Unleashing Your Voice Blog


“We shape our life by deciding to pay attention to it. It is the direction of our attention and Business woman with raised hands from flying pigeons on the background of a sunny sunset.its intensity that will determine what we accomplish and how well.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Believe.” – Ted Lasso

So, Ted Lasso and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi show up in the same sentence a lot, right?  Well, not so much. . . and maybe they should.    

  • Ted Lasso is the upbeat, relentlessly optimistic coach of a fictional soccer team on the wildly popular Apple TV+ comedy series. 
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was a renowned, respected happiness researcher who delivered a wildly popular 2004 TED talk on the concept of “flow” in work and life.  

Apart from having interesting professional lives, the connection between Ted and Mihaly might not look obvious on the surface.  Yet they’re both exemplars of the Innocent story type, even though they took very different routes to stand for three words I suggest we all take in while looking toward 2022:  Belief, Simplicity, and Wonder.  All three of these words are foundational to activating the Innocent archetype—and one of them is my word of the year (more on that later, along with my book of the year).  

I do a lot of work with organizations and individuals who want to build an authentic and energizing sense of identity—and set a direction for themselves that becomes an inspiring expression of it.  Some of them are deeply in the “who am I” question.  Others are more focused on a “what should I do next” kind of inquiry.  

Do you believe?

Those questions of being and doing represent the two halves of a human whole—and people who really flourish and find meaning in their work have to develop both of those sides.  There’s no better way to do both than waking up the Innocent archetype and embracing the belief, simplicity, and wonder it offers us.  

Ted and Mihaly can help show us the way.  Both of them suggest we’ll thrive by making an Innocent-like decision to shift our attention away from what’s disillusioning, unproductive, or “needs fixing” about us.  Instead, they invite us to focus on what’s best within us—believe in it, shine a light on it, commit to it.  Attend to what’s working and what’s possible.  

  • Ted Lasso lives in the world of being.  He works to restore hope and positivity in the face of cynicism and even ennui.  In Ted’s world, it’s pretty simple.  Focus on being your best, believe in yourself and the people around you–be a certain kind of person and it’s all good.  Above all, believe (which isn’t very different than seeing and directing your attention towards what matters most intensely to you, as Mihaly suggests).  Impossible things can be achieved when you do that.  
  • Mihaly lived in the world of doing.  He worked to advance the concept of “flow,” which has been described as a state of consciousness experienced when we’re totally absorbed in what we do best.  In Mihaly’s world, it was pretty simple.  Focus on getting lost in what engages you most intensely, what flows out of you most effortlessly—do a certain kind of thing that fascinates you and it’s all good.  When you bring the right amount of intensity to that, your attention will help you become your best self.  Impossible things can be achieved when you do that.  

Notice that both Ted and Mihaly aren’t shying away from results.  Ted needs his team to win soccer games (and turns around a rag-tag bunch of players into a winning unit by believing in them and igniting their capacity to believe in themselves).  Mihaly worked to help organizations and people in all kinds of professions achieve optimal performance (and did that by helping them understand how to find their own flow).  

Neither of them couples success with extrinsic reward or puts productivity ahead of passion, though.  Instead, they both focus on meaningful, authentic being and doing as the foundation of both a life well lived and the best possible results that an individual can create.  Most of us would agree that those are pretty great outcomes.  But there’s more the Innocent story type has to offer us, though.  That’s where word #3—wonder—comes in, and it’s my word of the year for 2022.  

Why wonder isn’t child’s play

We hear the phrase “child-like wonder” a lot, as if the state is somehow reserved for kids or even something we can or should grow out of or past.  And yet, the very definitions of wonder capture what most adults could use a whole lot more of right now.  

There are two main definitions of the word wonder; one is associated with being and the other with doing.  

  • Being definition of wonder: to be filled with feelings of surprise, delight, or admiration caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Ted Lasso pays attention to the wonder around him (whether it’s an unexpected snowfall or a memory of a past delight).  He pauses to take them in and frequently realizes something that would help his team or someone on it when he does.  
  • Doing definition of wonder:  to speculate curiously or be curious; having the desire to know something; to feel surprised, puzzled, or fascinated interestMihaly described what he saw as the surest path to both meaning and excellence—maintaining an intense and committed involvement with what fascinates us and continuing learning about it in ways that present us with a compelling sense of enduring challenge.  

So now for my book of the year and why you should read it.  It’s Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity by Jeffrey Daniels. Daniels defines and repositions wonder as far more than child’s play.  “Wonder is a quiet disruptor of biases,” he says.  “It dissolves our habitual ways of seeing and thinking so we may glimpse anew the beauty of what is real, true, and possible.”  

