Striving To Overcome Complex Judgement

I mentioned before that I don’t have any mentors or guides that can relate to the transition I’m going through, so I often end up learning and growing by reading books and articles by others that I come across that seem to be on the same journey as myself. One author, Venessa, who has a blog called Emergent By Design, I’ve read repeatedly in the past few years but I haven’t been to it in a long while. In visiting recently, I noticed two blog posts by her from last year, What Mental Slavery Looks Like: Repressive & Reactive Patterns and When The Mind Hijacks My Flow State, that really resonate with the struggle I’m going through.

The Maelstrom of Voices

Within these these two posts, she talks about a “society of personalities” within her head that often sidetrack her from making creative progress in her life.

the Critic would cluck its tongue, “tsk, tsk. look at you. totally out of control. way to keep your shit together.”

the Servant would apologize, “ugh, i didn’t mean it. i’m a horrible person.”

the Slave Driver would spur me on, “be more self-righteous! remind them of all the ways you do more than your fair share!”

the Victim would be both helpless and indignant, “everyone’s always trying to use me, and i guess that’s what i deserve.”

at the end of the day, neither of these patterns was what i actually meant to say or do. they were the result of pathways laid down long ago by the desire to meet the expectation of family or cultural conditioning. and apparently they were still calling the shots.

i can’t remember what it felt like to be connected to my creative essence, or who i was then. i only know that i have become a society of personalities. i am exhausting myself maintaining the dynamics between them. the tyrant and slave, the victim and abuser, the oppressor and oppressed, all playing out their parts. one faction mercilessly berating me for my failures, the other trying to survive the onslaught. i keep trying to “push through,” hoping that there is a hump somewhere in the not too distant future, that if i can just get over it, things will right themselves. this of course is not true, and no matter what output i produce, i’m dissatisfied with it, and furious and disappointed with myself. every day i get more and more frustrated, more and more depleted.

In reading this, I know that she is ahead of me on this journey. Why? Because she’s aware enough of the voices that she is ability to differentiate them into their different perspectives. In my case, they are all just one voice (as I’ve never thought of differentiating them). And often times for me, they’re not so much voices as flashes of imagery that relay a feeling of expectation and judgement from each.

Transcending The Voices

In thinking about this today though, I had an epiphany. Each of these voices, these society of personalities, almost sound like they each match a specific stage of human development of making sense and meaning, also known as an action logic. For example, the Servant sounds like it matches the Diplomat which is an early stage of human development whereby the individual wants to belong so much that they will do anything to conform to the group. And the Slave Driver almost sounds like it matches the Expert which is the next stage of human development whereby the individual focuses on differentiating themselves from others so much, that they strive to impose, control, and belittle others in their efforts to do so.

If it sounds like these are just very negative stages of human development, they’re not. I’m just focusing on the negative aspects or fears of each stage. Each has a positive side as well.  The emphasis here though is to show the striking similarity to these voices and how they seem to match the negative aspects of each of these stages of human development. In effect, even though one is able to progress and develop positively through the various stages, each one of these negative aspects from each stage still sits in their mind, making their ego more and more complex as one develops to the latter stages.

Increasing Complexity

What I find remarkable about this is that it matches the descriptions of the tests by the Devil in the Bible and even the stages of testing in The Alchemist. In effect, the more one gets closer to integrating the complexity of themselves as a whole person, the more complex the challenges they face to do so. I’ve describe this before as an increase in paradoxes that one faces, the closer they get to the final (albeit as far as we know) stage of development. In fact in the final stage, the goal isn’t so much to integrate and control these voices but to let go of trying to control them and just accept and witness them as they are. In doing so, one transcends them and lets go of a fixed sense of individual identity, taking on one of a much more transpersonal nature (i.e. beyond the self, universal, timeless, fluid).

