybe salvaging your authentic purpose in the world?  Craig Foster thinks so.  His documentary, My Octopus Teacher, literally glows with the beauty and insight that emerged after unleashing his inquisitive nature in, well, nature itself.

A burned-out filmmaker at the start of the documentary, Foster was filled with doubt about himself and his future.  While he doesn’t share the details of his exhaustion, Foster seems like someone who’s used to having answers.  Clearly without them now, he’s instinctively drawn to follow the example of African trackers he featured in another documentary some 20 years ago—trackers who succeeded by keenly observing the intricate details of their terrain so they came to know and understand its many clues.

It’s a classic Sage response to the world, one that shows up in the relationship Foster forms with an octopus living in the South African kelp forest he swims with each day.  The lightning bolt for rebuilding his resilience and renewing his passion comes when he realizes there’s something profound for him to learn from the octopus.

Foster acts on an essential impulse inside him to observe something in a way that allows him to actually know it–and to learn kinesthetically by experiencing the animal in the environment where she lives.  His resilience is restored when she teaches him what he needs to know for moving past doubt. 

This is my eighth post in a twelve-part series about resilience, and how the unique gifts of each story type make building it more than a one-size-fits-all proposition.  I’ve been writing about the distinct ways an individual or group can lean into their most natural and effective way to bounce back from adversity, and better adapt to the frequently changing world around them.  

This post is about the Sage story type, whose resilience journey often involves a shift from doubt and grasping for answers to embracing the kind of curiosity that allows wisdom to emerge.  

Understanding the Sage’s Gift

A resilient Sage is someone who’s motivated by studying, observing, investigating, synthesizing, and ultimately deriving real insight and wisdom by doing so. Sages are fascinated by intriguing questions, puzzles, and mysteries.  They want to understand and clarify what’s going on around them and share what they’ve learned with others.   

Non-resilient Sages can get overwhelmed by doubt, though—in themselves, in how much they know, in whether or not they actually have the answers.  They can get stuck in a vicious cycle of ruminating and collecting more and more information.  They may never be satisfied enough to actually apply their knowledge, and can also get trapped in a singular viewpoint or defensive posture about their expertise. Sometimes, they even begin to live in a theoretical construct that isn’t connected to the real-world challenges or the emotional needs of themselves or those around them.   

Since Sages have the capacity for developing deep perspective and clarity, their path back to resilience often involves a shift in viewpoint. When doubt is replaced with curiosity, Sages can more readily relax into comfort with not knowing, a love of the question as much as the answer, and an openness to learning new truths.  That’s what happened for Craig Foster. 

Fueled by curiosity, he immersed himself in observation and study of the octopus—and Foster found that there was so much there to know and understand.  He visited her daily for more than a year, plunging into frigid waters for another “lesson.” He was particularly taken by her intelligence, and how her environment required her to be a constant learner as she continuously outwitted the predators around her.  He in turn wanted to know everything he could about her; what she thought, what she observed, what was on her mind as she responded.  

And because he became so immersed in her world, Foster ultimately felt much of the lived experience with her was helping him get to know himself.  He became both interested in knowing something new for science and something new for his own heart. He began to wonder if the relationship might be providing the octopus both stimulation and joy in return.  

Craig Foster literally learned his way back to himself and his life purpose from this octopus Sage.  And what did she teach him?  

  • That he needed to observe, pay attention, become more “sensitized to the other(s)” around him
  • That just as the octopus came from and returned to the sea, we’re all a part of something that makes us not visitors but participants on this planet even as we come and go
  • That wild places are precious and that his energy revolved around knowing them and protecting them (which then led him to found the Sea Change Project as his next big step in life)

Ultimately, Foster learned enough to shift perspective about where he was going and open himself up to change.  That’s a uniquely Sage gift.  So let’s add Sage to the “gift of resilience” story type chart we’re building out in this series.  Here’s where we’re at:

Type

Non-resilient state

Resilience-building attribute or gift

Resilience-building focus

Related values

Ruler Insecurity Confidence Progress Responsibility, Role Modeling, Influence 

Everyperson

   Voicelessness

Empathy Solidarity

Community, Justice, Fairness

Caregiver

Overwhelm Compassion  Human potential

Service, Kindness, Development

Innocent Disillusionment Optimism Hope

Ideals, Faith, Values in Action

Hero Exhaustion Mastery Achievement

Action, Drive, Making a Difference

Creator

Lifelessness Imagination Re-invention

Invention, Ideation, Expression 

Explorer

Restriction Growth mindset Meaning

Discovery, Individualism, Experience

Lover

Disconnection Relationship building Passion

Aliveness, Appreciation, Commitment 

Sage Doubt Perspective Curiosity

Insight, Clarity, Wisdom

 

Activating the Sage resilience quotient 

How can you learn from the octopus yourself, in an environment that likely seems nothing like that underwater kelp forest?  

Well, we live in a pretty wild world ourselves if you think about it. Predators don’t show up in quite the way they did for the octopus, although it’s not hard to make a metaphor for that.  Resilience in the sea and in the working world always has a survival component to it—and the possibility for the joy Craig Foster felt in coming to know the octopus.   

A resilient Sage needs time to reflect and observe—things that are often in short supply in our fast-paced working worlds.  If you’re drawn to the Sage story type, do whatever it takes to carve some time out for yourself, and consider these questions for building more of that resilience (remembering that these questions help groups with a collective Sage identity as well):

  • What could you get curious about in a current situation where you feel stuck?
  • What’s the gift in not knowing more than you do right now?
  • If you had to stop taking in any new information and act on what you know at this time, how could you apply the insights you already have?
  • What’s a new question you could ask to shift your perspective on something? 
  • What would you love to learn more about and what kind of learning experience excites you most?  

And remember to love the questions as much as the answers!    

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type (often inspired by Sages!) who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (take the free version here: https://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/).  

 

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