The book jacket describes Daniels’s work as a “refreshing counter-voice to the exhausting narrative of hyper-productivity” that shades most of what goes on in our working real these days.  Far more than a respite from what’s making us feel so weary, Daniels’s book offers a new take on enhancing professional innovation, navigating real-world chaos with grace, and building resilience.  His six facets of wonder are one of the most interesting takes I’ve ever seen on the topic (bewilderment is a positive facet, for example).  Give it a read, and if you do, let me know what you think about it.  

So there are three more words to close out 2021 for you:  Innovation, Grace, and Resilience.  I wish them all for you as we move into the mystery and possibility of another new year.  And I’m already wondering what that will look like for you!  

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type 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/). 

If you were one of Major League Baseball’s most successful club managers, would you aspire to have quirky comedian Bill Murray play you in a movie?

Joe Maddon may not have set out to do that, but it’s easy to see why he and Murray are a good match:

  • Maddon has been called the quirkiest person in baseball.
  • He’s most frequently described as fun, loose, and a little bit crazy.
  • He’s known for his antics, like meeting the press with a cockatoo on his shoulder; having live penguins waddling around his clubhouse while a live DJ played; and staging numerous themed, costumed road trips to away games.  
  • He’d rather have his players focused on relaxing than on batting practice.

Is that any way to run a ball club?  Only if you want your team to win its first World Series in 108 years–the longest-running winless streak in baseball.  That’s what happened in 2016 when Joe Maddon managed the Chicago Cubs to a joyous World Series victory that had all of America enraptured (well, maybe not so much in Cleveland 😊). 

What’s presence got to do with it?

Does any of this matter to leaders and professionals in more typical enterprise settings than major league sports teams?  It absolutely does, because what Joe Maddon brought to the Chicago Cubs is possibly the most essential component of lasting resilience for any individual, team, or organization: presence.     

This is my 11th and final post in a 12-part series about resilience and the unique gifts each story type brings to the table.  Yes, it’s the 11th of 12 because I combined two story types into one post a while back, and didn’t notice I kept talking about 12 parts, and I’m loosening up about it like Joe Maddon and all other good Jesters would do!

So we’re closing out this series on the Jester story type, and it really is the best place to end.  That’s because Jesters are masters of presence, an ability that builds resilience faster than anything I’ve ever seen or experienced.  

Understanding the Jester’s gift

A resilient Jester is someone who’s able to keep their present-moment awareness at a very high level.  They know how to use humor, lightness, spontaneity, and fun to let go of future worries and past regrets. 

More than any other type, Jesters can stay in and enjoy each moment—relieving stress and anxiety along the way, increasing enjoyment, and allowing for a kind of angst-less flow that often ends in better performance for themselves and those they work with, manage or lead.

Jesters are typically resourceful, clever, and witty as well.  Because of their present-moment awareness, they’re often able to let go and apply a highly effective kind of detachment to outcomes. That in turn can lead to more innovative approaches that involve a lot less hand-wringing and defensiveness about their ideas (compared to, oh say a Creator like me!).  It certainly helps them bounce back more quickly under duress, and to experience shallower valleys than many other people.  

Of course, Jesters can fall into a non-resilient state just like every story type, and theirs tends to look a lot like ennui. Boredom, a lack of excitement, and feelings of emptiness can translate into weariness and deep dissatisfaction for a Jester.  Unmanaged, those feelings can show up as disruptiveness, irresponsibility and a tough time actually settling down to work.  

There’s also the “tears of a clown” effect we all know about, a kind of despair that’s often seen roiling around right beneath the surface for some of our most beloved comedians.  Professional comedians or not, most Jesters can see the absurdity and hypocrisy that shapes so much of modern living.  This strength helps them translate what they observe into seemingly light-hearted jokes or comments that pack a major truth punch.  It can also leave them feeling pretty gutted themselves.

So, mindfulness practices really help anyone manage Jester responses and emotions more skillfully and resiliently.  Here are some additional lessons I’m taking from Joe Maddon that can contribute as well:

  • Loosen up.  

When Maddon takes on a new club, the first thing he seems to do is size up how loose the players are.  Being uptight is the enemy for him.  It gets in the way of high performance, and he’s more about building confidence in the really talented people who make it onto his teams.  When you’re loose, you’re in the here and now; not in the grip of anxiety or stress.  