Of course, I know this all, having researched and figured it out over the years, but knowing is not enough. It’s like reading something versus actually experiencing it. In experiencing it, you finally truly understand the depth and simplicity of it, its wisdom. Thus in my mind, it sounds simple and logical for me to just let go of having expectations and judgements on myself so that I stop having expectations and judgements of others but it’s easier said than done. The societal conditioning goes so very deep and it’s hard to unravel.

Valuing Oneself

In fact, what I find interesting is how I differ from Venessa in her struggle (or at least from external appearance based upon what I’ve read of her from her posts). You see I often find it fairly easy to obtain a flow state in my writing and love the curiousity and exploration of researching my life’s work in understanding creativity. Where everything falls apart for me is what to do with all of this amazing knowledge and wisdom I’m accumulating. In effect, while my exploratory research side feels amazing and fruitful, my other side sits their judgementally and says “What are the results of this? How are you supporting yourself with your work?” That’s where everything falls apart and I feel irresponsible and useless (regardless of all of the amazing things I’ve discovered along the way).

It’s a struggle for me. My research implies a letting go of expectations and judgements of myself and others, yet it seems impossible to do so until I can sustain myself economically and in such a way that works within this new way and New World of thinking and doing. Why? Because if I just fall back into a conventional job, all of the things around it just keep pulling me back into the old way and Old World of thinking and doing. In effect, it causes a regression in oneself as you fall back into an earlier stage of development. 

Alas, it seems that unless I become a monk, giving up my worldly possessions and live based upon what others give me, this goal of letting go seems unrealistic to attain. And yet I know people have already made this leap. And yet how did they get around this stage of the journey? Alternatively is it because while I’m living authentically with my writing and taking leaps with it, I’ve still yet made the full leap in living what I’m writing? In effect, as my mantra of old goes, I’m not fully yet “working on living what I have learnt through play” which represents creativity as an integration of playing, learning, and working in harmony with each other, thus allowing you to finally live a life whereby you truly feel alive.

Sharing My World

Over the past few days I’ve been rethinking and rehashing about what I want to do with my Be Real Creative identity and brand which will hopefully encapsulate all of my research on creativity that I’ve done and will still do. More than anything now, I realize I want this to be a safe space for myself. A place where I can extend as curiously as I want without feeling limited by conventional beliefs and boundaries.

In terms of others though, I want it to be a place where I can share this New World I’ve discovered with them as well, so that they can safely explore and immerse themselves within it, as it is the only way to fully comprehend the complexity of it. In effect, you can’t understand it by observing one aspect of it because it will seem completely impossible and incomprehensible if you do. Instead you have to understand all aspects of it as a whole in relationship to one another, at which point the paradigm shift in thinking occurs and you suddenly step through the looking glass to suddenly see the impossible possible before you.

Feeling Ripped Apart

Close to a decade ago, I read Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra which talks about how transitions through a career change are unconventional in that you often don’t know exactly what your new identity will be at the outset of your journey but instead you must experiment and explore to find the right fit. Making this transition of change though can be extremely difficult upon us and those around us, as noted below, because changing our identity, as a complex system or entity, is about changing our relationships.

We cannot regenerate ourselves in isolation. We develop in and through our relationships with others—the master teaches the apprentice a new craft; the mentor guides a protégé through the passage to an inner circle; the council of peers monitors the standards of a professional group, confirming status within the community. Yet, when it comes to reinventing ourselves, the people who know us best are also the ones most likely to hinder rather than help. They may wish to be supportive but they tend to reinforce—or even desperately try to preserve—the old identities we are seeking to shed.

Changing careers is not merely a matter of changing the work we do. It is much about changing the relationships that matter in our professional lives. Shifting connections refers to the practice of finding people who can help us see and grow into our new selves, people we admire, would like to emulate, and with whom we want to spend time. All reinventions require social support. But as this chapter reveals, it is hard to get the support we really need from career counsellors, outplacement, or headhunters, or even from old friends, family members, or trusted colleagues. New or distant acquaintances—people and groups on the periphery of our existing networks—help us push off in new directions while providing the secure base in which change can take hold.

What I recognized afterwards though—upon reflecting upon the book, my life, and the patterns of change around me—was that I wasn’t going through a midlife crisis to change my career but rather I was experiencing this Big Shift that everyone will eventually go through which is a change of paradigms, mental models, and world views (aka social innovation). You see it’s much easier to shift a career because you’re often moving from one known context to another known context (i.e. job to job, albeit in different disciplines) within the conventional world that everyone knows. Making the Big Shift is radically more complex and difficult, as you are effectively moving from a known context to a completely unknown context that 99% of the population cannot relate to or understand. So not only will your friends and family think you’re crazy but most of the world will think your crazy as well.

You’re Not Crazy

Another important role a guiding figure plays is to reassure us that we are not out of our minds, to convey that what we are contemplating is not only reasonable but totally consistent with a wise assessment of our potential.

This is why mentors or guides are so essential to your journey because they help you to realize that what you’re experiencing is completely normal and you’re not going crazy. In my case though, while I’ve found tons of diverse articles and books on the subject, I’ve yet been unable to find anyone I can interact with who can relate to what I’m going through and who can see and understand this big picture of societal change on the scope that I do. Thus right now, my only mentors are those within the articles and books I’m reading which makes it difficult for me to make this transition because I’m continually being pulled back into the Old World—it’s outdated beliefs and behaviours—by those close to me, rather than stepping freely into this New World.

But People Will Think You’re Crazy

Our close contacts don’t just blind us, they also bind us to our outdated identities.

This is also why I feel like I’m continually being ripped apart between two worlds, as I’m struggling to step forward but continually feeling pulled back. Because of this, I’ve lost a couple of really close friends over the past few years because they no longer can relate to me. I even find the same thing happening with my family, as I begin to distance myself from them. Basically any friends and family I interact with now about my journey and these bigger changes affecting society, I know they are either thinking I’m crazy or I’m possibly on to something but their lack of understanding of this “unknown” makes them feel uncomfortable because they can’t relate to it at this moment.

A perfect example of this is the typical convention of asking someone what their job is or how their job is going. Neither of these apply to me because this New World is about going beyond a “job” and discovering your life’s work (i.e. your passion & purpose in life). Thus any “job” that I’m doing is just to pay the bills and my real work is that which I do in my days off and evenings. In effect, I’m having to work in two worlds to bridge myself from one to the other. But to fully make the transition though, I eventually need to let go of the Old World’s conventions and beliefs so that I can fully become the potential of that which I wish to be in this New World, my true self.

Without meaning to, friends and family pigeonhole us. Worse, they fear our changing.

Creativity By Any Other Name

I was going to wait on relaying this, mainly because I find that when I relay things of this nature, I’m assuming it can be very disruptive and upsetting for certain people who may have spent years of their lives on something only to realize it is something else. What’s funny about this though is that I speak from experience on this, as I’ve spent a decade researching something only to realize that it was something else completely.

Researching The Unknown

You see when I started my research, I didn’t know what I was researching (actually I didn’t even realize I was researching, as it was more curiousity). I was just upset about the way work worked and wanted to see a change. I found The Cluetrain Manifesto and it made me realize others felt the same way, thus I gained the confidence to begin questioning everything in my life.

Over time, I felt my research focused on Social Business and then more currently the Future of Work. Then I realized it was more than just about transforming work but about transforming playing, learning, and working as a whole. I then thought it had to do with the identity of all of these things as a whole and how systems thinking helps us define our identity. But no matter what name I gave it, it didn’t feel like it contained what I was researching.

Creativity Encompasses Everything

Finally one day in watching a PBS video, I saw many of the same patterns mirroring my research in the video and I realized that what encompassed everything I just talked about above was creativity. In effect, creativity is an integration of playing, learning, and working which in turn helps us to define our identity and that identity of ourselves in turn is being radically transformed today by a byproduct of creativity known as social innovation.