Do players feel it?  Here’s what a few of them have to say:

  • “He keeps us loose. That’s basically it. He has fun. He’s the man.” -Dexter Fowler
  • “The non-game stuff that he does, the fun stuff, it helps keep the team looser than the places I’ve been. Not as much attention to things like batting practice and drills, he tries to cut a lot of that stuff out.” -Dan Haren

How would things go better around your workplace if more leaders were like that? Well, if you can think of the last time being uptight actually helped a tense work situation, please let me know about it.  Otherwise, consider where you’re too tight and need to wind down.    

  • Let it go.

Another player, Carlos Pena, talks about how Maddon shared the theory of Occam’s Razor with him rather than trying to correct his play.  Basically, it posits that the simplest, most obvious answer is usually the best.  It’s about not overthinking everything and getting wound up in a ball of rumination.  Ever seen that going on in yourself or around you?  

Remember that letting go has an entirely different feel than cutting something off.  It’s about allowing what’s bringing us down to float out of our consciousness so that something else more positive and beneficial can come in.  Think about what needs to float out of your mindset and envision it drifting away.  

  •  Have some fun.

I’ve already described some of Maddon’s well-known antics (and yes, it’s actually possible to introduce some antics into a workplace without it turning out like an episode of I Love Lucy; although maybe that’s not such a bad idea, actually!).  It’s so easy to devalue the positive impact of workplace fun, dismiss it as lightweight—and miss out on the proven benefits and culture-building opportunities that are built right in.  

Humor, laughter, enjoying the people you work with are all especially important to remember in remote workplaces.  Without that water cooler chat or happenstance personal encounters or in-person celebrations that many of us used to enjoy, it’s easy just to get down to business all the time.  That’s how both boredom and disconnection can creep into our lives if we forget to have some fun.  At the end of the day, Jester is in the relationship-building quadrant of this 12-archetype system.   

So, let’s take a look at our completed resilience chart looks with the addition of Jester!  This chart now offers a full snapshot of what resilience and non-resilience will usually look like, and how it can be leveraged for any one of the 12 story types:  

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

Magician

Disempowerment Flexibility Possibility Vision, Intuition, Intention
Revolutionary Resistance Troubleshooting Activism

Closure, Unconventional Thinking, Reform

Jester

Ennui Presence Loosening up

Resourcefulness, Enjoyment, Wit

Activating the Jester resilience quotient

What are some first steps for allowing more Jester-building resilience into your professional life? Start with a brainstorming process using these prompts (remembering they can be applied to your team or organization, not just to you as an individual):

  • Where am I too uptight, and how could loosening up a little help?
  • How can I enjoy what I’m doing more?
  • How could I use humor to lighten things up?
  • Where am I overthinking things and what’s a simpler way to move forward?
  • What’s a fun or even kind of crazy thing I could do right now instead of what I’ve been doing?
  • How can I build my capacity for present-moment awareness (hint: think mindfulness techniques)? 

And if you can meet up with either Joe Maddon or Bill Murray, go for it! 

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type 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/).  

It’s hard to think of any one civilian who’s caused more “no good, very bad, horrible” days for world leaders in recent years than Greta Thunberg.  The teenage environmental activist has inspired worldwide political action, sparred online with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin (yep, they both let a teenager get very under their skin), and called out the entire United Nations for falling short of her standards.  

She’s quick to tell the most powerful people in the world that they’re not doing enough; that they’ve crushed an entire generation’s hopes and dreams; that they need to up their game and do much, much better.

Her most famous line: “How dare you?” That one was lobbed at the United Nations General Assembly.  

Oh, and if you’re wondering why any of these leaders would pay attention, she’s also been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Greta is a teenage poster child for the Revolutionary story type (the Challenger version, someone who lives to question what’s in place and present an often radically different point of view).  Does it look like her teen years are turning out to be much fun? Well, no, but she clearly has other things on her mind.  

Troubleshooting the things that don’t work

Greta in many ways is the purist’s Revolutionary, a person who betrays no qualms about taking a position and challenging those who disagree indirect and not especially forgiving ways.  

It’s easy to think this is what a Revolutionary always looks like, but that isn’t exactly the case. There’s a wider-scoped definition for this story type, and it takes in people like Greta and many others who operate in much lower-profile ways to reform, improve, shake up or overhaul things that aren’t working very well.  That can include systems, structures, products, processes, and just about anything they think is worthy of some troubleshooting.

This is my 10th post in a 12-part series about resilience and the unique gifts each story type brings to the table.  With a global pandemic, climate change crisis, and enduring systemic social problems looming even larger over these last 18 months, I’ve become very focused on how resilience is created and sustained for each type—and what it looks like when that resilience is severely tested.  

Finding ways to help people rebuild their resilience in the most natural ways seems like the fastest way for everyone to make a natural contribution in a world that needs those gifts.  As this series nears its end, the Revolutionary zeal for challenging the status quo seems like a good place to leave top of mind.  

In the enterprise world, most of us don’t have quite the free rein to say or do whatever’s on our mind that’s available to an unencumbered (in fact, jobless!) teen like Greta, though. The terrain is similar; the map is different, but it’s always about thinking differently.  

Understanding the Revolutionary’s gift

A resilient Revolutionary is someone who’s deeply motivated to make things better in unconventional, sometimes radical waysRevolutionaries can typically see what’s wrong with how things are being done, or how systems don’t work, or what’s unjust and needs to be reformed (potentially on a mass scale).  They’re usually able to let go of old ways and ideas, often much more rapidly than others, and to take quick action without a lot of angst about what’s being left behind.  

They show up in a variety of ways; some easier to spot than others:

  • Like Greta, some Revolutionaries are focused on fighting for reforms with huge social impact—especially where crises loom or where threats are greatest for disempowered or disenfranchised groups who’ve been ignored or unfairly treated.  
  • Some are most energized by developing radical product innovations or shaping marketplace disruptions that really shake up what’s come before.  
  • Others can see how systems or processes can bog down (and what to do about that); others see how conventional ways of doing things in almost any field can block innovation and stop real progress in its tracks.  

Whatever their focus, all Revolutionaries enjoy challenging the status quo, questioning the tried and true, and motivating others to think differently.

Under duress, though, Revolutionaries can become resistant, negative, and obstinate (at least that’s how it can look to the people around them!).  This can happen when other people don’t appear to see problems and potential impacts as they do–which can create deep internal skepticism within them about the integrity and intentions of others. 

Resilience is also tested for a Revolutionary when they’re continuously asked for help that’s ignored; or when too many people try to tell them what to do; or when others hold them up when they want to take what they see as essential action right now.  If it goes on for long, Revolutionaries may just start ignoring rules or guidelines that don’t make sense to them.  They can also withdraw and isolate themselves, and/or take matters into their own hands in ways that can trouble the people around them.  

So what does the path back to resilience look like for a Revolutionary?  Well, you could try the Greta route and build a global platform for your message.  If that seems like a longshot—and if you really want to effect change inside an organization where other people have different styles and priorities—consider these other options:

  • Apply your finely honed troubleshooting skills to your own situation and do some radical new thinking about what you could do differently to be more effective.
  • Look for a problem inside your organization or team that no one else is working on (especially if others agree there’s a problem) and offer to take it on.
  • Narrow your scope to something in your power to fix (and where others aren’t likely to get in the way).
  • Look for like-minded people to join your cause (activism isn’t typically a solo gig, and going it alone can just up the frustration ante).
  • Move on.  Revolutionaries know when it’s time to cut their losses and shift their focus to something else.  

At the end of the day, troubleshooting is a Revolutionary’s best friend and the key to making that important difference wherever you’re trying to make it.  

 So, let’s take a look at what our resilience chart looks like now with the addition of Revolutionary:  

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
Magician Disempowerment Flexibility Possibility Vision, Intuition, Intention
Revolutionary Resistance Troubleshooting Activism Closure, Unconventional Thinking, Reform

Activating the Revolutionary resilience quotient

So what’s needed to become a more resilient Revolutionary—or for that matter, to overcome negativity and resistance no matter what story type we relate to most?  Consider these questions whenever circumstances start to trigger those emotions:

  • Where do I need to find closure and just move on?
  • What’s most worth holding on to (my personal “how dare you”)?  
  • What’s a wildly different way to think about what’s happening?
  • Where would I find less resistance and more connection?
  • What can I improve right now and scale up later?
  • How can I push (not necessarily topple) a limitation that’s holding me back?

And if you can get an audience with the United Nations, go for it!  

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type 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/). 

In the stage production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Tinker Bell is brought back to life when the audience claps enough to show her they believe in fairies. The iconic scene had so much impact it inspired social scientists to frame up the Tinkerbell effect—a concept describing things that can only exist because people believe in them.  

This effect is the stock in trade of anyone who identifies strongly with the Magician story type.  Every Magician asks others to believe in something that can’t be seen or experienced in the present moment, to accept that an intangible vision can indeed be realized—and to see that change is not only possible but necessary.  