Note though how my journey in understanding what I was searching, researching, and following perfectly mirrors how creativity itself works. In effect, you will often not known what you’re searching when you begin your search and quest. The key thing though is to be open to new experiences and opportunities along the way because that is where things will emerge to surprise you. In effect, what you’re looking for is not always in the place you’re looking.

To encapsulate this all and get to the point of this post, I’ve always repeatedly said over the years that I’ve noticed all of these other notable authors all writing about the same thing but from different disciplinary perspectives. In effect, their research often evolves to a point where they can’t fully comprehend something (as it reaches the borders of their discipline), so they often create words to contain this unknown. What I’m saying is that this unknown is creativity itself. It’s just that most people don’t realize it because they haven’t researched creativity extensively (and in a cross-disciplinary way) thus most people don’t know what it is other than its old conventional premise that it has to do with doing “artwork”.

The Patterns of Creativity

So what I’m getting at here is that if you see a recent book on a bookshelf that talks about a new way of looking at the world or a new way of looking at yourself but it has some complicated technical words for a title, more than likely it’s a book about creativity wherein the author is unaware that his work is describing an aspect or perspective of creativity itself. Yet it can be revealed as such by seeing the patterns within the narrative.

One last closing thought to try to put this all into perspective. Realize that coming up with a creative solution isn’t about choosing one perspective or another. Rather creativity is about choosing one perspective and another perspective and integrating them together, even though they may seem unrelated, disconnected, or opposed. This is why creativity is so all encompassing and affects so much of our lives because it is a fundamental simple building block for emergent, complex life, allowing opposites to attract and create a whole new way of life.

Using Creativity To Articulate Creativity

In further reading Petro Poutanen’s paper on Complexity and Collaboration in Creative Group Work, I came across this quote below which pretty much encapsulates the struggles with my life’s work on creativity over the last five years or so.

Weick (1979) has described how humans enact their surroundings, which means that they react and construct meanings from their environment while in interaction with others. The process of sense-making in which people make sense of the different situations and events they encounter is in effect retrospective and iterative (Weick, 1979). According to Weick, (1995), the process of sense-making is actually not about finding the right explanation in terms of its objective accuracy as much as it is about finding a good and plausible narrative to hold the elements of the story together in order to guide action and engage others to contribute to sense-making (Weick, 1995, p. 58). Following the notion of sense-making, it is the process of constructing novel frames of reference and developing and testing them in practice that yields novelty in the sense of creativity. In this way, creativity can be seen as an interpretative process of trying to make sense of different situations and coming up with novel ways to reframe a situation (without the need to see a situation in a new light, there would be no need for creativity, and the old, habitual ways of behaving would work).

Finding the right narrative to contain all of this knowledge on creativity is really the key. I’ve told others before that it’s like finding the right thread for your life that when you pull it, it brings order to all the seeming chaos thus creating a social fabric of it that you can then easily show others.

What’s interesting is that I’ve experienced this already in my life in a more metaphorical sense. While working at a book store for a while, I was told by our wise floor manager that engaging others to read a book is really about finding the right narrative that encapsulates the story as a whole, thus making it relatable and enticing for them to read. I noticed that it would often take me experimenting with many different narratives before I found the right one that fully connected with others and pulled them into the story.

This is exactly what I’m trying to do in finding the right narrative for creativity, as it needs to universally connect with others and pull them into engaging with their own life story as well. So what I surprisingly realized here is that I’m striving to use creativity to try to articulate creativity itself. In doing so though, others can then reflect on their life, make sense of it in a greater way, and creatively find their own newer narrative to contain it as well.

And finally in realizing that I’m using creativity to articulate creativity, I’d love to help others realize that they are often utilizing creativity without knowing about it as well. Once they do realize it though, have that sense of awareness, they can then reflect back on other situations in their life and see where they’ve used it previously as well. In doing so, this empowers them in going forward to use creativity more easily and consciously in other life situations as well.