Alfa Demmellash is a great example of the Magician at work.  She’s co-founder of Rising Tide, a New Jersey non-profit with a mission to transform lives and communities through entrepreneurship. The organization helps seemingly unlikely entrepreneurs in underserved places develop business strategies and get access to capital for their business dreams.  She sees possibilities in places where other people usually don’t.

Demmellash describes her work in very Magician terms. For her, it’s about helping people with limited resources and educational opportunities communicate their very real visions; align their internal passions with external needs; be very intentional about what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with so that business ecosystems start to form.

Connecting the dots for business good

There’s an even bigger vision behind all this—no less than transforming the way business actually works.  She wants to connect the broken dots between why economies and marketplaces exist and the human and planetary wellbeing she thinks they should be serving.  For her, that involves rethinking competition, collaboration, and innovation in ways that integrate and channel those things towards good.

These big ideas spring from some surprising sources. Demmellash is the daughter of an Ethiopian refugee mother who started an entrepreneurial sewing business of her own once she arrived in the United States. Demmellash joined her here 10 years later, finding the life of a mother she’d always imagined “like a fairy/magical goddess with a castle of her own” to be rather different than the hard-working reality of a Boston waitress who sewed gowns for extra money.  Her own path and vision started forming right then.   

Understanding the Magician’s gift

This is my ninth post in a 12-part series about resilience and the unique gifts each story type brings to the table.  A resilient Magician is someone who’s deeply motivated by the opportunity to effect change and transformation (usually shaped by a unique vision they hold for themselves, their workplaces, or the communities). Intuitive and open to synchronicities, Magicians see and feel things that others often don’t.  They’re usually able to reframe ideas, concepts, and situations in ways that help others understand them better and eventually buy in as well.

Non-resilient Magicians can be overtaken by feelings of disempowerment, though—especially when their visions and dreams start to feel out of reach or if too many obstacles start to pile up in front of them.  They can also become very impatient with others who don’t get quickly onboard and may begin over-promising things that will be tough to deliver in order to gain more support.  Sometimes they lose confidence in themselves, allowing a voice of doubt to overtake their natural intuition. 

The path back to resilience for a Magician involves activating another inherent trait—flexibility—and using that strength to see and pivot towards possibility instead of hanging on too tightly to a highly fixed vision.  Magicians can displace disempowerment with more expansive thinking, and by changing the way they take in and frame what’s going on around them.

How do Alfa Demmellash and others like her do that? Truly resilient Magicians seems to focus on a few key approaches that elevate resilience, such as:  

  • They keep on reconnecting the dots in the world around them, looking for new patterns of meaning to understand and act on (a major focus for Demmellash)
  • They pivot when things around them change, even in seemingly intractable ways (like Demmellash in her evolving approach to the automation that’s displacing people in a variety of business settings)
  • They stay open to new possibilities and ways of doing things (in the case of Demmellash, by staying open to what the new workplace looks like and how communities of collaboration will shift and evolve)
  • They up-level their vision to stay focused on their ultimate intention and let go of the pieces that aren’t working out (for Demmellash, that looks like charting a course towards higher consciousness, co-creation, and human evolution)

Ultimately, Magicians learn to balance their need for enrollment and admiration with a healthier approach to engagement.  While the belief of others saved Tinker Bell, too much reliance on other people to prop them up can end up being dangerous terrain. Resilient Magicians learn to believe in themselves—and to get other people involved to share ideas and build on (or reshape) what they envision could take shape.   

 So, here’s what our resilience chart looks like now with the addition of Magician:

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
Magician Disempowerment      Flexibility Possibility Vision, Intuition, Intention

Activating the Magician resilience quotient

So how can you be a more resilient Magician—and/or activate the gifts of Magician as you become a more resilient professional?  

Magicians need space and time for dreaming, for visioning, for connecting the dots, and for keeping the big picture top of mind.  If you haven’t actually articulated a vision for yourself, your team, or your business—get a process for that going right now.  Once developed, stay in touch with it daily in tangible ways.  

When it comes to specific circumstances or situations where you feel yourself veering towards disempowerment, ask yourself the following questions:    

  • What else is possible here?
  • What haven’t I seen?
  • How can I reframe what’s going on?
  • What do I need to change or transform in myself?
  • What’s my intention here, and are my actions and attitudes actually supporting that?
  • Where do I need to be more flexible, and how would I benefit from that?

And remember—if you believe, clap your hands!   

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type (with a Magician-flecked attitude) 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/).  

 

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/).